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Superdelegates and Open Primaries



Bernie Sanders and the Congressional Black Caucus are at odds over the former’s demands for changes in the primary process.

In a letter sent to both the Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns, the CBC is expressing its resolute opposition to two key reforms demanded by Sanders in the run-up to the Democratic convention: abolishing the party’s superdelegate system and opening Democratic primaries up to independents and Republicans.

“The Democratic Members of the Congressional Black Caucus recently voted unanimously to oppose any suggestion or idea to eliminate the category of Unpledged Delegate to the Democratic National Convention (aka Super Delegates) and the creation of uniform open primaries in all states,” says the letter, which was obtained by POLITICO. “The Democratic Party benefits from the current system of unpledged delegates to the National Convention by virtue of rules that allow members of the House and Senate to be seated as a delegate without the burdensome necessity of competing against constituents for the honor of representing the state during the nominating process.”

Each side is right about one issue. Sanders is right that the superdelegates need to go. They serve no useful purpose and feed into conspiracy theories. Some look at the Republican nomination this year and say “this is what superdelegates can prevent.” But if superdelegates prevented any winner of a democratic process from being the nominee, total chaos would take place. They serve no real purpose other than giving party elites a slightly more than ceremonial vote in reality, but that’s not enough to keep them given the controversies over them this year.

On the other hand, I believe Democrats should pick the Democratic nominee. I’m fine with same day registration for voting. But declared Democrats should pick the Democratic nominee. If you don’t want to soil your leftist purity by registering as a Democrat, that’s a choice you make.

The caucuses should also be eliminated in favor of primaries in every state, but that’s not at play in this current conflict.

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  • Ramon A. Clef

    Democrats should pick the Democratic nominee

    I wholeheartedly agree. Only people who belong to the party have any business selecting its leader. In the same fashion, I wouldn’t want people who don’t live in my neighborhood to have any say in who the president of my neighborhood association is.

    • BobBobNewhartNewhartSpecial

      Semi-open primaries seem like the most logical choice. Allow independents to vote, because these are the people in the general that you will need to get to have any chance of winning, so why not see who appeals to them. But no reason to allow members of the other party, who are less likely to cross over in the general, and who might (though the chance seems minimal) cross over just to wreak havoc on the process.

      • calling all toasters

        …and when mischief-minded Republicans registers as Independent to keep their options open?

      • IS

        And members of the Boise city council should get to have a role in choosing the leadership of the UAW because they aren’t actually members of the management of any car companies.


    • A Rising Ape

      Yeah, fuck independents! How dare they try to be honest about their political leanings AND cast a vote that actually matters in a fixed two-party system! Pure scum!

      • IS

        It’s unfair that as an American, I don’t get to vote in the Brexit referendum on Thursday!

    • ThrottleJockey

      I strongly disagree. We need more systems like California’s. Unlike your Housing Association, I can’t just pick up and move countries if I don’t like the leader. Given that the 2 Parties have a stranglehold on the process, the 2 parties need open up primaries to Independents.

      • wjts

        This is stupid. The parties are completely open to anyone who wants to join. Want to get your voice heard? Swallow your fucking pride and tick the box on the form.

        • IS

          This. If you want the benefit of selecting the representatives of a private organization, it’s not much to ask that you join it. Especially when it’s free.

  • Alex.S

    I expect superdelegates are going to turn into delegates that can attend and vote on platforms, but not for the nominee.

    • delazeur

      That makes sense to me: give the elected Democratic officials some say in the agenda they are supposed to represent.

    • ForkyMcSpoon

      My thinking is that superdelegates ought to be able to vote on platforms and rules, but when it comes to the nominee, either:

      A. they don’t vote on the first ballot
      B. they’re bound on the first ballot, but they’re free on the second, while pledged delegates are bound on the first two ballots
      C. they’re bound on the first ballot, but all delegates are unbound on the second ballot
      D. they don’t vote on the candidate at all (or only if it gets to a late ballot)

      This seems like it would keep them as a backstop in the case of 3+ candidates making it to the convention with significant amounts of delegates. But to some extent the first three could look kinda like the issue the GOP had with Cruz’s attempts to block Trump from the nomination (their voters did, however, put a stop to that and possibly in response to those machinations).

