Super Delegates and Open Conventions. Fair, Practical, antagonize voters? Yes to all.
Are super delegates and party assigned delegates unfair? Are open conventions undemocratic? What is the argument against just giving the nomination to the candidate who has the most popular votes going into the convention? These are procedural and therefore technical questions, and yet they are being brought up almost daily by Democratic Party trailer Bernie Sanders, and by Republican Party front-runner Donald Trump. Why all the fuss? Trump because he fears that his pledged delegate count may not quite reach the simple majority of 1237. Also that the Republican Party regulars, “The Establishment,” as it were, might pick someone else–especially if they could keep supporters from reaching a majority for the first two ballots that many of them are pledged to vote for Trump. And Sanders, because of the large super delegate block that seems to be pledged for Hillary.
Lets’s deal with the 1237 votes requirement first. That is one-half plus one of the 2475 delegates that will vote at the convention. Ifs a candidate fails to reach this number, even though he or she might have the largest plurality among the field of candidates nominated on that ballot, it means that a majority of voters do not want that candidate to be the party’s nominee. It is not as if they only have one shot at it. If no candidate receives the required number of votes on a given ballot, they take another ballot after a short period of time. And so on until a candidate is selected. The question might be raised whether a party should be required to run an election with a candidate for President, at the top of the ticket, so disliked by their own voters that they can’t even reach a simple majority? Remember, the parties are running more complete tickets, with a list of other candidates running for various offices from Governor to Senator to Congressman and even for local offices such as Mayor or City Councilman. Many voters will back a straight party ticket, and the presidential race heads the ticket. If the voters don’t like that candidate, they may vote against the others on the ticket, or simply not vote in the other races at all. A party’s reputation rests on the quality of their candidates, and while voters may not know the names of all of the other candidates, they surely know the one at the top of the ticket.
In order to win the election, you have to hold on to your own party’s voters, lure over some of the other party’s voters, and receive a goodly number of independents. The parties’ reputations rest with their nominee for president. A simple majority of votes at the convention would seem to be a minimal requirement for them to select a nominee. It wasn’t alway thus. In fact, for most of the country’s history, conventions required two-thirds of the votes in order to secure a nomination. You can imagine that might require an awful lot of ballots before delegates got tired enough to settle on a compromise candidate acceptable to all factions. Well, that was often the case. At the 1924 Democratic Party convention thew two-thirds rule was in effect. The leader on the first ballot, Senator McAdoo, from California, couldn’t, on subsequent ballots, get the support of the delegates who were behind Governor Al Smith, of New Yorkd, or enough of the other candidates’ delegates to make the two-thirds threshold. On subsequent ballots each candidate in turn tried to get to the two-thirds and none could succeed. Finally, on the one-hundred and third ballot, days later, with the delegates so tired they could barely prop one-another up, they agreed on a compromise candidate: the little known John W.Davis, of West Virginia. They changed the rules after that convention and required only a simple majority going forward. With the various factions of the party championing their own ideologically compatible candidate, compromise became a word of necessity, not convenience. This year it is safe to say that Donald Trump has angered a number of Republican voters. Even if he comes into the convention with the largest popular support, the most delegates, unless he can demonstrate that he has the support of a simple majority of the delegates, should he become the party nominee? The same thing holds for Senator Cruz? Is it fair? Is it practical? Will it antagonize some of the voters? The answer to all three of these questions is probably a resounding yes!d
What about the issue of super delegates in the Democratic Party? First the question must be asked: What is the party? Is it the occasional voter who votes for that part? The seldom voter for that party, in the case of open primaries Remember some of them have never even voted for that party or any of its candidates. Should they be the only ones deciding who will carry the banner in the next presidential election? Or should the people who do the every day work, raise funds, man the phones at party headquarters, out do the countless number of other jobs that require volunteers year around What about people who have actually been candidates from that party for other offices? The congressman who got elected last time, and who has to run for re-election on the ticket headed by the presidential nominee Should his vote count for no more than an occasional voter who perhaps liked the candidate because he was a television personality? Or to express their personal frustrations? These are the questions that the party rules committee in each state has to answer. And remember, they have to keep their workers and elected officials happy. The answer is usually to reserve a percentage of the state’s convention delegation for the party regulars, or in some cases to offer an additional two or three votes, some agreed upon number, to each congressional district within their state. These are the so-called super delegates. Those are the rules and they are know by all of the candidates when they start the nominating process. And that is also why it is so important for them to get their supporters in each state to get to work early to convince the super delegates that they would be best suited to head the party ticket. It is why the candidates who fail to succeed at this shouldn’t whine now, although, in fairness to Senator Sanders, it is usually the case for the candidate who failed to get the most super delegates earlier.
Now, do I think it is fair for the party regulars and the other party candidates and elected officials, who will be left over to pick up the pieces after the election, to reconstruct their party, to have a little extra say in determining their fate, i.e., who will head their ticket. As they used to say on classic radio: “You bet chum, Red Ryder.”
P.S. The Republicans don’t have “super delegates,” but they have an equivalent, i.e., delegates reserved for the state parties to distribute to party regulars.