Superdelegates: The Undemocratic Ways of the Democratic Party

We already knew that both the Democrats and the Republicans do not believe Americans are capable of direct governance; in truth, both are Republican in nature. With the recent discussion about superdelgates, however, we now know that Democratic Party leaders don’t even think American citizens are qualified to choose their own representatives. In short, a small group of 796 officials and party leaders, superdelegates, control about 1/5 or 20-percent of the power to choose the Democratic candidate. The millions of Democratic Party members weathering the snow, rain, and after-work races to the polls only control the remaining 80-percent.

Speaking on The Diane Rehm Show, political consultant Tad Devine said that Super Delegates aren’t meant to infringe on the Democratic process of choosing a presidential candidate, they’re meant to offer a peer review aspect to the democratic process ("The Democratic Convention," February 11, 2008). The notion that the party base is so ignorant that it needs the assistance of so-called "peer review" to choose a candidate is outlandish. Speaking from an academic perspective, peer review is used to ensure an academic work dealing is factually based and of the highest quality. One thing is for sure, it is not democratic. The author does not get a vote. Instead, one submits his/her work to another to be either approved or denied. This is fine for the world of academia, but in the world of citizenship everyone should be trusted to make use of his/her own reason in deciding whether or not to support a particular candidate.

In his op-ed piece for the New York Times, Devine writes that Democrats created superdelegeates after the 1980 election so that party leaders would be better represented at the convention ("Superdelegates, Back Off," February 10, 2008). He goes on to write, "Many party leaders felt that the delegates would actually be more representative of all Democratic voters if we had more elected officials on the convention floor to offset the more liberal impulses of party activists." Firstly, if party leaders really wanted to have the voters’ voices represented they would simply use their votes to decide who shall become the presidential nominee. Party leaders, however, are apparently so fearful of entrusting even the small group of delegates who attend the convention on behalf of millions of voters that "superdelegates" are needed to guard the White House. What about the more liberal impulses of every-day party members? And why do we need to offset the work of "party activists" as if "activism" is something which the party wishes to discourage? Moreover, how exactly does Devine define "more liberal impulses"? He doesn’t say. Perhaps he means true universal healthcare, drastically reducing the Federal military budget, drastically increasing the minimum wage, or giving the airwaves back to the public. What we do know is that one person’s "liberal impulses" are another’s common sense solutions to injustice.

Superdelegates were also created, writes Devine, to "provide unity at the nominating convention." Is this what we are seeking, unanimity at the cost of democracy, or a big-brother Democracy which believes its membership are so immature that they require assistance in participating in an indirect democracy? Have average voters so far strayed from Jeffersonian enlightenment that not only can we not govern ourselves; we now need party leaders and officials to assist us in choosing our representatives? On the contrary, in the last five years citizens have proven to be increasingly politically aware and engaged, pushing themselves into the melee of democracy and taking up the reigns of their own government.

In the op-ed piece, Devine urges superdelegates to refrain from pledging their support for either Clinton or Obama before, as he writes, "the voters have had their say." While it’s nice of Devine to urge superdelegates to refrain from picking the Democrat’s presidential nominee before the people have the chance to vote, he falls short of urging the party to make changes that bar superdelegates from pledging support. One must ask, why does a select group of less than 800 people have the right to handpick what may become the president residing over 300 million people? Also, what if superdelegates do hold off until all the votes have been cast, then what? If the voters have the wrong say will Devine and other so-called voices of reason lift the gate and urge party bosses to lead the ignorant masses to the correct trough? His answer: "After listening to the voters, the superdelegates can do what the Democratic Party’s rules originally envisioned. They can ratify the results of the primaries and caucuses in all 50 states by moving as a bloc toward the candidate who has proved to be the strongest in the contest that matters…the outside contest of ideas and inspiration, where hope can battle with experience and voters can make the right and best choice for our party and our future." Since when did the needs of the party supersede the needs of the people? Perhaps it was around the same time the millions of party members had the value of their votes downgraded.

Democratic strategist and superdelegate Donna Brazile said that superdelegates make up only 20% of the vote and that they’re representative of everyday Americans (The Diane Rehm Show, February, 11, 2008). First of all, whether or not superdelegates are representative of Democratic Party members is irrelevant! Democratic Party members, it seems to reason, may well prefer to have the right to choose a candidate without the assistance of someone whom they are told is just like them. If the average superdelegate is so much like the average voter, why not allow all parties an equal share of the vote, no less or more? Moreover, how can one downplay the fact that a small group of less than one-thousand party insiders carry 1/5 of the weight of nominating our party’s candidate?

According to one estimate, superdelegates comprise just 0.000007% of the voting population, yet have about 20% of the power to choose the Democratic nominee. Consider that the nearly four million voters in California are represented by just 350 delegates; the more than 400,000 voters in South Carolina have their choose represented by only 37 delegates; and that Georgia’s one-million Democratic primary voters are represented by just 71 delegates. In total, five and a half million voters are represented by less than 500 delegates. That’s 11,000 voters per delegate. Whom do superdelegates represent? Themselves. The Democratic Party has not outlined any rules which must guide their votes.

If one thing is for certain, the Democratic Party’s use of superdelegates taints the process as undemocratic. The Democrats utilization of superdelegates is tantamount to ensuring that if the game doesn’t go the way party insiders want it to, they have the mechanism to see to it they can have the final say. Either the Democratic Party believes in democracy, which requires a trust in the party base, or it does not. It should not, however, give .000007% of party members more than 20% of the decision making. The use of superdelegates amounts to a hierarchal control of the party dressed in the visage of democracy. How can Democrats take on the gulf between haves and have nots if the disparity between rich and poor is so obscenely manifested in the very process by which we elect our representatives? It’s time for Americans to wake-up and realize that the Democracy they’ve believed in is a fairytale. More importantly, Americans need to stop asking and start forcing their way into the insider enclaves that have so generously taken over the burden of governing our future.

Jeff Nall is a writer and activist. He is a graduate of Rollins College, Master of Liberal Studies (MLS). His work can be viewed at