Should Delegates Be "Super"

Fairness and what is now called transparency are central to democracy. Any political process that seems unfair, concealed, or manipulated creates distrust in the system. And distrust predictably yields to anger and hostility. Political parties often lose track of this truth in their efforts to perpetuate their own power.

All this comes to mind with the building anger within the Democratic Party's system of so-called super delegates. By and large to be "super" one must be an elected or party official, a Senator, Representative, Governor, or Mayor, or a precinct chair, county chair, or state party official.

In brief, the history is this: following an angry Democratic convention in 1968 in Chicago, a Democratic Party reform commission opened up the nomination process of primaries and caucuses to women, young people, minorities and others historically left out by big city party bosses. This led to many elected and party officials being left out of the 1972 convention. And that led to a counter-reform in which automatic delegate seats were reserved for elected and party officials.

In 1984, there were some 800 super delegates to the Democratic convention. Even though I was successful in half of the primaries and caucuses, all 800 voted for Vice President Walter Mondale at the convention including those from States that I had won. There was no legal, or apparently moral, obligation on the part of those delegates to acknowledge the results of the primary or caucus in their States. Those super delegates represented the difference in the nomination process that year.

It has only become apparent recently to supporters of Senator Sanders that super delegates have no obligation to acknowledge or respect the outcome of a primary or caucus in their States. But, for better or worse, those are the rules.

Clearly, those rules should be changed.

Following this convention the Democratic Party should change its rules to require the super delegates in every State to reflect the outcome of the contest in their States. But this should be proportional. Just because candidate A wins a primary, that does not mean candidate A should get all the super delegates. If the vote in State X is 60% for candidate A and 40% for candidate B, then the ten super delegates from State X should be apportioned six for candidate A and four for candidate B.

The original concept of the super delegate was to ensure that an elected or party official should be enabled to participate in a national convention out of respect for his or her contribution in serving the nation and the party. It was not meant to give super delegates as a class the right to overrule the party voters in their States and lock-step nominate a candidate that a large minority or even majority of primary voters have opposed.

There will be serious protests at the Democratic convention over this issue, and super delegates who vote against the clear opinion of the party voters in their States will pay a price. It is too late to change the rules in the middle of the process this year.

But the rules regarding super delegates must be changed before the next national election in the interest of upholding democratic principles of fairness, transparency, and justice.

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