The role superdelegates play in nominating presidential candidates has presented an ironic conundrum for political party activists, and it will be fascinating to see if this election season causes a change in either the Democrat or Republican camps.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has acknowledged it does not appear he will be the Democratic presidential nominee, and believes his party’s superdelegate process must be reformed.
In Washington state, for example, Sanders overwhelmingly won the Democratic precinct caucuses in March. However, many of our superdelegates pledged support for Hillary Clinton long before those caucuses were held.
That means we have two tiers of delegates, and support from those in the elite group carry significantly more weight than the average voter.
For those who may need a civics refresher, in the Democratic Party the superdelegates are a group of elected officials and senior party officers who are automatically considered delegates solely because of their position. They can support whoever they want.
Nationally, they will account for about 15 percent of the total vote at next month’s Democratic national convention. These privileged delegates do not have to consider how the people in their home state voted. There are about 700 Democrat superdelegates nationwide.
The latest count, as of this writing, showed Clinton with 591 superdelegates to Sanders’ 48. Clinton’s pledged delegates total 2,220 to Sanders’ 1,831.
Even though Clinton is winning the popular vote nationwide — and superdelegates don’t appear to be a deal-breaker for Sanders — there are many Democrats still philosophically opposed to the current superdelegate system. They believe it largely ignores the general will of party members and gives too much voting power to a select few.
Another issue is that the national media tended to include the superdelegate count for Clinton in the early primary elections, which gave the impression she was a lock, leading some voters to wonder if their ballot mattered much in their state’s primary elections.
Washington has 17 superdelegates. A majority — which include Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell — said early on they would vote for Clinton. Sanders, however, won nearly 73 percent of the precinct-level delegates.
Frustration over the superdelegate system has spread nationwide and has pushed the issue to the forefront this election season.
Sanders said recently in a C-SPAN interview that Democrats have to decide if they will open the doors and let millions of people participate in the process, or continue to shut them out.
But then, on the Republican side, the Democrat superdelegate system may be looking like a good idea.
The Republican Party has fewer superdelegates than the Democrats, making up only about 7 percent of the total who will vote at the national convention. In addition, they are bound on the first ballot to vote for the nominee who won their state’s primary election or caucus.
As it turns out, there are many Republican leaders who would prefer not to support Donald Trump as their party’s presidential nominee, but they have no choice. In fact, a GOP delegate from Virginia is so upset that he has filed a federal lawsuit so he won't be forced to vote against his conscience.
The paradox between the two parties this election season is amazing. Both camps have frustrated members, and both should try to find a way to address those concerns.