      • Richard Gadsden

        They can vote on the candidate, but their vote isn’t counted if someone gets a majority of the non-super delegates on the first ballot.

        Get a majority of the pledged delegates and you’ve won the election; fail to do so and the supers can come in and break the tie.

        If you get >2 candidates to the convention with 25-40% each, then you need something to come into play to settle things, and the only options are either two of the candidates doing a deal, or waiting until the delegates are unbound – at which point they’re effectively superdelegates anyway, so why not use the current supers system at that point.

  • wjts

    Sanders is right that the superdelegates need to go. They serve no useful purpose and feed into conspiracy theories.

    I’m not sure they serve no useful purpose; as the quotes at the end of the article show, they guarantee that groups like the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses have a role in the convention. A diverse party apparatus is important.

    • Dilan Esper

      Don’t they have racial quotas for delegates themselves? I don’t think it is impossible to have a non-diverse Democratic convention.

      At any rate, the presidential vote, which is chosen by voters, seems to me to be different than the rest of the convention. Having superdelegates for every other purpose seems fine with me.

      • wjts

        The potential for superdelegates to overturn the result of a primary election is certainly a problem, but there are some upsides to the system. I don’t know what a solution that fixes the problem but keeps the benefits would look like.

        • Dilan Esper

          Remember (we can’t forget this given what the GOP is doing right now!) that there is another way to overturn a result of a primary– just free the delegates at the convention. Totally within the rules, but a much more difficult to use (and thus superior) safety valve.

          • wjts

            Don’t pledged delegates become unbound after the first (or x number) of ballots already?

      • JL

        Don’t they have racial quotas for delegates themselves?

        Yes, at least here. There are delegate targets for people of color, LGBTQ people, disabled people, and young (under age 36) people.

        • Gwen

          Yes we do.

          However, I think there might be some challenges at the actual convention over these.

          At the TDP convention this weekend, I think the Asian-Americans might have gotten screwed out of a couple of spots by some not-quite-superdelegate party bigwigs (I wasn’t in the Nominations Committee room, but I heard scuttlebutt afterward).

    • JMP

      The main purpose is to make sure that the high level elected officials (and former of the same) and other major party figures are certain to be delegates, rather than facing the possible indignity of not going to the convention if the Presidential candidate they support loses their state.

      • Dilan Esper

        Then just take away their presidential vote and make them delegates for all other purposes.

        At any rate, that reason can’t be THAT compelling, because the other party seems to be able to get its bigwigs to the convention (at least when the nominee isn’t Trump) without using superdelegates.

  • DrDick

    Superdelegates are by definition undemocratic and exist to allow party elites to dictate outcomes.

    • charon04

      Which makes the superdelegates a good thing. I like them.

      • DrDick

        I, on the other hand, favor democracy over plutocracy.

        • wjts

          Curse those running dog plutocrats of the Congressional Black Caucus!

    • ColBatGuano

      Have superdelegates ever dictated the outcome?

      • EliHawk

        No. We have 30+ years of evidence of them not once overturning the Democratic will, but should dump them because of various conspiracy theory/slippery slope nonsense.

        • calling all toasters

          If it ain’t broke, break it.

          • A Rising Ape

            They’ve successfully maintained the status quo for thirty years, clearly everything is going just fine.

    • LosGatosCA

      The elected officials who serve as superdrlegates were not picked undemocratically.

      Party building / party loyalty should be worth something. Folks who have gone through a much more rigorous vetting and competitive process (an actual election) with their professional and personal lives impacted and their reputations on the line deserve to be seated without further complications at the convention.

      They are not ever going to override the popular will, and if they break a tie, then great, they are the professionals who the party should be counting on to do just that.

      The paranoia of ‘rigged’ games/events/processes should be directed at other institutions that deserve it. The last rigged Democratic convention was 1968 and the rules are different now

      Different point

      As for independents and Republicans voting in the Democratic primaries – that’s just plain fucking stupid. That proposal comes from people who havent seen a compelling enough to join/build the party prior to this point. No surprise they undervalue the insiders and overvalue the outsiders.

