Superdelegates: Another Obstacle Towards Democracy?

Superdelegates: Another Obstacle Towards Democracy?

If there’s a central theme to the 2016 election, it is outrage against Washington. Whether it’s with the Panama Papers or Campaign Financing, the majority of Americans feel great frustration with an establishment that seems bent on obstructing any meaningful change. The superdelegate system, in this regard, may be seen as just another obstacle in the path of democracy; with its concern rising higher on the agenda as the clash between Sanders and Clinton sparks towards New York. Others however, would argue its significance remains as crucial today as did back in the 1980s when it was conceived for the consolidation of the Democratic Party.

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Hillary has the backing of the party’s elites. She even has a former President at her side.

There are 718 superdelegates involved in this year’s DNC. They are essentially unelected delegates, comprised of party leaders, governors, congressmen, and DNC members, who are free to cast their vote of their own volition this July in Philadelphia at the convention. Presently, their pledges therefore don’t count for anything but political pundits and avid supporters are nevertheless paying attention to the 472 pledged to Clinton, 32 to Sanders, and 207 uncommitted. It’s important in that these so-called pledges hold influence over some voters (who may be unwilling to support a ruffian like Sanders) and in that they have been toted up irresponsibly by many as assumed votes already, thus giving the impression that Sanders’ campaign is beyond hope.

 

The system came about as a result of disappointing election results for the Democrats. As Jim Hunt, the 1982 Chairman of the Democratic Party Commission explained eight years ago in a Washington Post piece, 1972 saw a Democratic Party ‘out of step with mainstream Democratic leaders.’ George McGovern, the nominee that year, lost a devastating defeat to Richard Nixon. Four years later, Carter prevailed but his Presidency and defeat in 1980 proved that it wasn’t even ‘enough just to win;’ clarity and cooperation between all branches of the party was needed. It was a means by which the party’s greater interests could be accounted for with 1984 seeing its first contenders rise to the fore. They exist ‘really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grass roots activists,’ according to today’s Democratic Chairwoman, Debbie Schultz. Today, of course, superdelegates account for 15% of overall votes in the party’s nominating process; a troubling portion to many.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Debbie Schultz, Chairwoman DNC

To address its defenders first, it must be acknowledged that in  1980 the Democratic Party was bitterly divided with Carter’s own nomination being called into question by the challenger, Ted Kennedy. To defeat the Republicans, some kind of system was likely needed and this system, whilst democratically questionable, seemed reasonable to many at the time . Indeed their presence could be taken with a grain of salt as the Democratic Party’s rules dictate that these delegates should ‘in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.’ Are they doing that, though?

The Sanders’ campaign is playing a much tougher game today than it was a couple of months ago when the New Hampshire primary resulted in a virtual tie on an account of these premature pledges, despite Sander’s 60% public vote. Since then, reports have circulated that superdelegates are relentlessly being messaged with calls for support on his side. For some superdelegates vowed to Clinton’s side, this is causing great agitation amongst those who believe these delegates aren’t representing the people of their states. As aforementioned though, they are not voted for and their allegiances mainly derive from statehood and past representations; some are merely old stalwarts of the party. Others, like Peggy Schaffer of Maine for example, are less certain on their final decision. Having been a longtime Clinton supporter but witnessed Sanders win her state, she has decided to opt for whichever candidate winds up with the most pledged delegates. And those who have outright ‘offended’ Sanders’ most valiant supporters, like Akilah R. Ensley of the Young Democrats of America, have been bombarded with messages bordering on abuse via Social Media for her support of Clinton.

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Young folk are especially annoyed with the superdelegate system

 

In many instances, this doesn’t paint a wholly positive picture of the Sanders’ campaign but as many have argued, this system may justify such responses. Sally Kohn of CNN, for example has reiterated the DNC’s account of  the superdelegates’ role as one which exists ‘to preserve the power and influence of the Democratic Party’s elite.’ Naturally in this day and age, online petitions have therefore  begun to gather momentum, with some calling for the removal of superdelegates altogether whilst others simply ask for them to align their vote with the choice of the regular voters. Then, there is Spencer Thayer’s ‘Superdelegate Hit List,’ a sinister sounding but simple website list of superdelegate contact information, which has served to only add fuel to this fire. It will of course remain to be seen whether some of them end up feeling the blame but as it is now,  he will need to muster landslide defeats in the next few contests to secure the 2,383 votes needed for nomination.

The superdelegate system may not be a complete barrier to winning the Presidency but like Citizen’s United, it is hard to argue that it doesn’t make things much more difficult for candidates like Sanders. Many argue that it’s still possible that those pledged to Clinton would change their mind (as they did in 2008) but many more seem to fear, even given success in states like New York and California, the superdelegates would screw Sanders over. The memory of those defeated liberals between 1968 and 1988 remains a sore note for the Democratic Party and Clinton, in the end, may just be the safer bet.

