Column: The Democrats' superdelegate system defies popular will

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., cheer during a primary night rally at Concord High School, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

In Tuesday’s New Hampshire Democratic primary, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders courted 60.4 percent of the popular vote to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 38, according to the Associated Press. Sanders’ victory was expected, and wholly invigorating for his supporters; David had appeared to be gaining on Goliath after all.

Although Sanders stole the popular vote, another popular yet contradictory figure traversed across several new outlets describing another crucial voting bloc: nationwide Democratic delegates and superdelegates, which put Clinton enormously ahead of Sanders 394-42. Though the AP reports Clinton still lost 15-9 among New Hampshire delegates, the nationwide influence she exerts on these officials could spell trouble for the Sanders campaign, which I believe is an unfair advantage in the primary election.

What is a superdelegate, then? These are the exclusively Democrat party elites, sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee to cast their vote according to how they see fit, unlike delegates, who mostly go with what the popular vote dictates (as they should). This role is reserved for all Democratic members of Congress, all Democratic governors (20), and other dignitary positions, such as certain mayors, Democratic state legislators, etc.

In total, there are 712 of them, and although the figure is mixed across outlets, the Associated Press reported there are 4,763 delegates (including super), with at least 2,382 required to win the primary nomination. Most superdelegates go with the establishment candidate because they too are part of the establishment, and likely have similar intentions.

Even though Bernie currently has 14 superdelegates under his belt (to Hillary’s 355), if Clinton were to hypothetically win all of them, she would garner 29.8percentof the delegate vote (source: math), plus whatever she reaps in the popular primary election. It’s definitely not peanuts.

This system was erected in 1984 as a safety net after Democrats kept losing the general elections with base-beloved candidates lacking “enough” mainstream appeal, such as Jimmy Carter (in his second term, though he was pretty much reviled by the base at that point) and George McGovern. In essence, it is a way to circumvent the popular vote if the Democratic Establishment feels it spells trouble for the presidential election. It’s a way of surreptitiously, but nevertheless patronizingly, saying, “we know better than you.”

Something insidious about a figure like 394-42 without context is the subtle message it sends: This candidate (i.e., Hillary) cannot be defeated, so you ought to hang up the towel and join the bandwagon. Sure, it’s just politicking mixed with healthy media collusion, but it isn’t right. But then again, who wouldn’t buy subliminal influence if it indicated hearty political gains?

Now, I’m not quite on the map for either candidate, so please don’t interpret this as just another Sanders-inflating piece written by a college kid. What the Democratic chiasm essentially boils down to in my head is these choices. 1. A neoconservative criminal operating under the guise of Democratic policies to elicit voters, but with the political wherewithal, shrewdness and experience to potentially make compromise with or manipulate the legislative-majority opposition as her husband did two decades before – and hopefully accomplish something. 2. A candidate with charisma, good morals, a clean record and attractive ideas (free public college), but no conventional way to enact his policies and no hint at compromise within a proudly obstructionist, Republican-dominated Congress (unless enough states kick them out of both houses in this year’s midterm elections, which I doubt will happen); it essentially spells “Obama, Term III.”

Regardless of my sentiments on the candidates themselves, the superdelegate system is malicious and unfair. It is basically the prequel to the Electoral College, with less of a “winner-takes-all” process (because how many electors – *cough cough Florida 2000* – are always true to their constituents votes). It serves to prop up establishment candidates that a select few agree upon and diminish the popular voting power.

Even if a candidate isn’t the best for the job, it is a fundamental tenet of democracy to let the popular electorate decide whom they want; not very democratic of the Democratic National Committee.


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.