      • Manny Kant

        I think it would be reasonable to get rid of DNC members, but keep the superdelegates who are elected officials.

      • Jackov

        Elected officials are 40% of superdelegates.

    • JL

      I find it odd that this is a controversial claim. I’ve read Jim Roosevelt saying that this is in fact the point of superdelegates (and he was presenting it as a good thing). The current system was a response to McGovern, no?

      • Jackov

        McGovern and Carter. Superdelegates were created to make it more difficult for insurgent and anti-Washington candidates to win the nomination.

        • TopsyJane

          insurgent and anti-Washington candidates to win the nomination

          Those were the guys they had in mind at the time. The current candidate of the GOP also comes to mind.

        • Brien Jackson

          No, they were created because the minutia of the convention was a real mess in these years.

          • EliHawk

            Yeah, you had four straight cycles where a convention was either a shit show (Dem 68, Dem 72) or where a narrow loser tried to use chicanery to swipe the nomination (GOP 76, Dem 80) with resulting turmoil and threats to party unity. The ability of party actors to validate and control the convention in favor of the nominee that’s been agreed to by the voters themselves prior is a good thing.

          • Jackov

            From the Hunt Commission

            Now as to nominations, I think the principal reason we lost control of the nomination at the presidential level is because of the primaries, and it has happened, of course, throughout in other elements of the political structure.

            And I think it fair to say, without evaluating President Carter as an excellent candidate or an excellent President or an excellent anything else, that he was more of an outsider, more of an unknown than any candidate who has ever received the nomination of either major party, and that his nomination at least would not have been possible under the old rules.

            If you don’t like what the incumbent is doing, you have the option of throwing him out and bringing in the other guy, and I think that’s exactly what happened in 1976. And I think in that respect it was a mandate by the American people that they didn’t like 12 percent inflation and they didn’t like Jimmy Carter as President.

            But if the Party doesn’t have influence over getting the nomination—and we have been kept out of that—then the accountability issue is a little lax. We were talking about individual men in that case, and that’s I think what we are talking about when we are talking about Jimmy Carter as President.

            And finally, I think we have all agreed that one of the problems we had in the last administration was the lack of relationship between the President and the Congress. Had Jimmy Carter been forced to relate to the Congressmen and to the Senators early, it might have produced a better relationship in terms of governing this country.

            One of the things clear to me, that whether you have 100,000 or 10,000 or 10 million people participate has no bearing whatsoever on the quality of the outcome. And we all know that. Every one of us here knows that. Numbers alone don’t give you any assurance that you’ve made a better decision, and in attempting to deal with large numbers what you often lose and which I think we have lost in the primaries is the opportunity for the one to one evaluation.

            I do think that the chances, the odds are improved of getting such candidates and such Presidents and such leaders if we give a much greater role that then now enjoy to people who because of their position in life have a chance to know the potential candidates personally and to observe them operating under such conditions that at least bear a strong similarity to those that they will have to operate under if they become President.

            I concur fully with everything I have heard here today on the role and the importance of elected officials as a stabilizing force within the convention, not only in terms of the nomination, but in terms of the other issues which come before the convention, and I share an endorsement for a very sizeable reflection of those Democratic Members of Congress and Democratic Governors who are in fact loyal Democrats and loyal to the tenets of the Party.

    • Ahuitzotl

      If you want a party, you need a structure, which means you have to give people some power within that structure. Take away that power and you get, well, Reince Priebus

  • Dilan Esper

    Open versus closed primaries is a really complex issue. There really are good arguments on both sides. And I certainly don’t have any problem with the Black Caucus’ position.

    But I was really disappointed in their defense of superdelegates, for the reasons Erik articulates and also because in reality I just think they are the equivalent of Justice Jackson’s “loaded weapon” lying around. As long as they exist, there will be calls to use them to overturn an election result, and if they really did overturn an election result, it would result in riots and a broken party.

    • Murc

      Superdelegates ability to overturn the will of the rank and file are sort of like, in the UK, the Queen’s theoretical power to withhold assent.

      Does it exist? Sure. But it’s a thing that, if it ever happens at all, will only happen once.

