Note: Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their authors and not necessarily those of Penn Democrats as an organization.
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton exited the Super Tuesday primaries with a fairly wide discrepancy in delegate count. After the results of these elections, Hillary has gathered a significant 1,052 delegates to Bernie’s mere 427. Despite Hillary’s landslide victory in many Southern states, the size of this discrepancy comes as a surprise to many within the context of Bernie’s substantial victories in New Hampshire and Vermont, his lesser wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma, and his strong showings in Iowa, Massachusetts and Nevada. These state primaries, however, only decided the allocation of “pledged delegates,” which are proportional to the share of the vote won by the candidate in that state. If one only counts these pledged delegates, the race is relatively close, with Hillary only winning 596 delegates to Bernie’s 407. Hillary’s strong lead, then, is a product of the support she has received from “superdelegates,” an unpledged group of delegates consisting of Democratic governors, members of Congress, and the party’s other state and national leaders. These superdelegates are not tied to the results of the primaries, and can pledge support for their candidate of choice. Overall, there are 712 superdelegates, comprising nearly 15% of the 4,763 total delegates. If the race continues to be as competitive as it has been, this 15% may ultimately decide the party’s nominee.
With Hillary already receiving support from 457 superdelegates to Bernie’s meager 22, it’s clear which direction party elites wish to push the election. Disregarding political or ideological differences between Hillary and Bernie, it can’t be denied that the Democratic primary system is thoroughly undemocratic, as it is constructed and run in a way that significantly favors establishment candidates like Hillary over unconventional candidates like Bernie. I would like to mention that this article is not an argument that one candidate better represents the Democratic electorate than the other or that one candidate would make a better president than the other. This article is, however, a commentary on the ways the Democratic establishment damages progressive values by failing to provide a truly democratic nomination process and live up to the namesake of the party. The Democratic nominee for president should be based on the popular vote of the electorate, not decided by the party’s elite. Regardless of loyalty to either Hillary or Bernie, Democrats should agree that it is in the best interest of the Democratic Party to change the superdelegate system, as it is inherently undemocratic, alienates voters, and inhibits progress within the party.
While both candidates and most Democrats support the idea of “one person, one vote,” this isn’t the reality of the party’s nomination process, as the superdelegate system gives unbalanced power to the party’s elite. The heart of the Democratic Party is the Democratic electorate, not the party’s elite. Therefore, the purpose of a party primary should be to nominate the candidate chosen by the majority of voters who identify themselves as Democrats, not to ensure the election of a pre-chosen establishment candidate. The superdelegate system steals power from individual voters and transfers that power to the party’s elite, who ultimately wield unbalanced influence over deciding the nominee. For a party that actively fights restrictive voter ID laws and the Citizens United decision, the use of superdelegates considerably limits the power of the individual voter and therefore the democratic value of “one person, one vote.”
The use of superdelegates also alienates Democratic voters by creating an additional and unnecessary barrier between voters and the actions of the party. When asked why the Democratic Party uses the system of superdelegates, Debbie Wasserman Schulz, the DNC’s Chairwoman, stated that superdelegates “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.” Here, Wasserman Schulz explicitly states that superdelegates have a direct role in perpetuating the nomination of essentially pre-chosen party leaders. In a scathing response to this statement, Sally Kohn writes, “the Democratic Party’s superdelegates exist to preserve the power and influence of the Democratic Party’s elite. Well that makes perfect sense — if you’re, say, the inherently elitist, pro-big business, rich Republican Party. But not if you’re supposed to be the party that protects the interests of regular Americans.” The use of superdelegates alienates voters who identify with the party’s progressive values but don’t necessarily identify with decisions made by the party’s establishment. When the vast majority of superdelegates flock towards the establishment candidate, these voters are alienated and feel betrayed by the party.
Regardless of individual support for either Bernie or Hillary, Democrats should collectively agree that the superdelegate system in the Democratic primary is alienating, undemocratic, and unfitting for a party that claims to fight for the rights of the average American. The superdelegate process habitually rewards establishment candidates like Hillary at the cost of nontraditional outsider candidates like Bernie, even when the outsider candidate has received a significant amount of grassroots support and has competed well in early primaries. The Democratic Party should put theory into practice and enforce the democratic value of “one person, one vote” by abolishing the superdelegate system. If Hillary is the nominee the majority of the Democratic electorate supports, then she absolutely deserves to be the party’s nominee. However, the same stands for Bernie. There cannot be limited support for Bernie within the Democratic Party if he is shown to be the candidate the majority of the Democratic electorate supports. Both candidates have equal right to the party’s nomination, and both candidates deserve equal treatment from the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party’s nominee for president should be the choice of the Democratic electorate, not the choice of the party’s elite.