Delegate system: Not so super, must be changed

by Jim Longworth

In the old days, candidates could be chosen in smoke-filled rooms by party hacks and influential business leaders. Today, smoking is not politically correct, but very little else has changed. That’s because we the people still aren’t allowed to elect candidates. Not really.

The oldest and most controversial obstructive institution is the electoral college, put in place by our founding fathers so that the popular vote could be trumped by elite politicos. Of course, in 2000 it was the Supreme Court, not the electoral college, that circumvented the will of the people after a series of hanging chads and questionable vote counts in Florida.

Clearly, there is so much reform needed in so many areas, that I won’t even attempt to spend any more time railing against the electoral college or the courts, however, there are a couple of political traditions that we can change without a major revolution. One is the ridiculous notion of “winner take all.” The Republicans employ this system in most primaries, and it is also a fixture of our general elections. The Democrats have it right on this matter. In their state primaries, they allocate delegates based on popular vote in individual Congressional districts. Yes, those districts are, and have been, subject to political gerrymandering, but it is still a preferred alternative to awarding all of a state’s delegates to the person with the most total votes.

The other good-old-boy system that needs changing involves the so-called super delegates. These delegates were created in 1982 in order to give party leaders more control (or certainly more influence) over the nominating process. Democratic National Committee member Elaine Kamarck prefers to call them “safety valves” which assure that voters don’t nominate a candidate who is out of sync with the party (such as George McGovern in 1972). The irony of this system, especially for Democrats, is that while the party as a whole is known for its racial and gender diversity, the Dems’ super delegates include many white-male party hacks (Kamarck and Donna Brazile notwithstanding).

Yes, super delegates are free agents, and are not legally bound to anyone but, in reality, they still tend to back the machine’s candidate. Just take a look at the current Obama-Clinton battle. Obama has won more states than Hillary, and is leading in regular delegates. However, for much of the campaign, he has trailed in super delegates, and they are the kind of elected officials and party workers who still think of Bill Clinton with reverence. That may change, and certainly if Obama’s surge continues, the super delegates will be hard pressed not to do the right thing and cast their lot with Barack. In any event, the super delegate system is at best flawed, and at worst potentially corrupt. Right now, of the 4,049 total Democratic delegates, about one-fifth are super delegates. Translation? A mere 800 power brokers could supersede the other 3,200 delegates and decide who gets the nod. The Republicans have less total delegates, and thus less super delegates, but the scheme is the same. Super delegates simply wield too much influence over the free election process.

It is time for the Federal Elections Commission to step in and clean up the two-party system as it currently exists. No more winner take all, and no more super people. Both of these problems essentially represent legalized voter fraud, and we must make the necessary changes to insure that every vote counts.

In the days prior to passage of the Voting Rights Act, redneck whites (including some police) could legally block black folks from entering a polling place. It took a federal law to eliminate that racist barrier to voting. Now, we must take similar action to eliminate more subtle barriers which circumvent everyone’s right to vote.

Restoring power to individual voters is a super idea whose time has come.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).