    • A Rising Ape

      The closed primary exists only to disenfranchise independents and prop up the two-party lock on our system, just like every other attempt to make elections more honest by stopping people from voting.

      • Or you could just register as a Democrat.

        • wjts

          He’s not going to sell out and participate in your corrupt neo-liberal system, man.

      • IS

        Please tell me how stopping me from voting in states I don’t live it is about disenfranchising independents and propping up the two-party system.

      • Richard Gadsden

        Rubbish, the more the parties do to shut out independents, the more likely they make a successful third party.

        Structurally, the only way a third party can succeed is by adopting an issue or a mix of issues that both major parties are ignoring. The easier it is for people outside the system to bring their issues into the parties, the harder it gets for a third party to get anywhere.

  • Alex.S

    On open vs closed, my feeling is that it should be equivalent for all the primaries in a state/territory. An open primary for one party and a closed primary for the other party could produce an odd electorate.

  • Mike B.

    I have no problem with either closed primaries (and I’m one of those who didn’t get to vote in the primary this year because I wouldn’t soil my leftist purity by registering as a Democrat) or superdelegates (why shouldn’t party leaders have more say than someone who just checked a box on a voter registration form, or, for open primary states, people who just asked for a Democratic ballot?).

    • LosGatosCA

      Yes – these points seem pretty obvious.

    • Richard Gadsden

      Has any state ever held a fully-open primary, where all voters can vote in all parties’ primaries?

  • JMP

    The lack of a push for ending the anti-democratic caucuses, and support for the absolutely awful idea of open primaries, almost make it look like Sanders’ “reform” demands aren’t about actual meaningful steps to make the Democratic primaries better, but are actually all about his own petty personal grievances and supporting anything that got him more votes.

    • CP

      Yeah, I was just about to post something like that. Abolishing superdelegates? Yes. I’m good with this. But at the same time, let’s abolish caucuses, which are equally undemocratic. I’d really like to see someone make this argument at the convention.

      • JL

        Yes, I would love to see someone push to abolish both. They’re both undemocratic.

    • wjts

      Usually when I say, “Yes, that sounds plausible,” I don’t mean it, but this time I do.

      Yes, that sounds plausible.

    • Dilan Esper

      I am not defending Sanders on this, but there’s no way the parties will ever agree to end caucuses. That issue is tied up with the whole Iowa and New Hampshire go first thing and that’s basically off the table.

      • Aexia

        Doesn’t need to happen all at once. There are obviously constraints because of state laws. Some states have caucuses because the state won’t hold a primary unless the party pays for it. That’s something the DNC can step in for. Maybe there are other hurdles.

        But the first step should be to get rid of the whole multiple levels of delegate allocation.

        The IA GOP caucuses are how they should be done at a minimum – it’s basically a party-run primary statewide and delegates are awarded proportionally. Most importantly, the results that night are binding no matter what happens the rest of the process (which you’ll still have to select the actual individual delegates). The DNC likes its congressional district allocations so I suppose that can still be kept under this system.

        This eliminates the multiple rounds of allocating precinct delegates that elect county delegates that elect statewide delegates that elect national delegates and the ratfuckery at each and every stage that ensues.

        Next step should be party-run caucuses but you can cast your vote all day. It’s only if you’re interested in being a delegate that you would need to show up. This makes the caucuses more accessible.

        Finally, one way or another, get it to being an actual primary with early/absentee voting.

        I’m generally pretty agnostic about whether the primary is closed or open to indies but I don’t really have any sympathy for the political hipsters who couldn’t decide between Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders before the registration change deadline. They’re exactly the sort of people who have no business choosing the nominee.

        • BobBobNewhartNewhartSpecial

          They’re exactly the sort of people who have no business choosing the nominee.

          But they are also exactly the sort of people who will end up choosing the president in the general. So maybe letting them put their collective thumb on the scale in choosing an appealing nominee isn’t such a bad idea.

          • Pseudonym

            You think letting Rand Paul fans put their thumb on the Democratic nomination is a good thing? If someone isn’t even willing to call themselves a party member for the purposes of same-day registration (which seems like a justifiable compromise to me) then I’m comfortable with not giving them a say in choosing the party’s nominee.

