You Vote, They Decide

by , Adam Fogel // Published February 18, 2008
As the neck-and-neck race for the Democratic nomination moves into snowy Wisconsin tomorrow, party leaders have begun the debate over the role of superdelegates at their August convention in Denver. Superdelegates, nearly a fifth of the total number of delegates at the convention, are elected officials and party leaders who are not bound by the will of the people. Because the Democrats award their pledged (elected) delegates proportionally, it is increasingly likely that the unpledged superdelegates will tip the balance and choose the Democratic nominee for president.

Of the 795 superdelegates, only about 300 (according to the New York Times) have not publicly endorsed either Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama. Last week, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, switched his vote from Sen. Clinton to Sen. Obama because of the overwhelming Obama victory in his district. Other superdelegates are likely to move to the popular vote winner of their district or state to avoid potential political complications.

Party leaders, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are becoming increasingly vocal about how superdelegates should vote at the convention. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Speaker Pelosi said it would be "a problem for the party if the verdict would be something different than the public has decided."

But what exactly will the public decide? Does she mean the national popular vote winner or the pledged delegate winner? Should superdelegates vote for the winner of their congressional district or the statewide popular vote winner? What if the delegate margin is so close (as many pundits expect it to be) that the "will of the people" is only a difference of a few pledged delegates? Is that enough to swing hundreds of superdelegates in the direction of the one of the candidates?

While all these questions will eventually have answers (and future blog posts), one thing is certain: the Democratic Party's method of selecting a nominee is far more (small-d) democratic than the Republican method. The Republican's winner-take-all delegate allocation rewards early wins and truncates the process by anointing the winner of a few large states. Inside the beltway, conventional wisdom is that this method (while less democratic) helps the Republicans because they can stop fighting with each other and begin focusing on the general election.

Unless the Democratic superdelegates vote with the people, they will be no more democratic than their Republican counterparts.

UPDATE: According to, the popular vote count today is: Popular Vote Total- Obama - 9,534,440 Clinton - 8,830,610 Popular Vote (w/FL) Obama -10,110,654 Clinton - 9,701,596 Popular Vote (w/FL & MI)* Obama - 10,110,654 Clinton - 10,029,905 (*Obama Not on Michigan Ballot; Iowa, Nevada, Washington & Maine Have Not Released Popular Vote Totals)

FairVote Board member Hendrik Hertzberg has an ongoing discussion about this topic on The New Yorker blog.

Check out this full page ad supported by FairVote Action that will appear this week in USA Today.