Andrew Carolan

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A Comedy of Errors: Voting Hurdles in the Race for the White House

A Comedy of Errors: Voting Hurdles in the Race for the White House

On the evening of March 22, the residents of Maricopa County, Arizona, left their homes to vote in the Grand Canyon States’ primaries. Little were they aware that excruciatingly long voter lines would obstruct their path as residents scattered the pavements that wended from the bloated polling stations. The evenings polling swiftly descended into farce, leaving many locals without a vote, and seething at the poorly handled event. But, what went wrong, and who was to blame?

Maricopa County Recorder, Helen Purcell, fell on her sword, proclaiming that she “screwed up”. Purcell was responsible for planning polling locations ahead of elections, which were reduced by a whopping 70 percent this year in contrast to the 2012 primaries, from 200 locations to a paltry 60. This was a ludicrous decision – the agency of hindsight is not required. Maricopa County is the most populous statewide, and includes its largest city, Phoenix, which just happens to have a non-white majority and is predominantly a Democratic Elysium situated within a Republican Nirvana.

To put things in perspective, four years ago 300,000 citizens voted compared to the 800,000 that were trying to cast their ballots last month. Looking at it from another angle: there was one polling facility for every 21,000 voters, compared with one facility for every 2,500 voters throughout the rest of the state. This is a serious oversight particularly with the knowledge that this years primaries have been acerbically divisive, resulting in huge voter turnout nationwide, it is simply deplorable that this was allowed to happen.

Purcell nonchalantly claimed afterward that the number of polling stations reflected the early voting lists and that one third of the people registered in the county could not officially mark a ballot, as they were Independents. The latter is an unfortunate, obstructive by-product of Arizona’s closed primary system in which one must be registered to vote for a designated party.

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Maricopa County residents faced lengthy queues while trying to vote in Arizona’s primaries last month. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Much to the chagrin of many Independent voters (who have the option to change, or choose a party at the time of voting), many were left disillusioned as they were turned away upon reaching the top of the lengthy queues. Some were given provisional ballots, or simply told that their votes would not be counted, fueling the frustration.

In the aftermath of the fiasco and bearing in mind that many Independents would have voted for Bernie Sanders if they had been given the opportunity, a whitehouse.gov petition emerged that charged voter fraud and voter suppression in Arizona. As of April 8, there have been 213,306 signatures meaning that the White House is required to provide an official response (the threshold being 100,000 signatures).

What transpired at the polling stations across Maricopa County is hardly a new phenomenon, yet it serves as a useful, and worrying precedent. The Mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, illuminated the saliency of the issue and disparaged the lack of organisation. He expounded that the allocation of stations was more favourable in predominately Anglo communities and that there were fewer voting locations in parts of the county with greater minority populations.

Furthermore, Stanton highlighted the plight of poorer voters, “if you’re a single mother with two kids, you’re not going to wait for hours, you’re going to leave that line,” he added that “tens of thousands of people were deprived of the right to vote.” This iniquity is nestled in the bosom of voting bulwarks that have been mainly constructed by the GOP across the United States in recent years.

Leading the way with such studies is the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Michael Waldman, president of the center, argues that Republicans have been positioning to pass laws around the U.S. with the end goal of making it more difficult and convoluted for people to cast their vote. According to the Brennan Centre, in 2016 17 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. These new laws vary, from strict photo ID requirements, to early voting cutbacks, to registration restrictions.

Some of the more punitive and heterogeneous cases feature an amendment in Texas that stipulates residents must show a state or federal issued form of ID to vote, or that the only ID issuing office in Sauk City, Wisconsin, is open 8:15am to 4:00pm on the fifth Wednesday of each month (there are only 4 fifth Wednesdays this year).

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Voter ID is an increasingly pressing issue facing the Presidential election (AP Photo/Matt York)

The presentation of relevant identification at polling stations was the cause of puzzlement during the Wisconsin primaries last Tuesday evening. Wisconsin has been thrust centre stage over the last few weeks as it became apparent that Governor Scott Walker (formerly of the presidential hopeful parish) signed a bill into law that would make it harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The new legislation will allow Wisconsinites to register to vote online.

While this sounds like a positive step in the right direction, many community organisers, such as the the League of Women Voters, et al, have argued that it will disenfranchise the poor or marginalised as these groups are more likely to register through voter registration drives. There are other obstacles that face these groups too, such as the lack of a driver’s license.

Historically, a larger voter turnout for presidential elections has favoured the Democratic nominee, a philosophy that the Sanders’ campaign has firmly grasped. That being said, high turnouts this primary season for Donald Trump have helped catapult him to the top of the withering GOP tree. Yet, it is apparent that the GOP establishment is holding out hope for a contested RNC. The abjectly handled primaries in Arizona, and Wisconsin on Tuesday evening are telltale signs of an ominous portend for the general election in November. Voter suppression is a cog in a larger machine that asphyxiates the very fabric of American ideals, a moralistic tapestry that continues to fray with much contrition.

Matthew O’Brien