      • BobBobNewhartNewhartSpecial

        That issue is tied up with the whole Iowa and New Hampshire go first thing and that’s basically off the table.

        As Aexia says, it doesn’t have to be all at once. And, with regard to Iowa, it doesn’t have to be complete. Because it is such a tradition there, Iowa seems to do caucuses right and get lots of turnout. So just give them a pass, but end or reform the process as much as possible for everyone else.

      • Brien Jackson

        Well, you could “abolish” caucuses by making them “open” all day long, having the process be showing up and casting a ballot, and even let people vote early if the scheduled day for the caucus is problematic.

      • Richard Gadsden

        Ending caucuses except for Iowa and states where the state government won’t fund a primary would be possible, though.

        At least then Washington’s primary would be a real thing.

    • DrDick

      I actually more strongly oppose caucuses than I do superdelegates.

  • Rob in CT

    Agreed 100%.

  • Loomis, what the hell do you think you’re doing, posting on MaxSpeak’s blog?

    • junker

      That made me chuckle.

  • Kalil

    One thing to keep in mind:
    In North Carolina, voter registration is a matter of public record, and is easily searchable on the BoE website. This does potentially open you to retaliation and harassment, especially as a Democrat.

  • ochospantalones

    The problem here is that the party cannot actually mandate universal open (or closed) contests. Whether a primary is open or closed is determined by state governments, which are mostly controlled by Republicans at this point. The national party could refuse to seat the delegates from a closed contest, but I imagine the Florida legislature would just laugh and tell them to go for it.

    I think the big target for reform should be the Washington caucuses. There is no reason a large-ish blue state should hold a caucus. And they already hold a separate primary vote anyway, which the Republicans use for their delegate allocation.

    • ggrzw72

      This isn’t correct. The Supreme Court has held that parties must be given the option of allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in their primaries. Tashjian v. Republican Party of Conn., 479 U.S. 208 (1986). Mandatory open primaries are unconstitutional under California Democratic Party v. Jones. 530 U.S. 567 (2000).

  • Quite Likely

    This is a pretty outrageous position for someone as anti-third party as Loomis to take. If it were possible for independents to the left of the Democratic Party to take their ball, go home, and build a new home for themselves, you could justify not letting them participate in the party primary. But given that we are in this situation where the only serious avenues for political participation are the two major parties, it’s just not okay to block huge swathes of the country from helping to choose their nominees. The argument that people should suck it up and register as Democrats reminds me of the arguments that voter ID laws are not really voter suppression. Regardless of what you think is reasonable for people to do in preparation for voting, it turns out that in real life a lot of people apparently have practical or ideological problems getting it done. The fact that you think those problems are dumb really isn’t enough to justify disenfranchising those voters.

    • ColBatGuano

      So, should independents get to vote in both the Democratic and Republican primaries?

      • LosGatosCA

        Sure – that will boost turn out to the upper middle teens.

        The general election is about democracy. The primaries are about party process. Sure you want legitimacy/credibility – for your own party members, not independents and the opposition party.

      • Richard Gadsden

        Why not? If they could vote in all primaries, then third-party primaries might get a noticeable number of voters.

    • JMP

      Poor special snowflakes who think they’re too good to register with a party! The Democrats must accommodate their pretentious obnoxiousness!

      • A Rising Ape

        Yeah, screw those plebs! Trying to horn in on our neoliberal circle-jerk! Lousy peasants.

        • The Temporary Name

          The boss doesn’t get to vote in my union.

        • JMP

          Any pleb can vote in the Democratic primary, you just have to register with the party. It’s only people who think they’re too good for the party who refuse to do that. It’s kind of ironic that you’re trying to twist this into somehow being a class issue when those tend to be over-privileged rich white kids who think “neoliberal” is a cromulent insult, the actual plebians are fine with registering with the party.

    • furikawari

      The argument that people should suck it up and register as Democrats reminds me of the arguments that voter ID laws are not really voter suppression.

      In what fashion? Loomis’s position was “same-day registration OK, but you have to register as a D.” So you’re there at the polls, and you want a D ballot, to choose the D nominee, but you’re not willing even to ask for it on the record?

