Fresh Ideas: How does each party handle its delegates?

I’ve been examining the subject of voter suppression, and find there’s also the matter of vote manipulation. While voter suppression may operate at the ballot box, vote manipulation occurs at each state’s Electoral College meeting, where super delegates add their votes to those of individual electors, as hopeful candidates line up electoral votes in advance of their party’s nominating National Convention.

Both Republicans and Democrats have super delegates, although Republicans call theirs bonus or at-large delegates. How the parties handle their delegates differs, as well.

First, the Democrats. In the 1960s, the Vietnam War’s volatile political climate provoked all kinds of protests, one of them featuring voters, citizen groups, and local party officials who were being left out of the process of choosing candidates for president and vice president. In response, the party initiated a system of caucuses, actually quite a grass roots process that requires voters to meet face to face.

The caucus system proved to be a slippery slope, since voters repeatedly chose losing candidates: Hubert Humphrey in 1968, George McGovern in 1972, and Jimmy Carter in 1980. To solve the problem, party officials invented the super delegate in 1982. Even so, this new force didn’t prevent Mondale’s defeat in 1984.

Super delegate positions are awarded to party loyalists, major elected officials such as governors and former presidents, other appointees, even including lobbyists and labor leaders. They now comprise about 20 percent of electors, and can vote for whatever candidate they choose in the Electoral College.

State caucuses are where, essentially, electoral votes are awarded. In the one I attended in 2016, “viability” of a candidate was assessed by the percentage of voters present who supported him/her. My congressional district elects six delegates, and according to the Democrats’ convoluted viability rule, that number “requires” that at least 15 percent of the people at my precinct meeting (with just two electoral votes) support a candidate before (s)he was entitled to one electoral vote. As it ended up, Sanders was within 15 percent of outdoing Clinton two to one, but as it ended up, both candidates earned one vote.

In statewide caucuses, Sanders took 47 percent of the vote while Clinton won 53 percent, a virtual 50-50 split. But Sanders was awarded 15 pledged delegates while Clinton received 20. A strict representation would have given Sanders 16 delegates and Clinton 19 of the total 35 delegates for the state. Not a big difference, but added to the little edge given Clinton with the viability rule, perhaps enough for Nevada’s vote to go to Sanders. With seven of Nevada’s eight “supers” already committed to Clinton in July, she sort of slipped in under the wire.

I came away from the 2016 election feeling Democrats use super delegates to suppress or minimize votes for the “minority” candidate not selected by the party insiders. Indeed, the idea behind super delegates was always to protect the party’s choice.

In contrast, the Republican Party allots 10 at-large delegates to each state, and bonus delegates based on the number of party members elected as presidential electors, the president, governors, House members, senators, and state legislators.

As it turns out, this system gives low-population states an incredible advantage. For example, in 2016, Republican-dominated Wyoming received 13 bonus delegates for a total of 29 electoral votes, while California received none and got just 172 electoral votes, six times those of Wyoming — but Democratic-leaning California’s population is 70 times the size of Wyoming. Wyoming even had one delegate more than Oregon, which has seven times the population.

And these small states dominated the 2016 election.

Susan Stornetta is a retired archaeologist and a long-time Comstock resident.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment