It is time to eliminate superdelegates


Maine Democrats, to their credit, voted to eliminate them. Officials from the Democratic National Committee pushed back, telling Maine Democrats they weren’t allowed to eliminate them. An interesting grassroots vs. establishment showdown has exposed growing tension in the Democratic Party.

Tension that has been seen in the Republican Party for years, culminating in what can only be deemed outright civil war this year.

Part of me finds it more than a little ironic that the “Democratic Party” is so tremendously undemocratic. Superdelegates, for those of you who don’t know, are unpledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention. They are made up of party leaders, activists, former elected officials, and collectively make up what your average Democrat might consider The Establishment.

These delegates make up a significant number of convention delegates, roughly 15 percent of the overall convention votes.

And who are these people?

Some 434 are elected members from the Democratic National Committee. These are party officials, and chairs and vice chairs of the various state committees. Twenty of them are classified as “Distinguished Party Leaders,” and are made up of current and former congressional leaders, DNC chairs, and presidents and vice presidents. The 240 elected members of Congress are also in this category, as are the 21 state and territorial governors.

Elections do not matter to superdelegates. They are not required to vote for anyone based on the expressed will of the voters. They are unpledged, and are free to vote for anyone they wish. And given that they collectively make up The Establishment, they almost universally favor other members of The Establishment.

That’s why this year, despite Bernie Sanders winning 20 states, often times with big majorities, he would often find that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, would actually gain more overall delegates than he did. Even though she lost.

That’s because as of right now, Clinton enjoys the support of 524 superdelegates, while Sanders has only 40.

Bernie Sanders supporters at Maine Democratic Party convention in Portland last weekend. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Bernie Sanders supporters at Maine Democratic Party convention in Portland last weekend. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

This is a tremendously undemocratic system, and it is one that is defended by absurd arguments. The Bangor Daily News ran an editorial that argued in favor of them, thusly:

“To that end, the Democratic Party sets rules aimed at ensuring it remains as competitive as possible in national elections, and superdelegates are part of that difficult balance of responsibility to the party’s base and the party’s obligation to be competitive among the electorate at large.”

So, ignoring the will of the voter and concentrating more power in the hands of The Establishment is good, because these people “know what’s best” for the party, and can help it remain electorally competitive.

Interesting. Funny that in 1968, when Democratic convention goers nominated Hubert Humphrey, who hadn’t entered a single primary because he represented electability and The Establishment, the result was a disaster whereby the party tore itself apart and led to the election of Richard Nixon.

Right now, the Republicans are living through a political civil war of their own, because the party’s grassroots is angry that The Establishment has spent decades ignoring the will of the everyday Republican voter. And Republicans do not even maintain a superdelegate system that functions like the Democratic system.

The same conflicts that have exploded on the Republican side are present on the Democratic side. They simply haven’t led to open revolt just yet. But they’re there. Establishment political leaders in the party try to justify a system where they maintain their own power base and ignore the choice of grassroots activists.

Jake Tapper recently asked DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz what she would say to voters who are new to the process who feel like superdelegates create a “rigged” system. “Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists,” she replied.

Do they now?

To me, and most other clear thinking human beings, they put the party and elected officials in a position where they are dismissing the grassroots activists, and nullifying their victories on the ground.

But don’t worry, Democrats. As Wasserman-Shultz herself recently said, superdelegates have never overturned the will of the people before, so clearly there is nothing to worry about.

Well, nothing to worry about until there is something to worry about. The point isn’t that it hasn’t happened before. The point is that it can happen, and probably will someday.

If the Democratic superdelegate system were present on the Republican side this year, it is almost undeniable that the superdelegates and superdelegates alone would have denied Trump the nomination, given The Establishment‘s antipathy toward him.

If anything like that happens in either party, it will lead to blood in the streets and chaos, and most certainly won’t help the party be more electable. It is well past time the superdelegate system was ended.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.