      That is not the same as denying large swaths of people the right to vote because they do not or cannot obtain the proper identification or because there is a substantive roadblock between them and registration to vote that reduces their likelihood of doing so.

    • Aexia

      Regardless of what you think is reasonable for people to do in preparation for voting, it turns out that in real life a lot of people apparently have practical or ideological problems getting it done. The fact that you think those problems are dumb really isn’t enough to justify disenfranchising those voters.

      If you’re “too principled” to register as a Democrat but still want an invite to the party, then fuck you. You’re exactly the sort of person who should have zero input in the party process.

    • junker

      It’s a bit disingenuous to call not being allowed to vote in a primary “disenfranchisement.”

      As a registered Democrat I’m not allowed to vote in Republican primaries. Am I disenfranchised? Choosing no party as a preference is still choosing a preference.

    • But given that we are in this situation where the only serious avenues for political participation are the two major parties, it’s just not okay to block huge swathes of the country from helping to choose their nominees. The argument that people should suck it up and register as Democrats reminds me of the arguments that voter ID laws are not really voter suppression. Regardless of what you think is reasonable for people to do in preparation for voting, it turns out that in real life a lot of people apparently have practical or ideological problems getting it done. The fact that you think those problems are dumb really isn’t enough to justify disenfranchising those voters.

      Registering for a party is really a super minimal bar, not at all comparable to voter ID (which is expensive, typically, and you are required to remember to bring it, can cost money, etc.; compared to a check box). There is *no* practical barrier…if you’ve registered to vote, there was a check box.

      There are real problems with some races in some circumstances with various forms of open primaries. Basically, if one side is contested and the other is not, the opposing party can mess with you. There are cases where there’s a strong case, e.g., essentially one party states.

      I think it would be better to acknowledge that there are suboptimal outcomes with all arrangements instead of comparing something which (given reasonable deadlines) is essentially a non barrier to disenfranchisement which is a serious and ongoing problem in the US.

      • Lurking Canadian

        If it’s as easy as checking a box on Election Day, what’s to stop Other Party voters from registering as Democrats. I mean, they are there because they want to screw with the results, right? They’re already committed to fucking with the system. Checking the D box seems like a small incremental but of fuckery.

        • If it’s as easy as checking a box on Election Day,

          I didn’t say on election day :) If you’ve seen my other posts, I advocated “reasonable deadline” but “before election day”.

          However, xq challenges me on whether fucking with us is problem and it seems to be fairly uncommon if at all existent at the moment.

  • anonymous

    Here is a great idea for superdelegates.

    Keep them but only allow them to vote if no candidate gets a majority of pledged delegates in the first round. After that they get to vote as well in subsequent rounds and at that point you need a majority of all delegates.

    In a two person race, they can’t play a role obviously. But in 3+ candidate race with no clear frontrunner, they can.

    • Aexia

      I like this compromise as well. They’re prohibited from the first ballot but can vote on platform, rules, etc.

      And most importantly, they still get an automatic invite to the convention which is 90% of why we have superdelegates tbh.

  • addicted44

    I do find it amusing that the year the Republicans would give an arm and a leg to have super delegates is the year they become an issue. Is there any evidence of super delegates ever having turned an election? There is a lot of evidence that they instead follow the lead of the electorate. The brouhaha over super delegates sounds very “voter fraud” like to me. Lots of complaining with absolutely no evidence of any real problems.

    OTOH, there is very clear evidence that caucuses are, as Josh Marshall described, the most effective voter suppression system in American politics.

    • Aexia

      The irony is that the GOP used to have 3 unbound automatic delegates (basically state chair + RNC members) per delegation but *this* cycle, they bound them to the results of the election.

      (States that had unbound delegates didn’t have any vote to bind to)

  • EliHawk

    No. Keep the Superdelegates. Not because of Trump or anything else, but because they’re the fudge that allows this system of 57 separate contests spread out over 4 months to elect delegates that turn into a nominee to work, and work properly. In the nine elections and 36 years since they were created, not once have the bold conspiracies that they’d ‘overturn the will of the voters’ actually happened. Rather, they make the math of a convention work. In 1984, they put a clear plurality winner (Mondale won about 48-49% of pledged delegates and Hart and Jackson were far behind) over the top and assured an orderly convention we remember for Cuomo’s oratory, not Hart and Jackson in a smoke filled room. In 2008, they ratified Obama’s very narrow pledged delegate lead, again assuring there was a solid mandate and a smooth convention with party unity. Unlike in 1976 or 1980, a narrow loser was unable to muck up the convention through rules committee gambits, floor fights, and other tricks to try and snatch away the nomination.

    So long as Democrats have hyper-proportional delegate allocation, there is a real chance that you end up with a plurality winner but not a majority one. Say O’Malley (or in ’08, Edwards) was able to stick around long enough to win ~15% of the vote across a few early primaries and Super Tuesday before dropping out. It’s enough to be viable and swipe several dozen delegates, which in turn could take a clear winner below 50%, and then it’s ‘contested convention’ time. The old ‘rallying effect’ where candidates drop out when they lose seems less likely in the days of the small donor ATM, and it just takes a third candidate sticking around for a while to completely muck the process up. Super delegates rallying around a winner and being able to fudge around the allocation to make a smooth, acceptable nomination process. The Republic has enough hard rules and veto points that can clog up smooth governance. Keeping flexibility in the nominating process is a good thing.

    • DAS

      So long as Democrats have hyper-proportional delegate allocation, there is a real chance that you end up with a plurality winner but not a majority one […] a clear winner below 50%, and then it’s ‘contested convention’ time.

      This would be a feature, not a bug, for the GOP (which by and large lacks “hyper-proportional delegate allocation”) in this election cycle. In order to deny Trump a majority of delegates in winner-take-all primaries, the GOP needed to have unified around an alternative to Trump. OTOH, if the GOP awarded delegates proportionally, since Trump didn’t get majorities of voters in many states, he would have lacked enough delegates to win on the first convention ballot, which would have resulted in the brokered convention many “anyone but Trump” supporters wanted.

  • MPAVictoria

    I agree super delegates have to go. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t.

    Fine with closed primary as long as there is same day registration, as you stated Erik. Seems like a good compromise.

    Important to remember, primaries are funded by tax revenue not party funds. So citizens should have every opportunity to participate.

    • Restricting people to the party they registered with is a reasonable restriction. Same day registration is a bit prone to abuse (e.g., uncontested Republican primary, highly contested Democratic primary == lots of Republicans fucking with the Democratic primary).

      Important to remember, primaries are funded by tax revenue not party funds. So citizens should have every opportunity to participate.

      This really is not a good argument. Lots of things are funded with tax revenue and yet have restrictions. And really, “Every opportunity” would be everyone gets to vote in *all* the primaries, which is obviously a bit silly.

      • MPAVictoria

        If the Parties want to be restrictive about who votes in their primaries they can pay for it.

        • No. I pay taxes in the US and am perfectly happy for the primaries to be restrictive to reasonably registered members and funded by those taxes.

          It’s in no way high minded or “more democratic” to insist otherwise. Plus you’ve addressed literally none of the problems with your position.

          • MPAVictoria

            Okay. There are others who pay taxes who disagree. I agree with Erik about the same day registration and disagree with you that it is a problem. Nothing else to say.

            • Okay. There are others who pay taxes who disagree.

              Sure. And thus far you’ve lost. Doesn’t make it undemocratic. If you win, it won’t be undemocratic either.

              I agree with Erik about the same day registration and disagree with you that it is a problem.

              If you are retracting your claims that it’s undemocratic, then the fact you prefer the other arrangement is just a fact and we indeed have nothing further to say.

              Though, talking with xq elsewhere has led me to wonder if it is in fact a problem.

        • TopsyJane

          It seems quite reasonable to limit voting in what is called the Democratic primary to Democrats.

          In any case Sanders is only peevish because closed primaries didn’t work for him. As a rule, closed primaries are likely to benefit an insurgent candidate, because open primaries were intended to dilute the power of the party base.

          • xq

            They won’t, because of the way the establishment/anti-establishment axis works in US politics. Insurgent candidates will benefit from allowing independents to vote. Leftist insurgents will benefit from allowing independents to vote, even though those independents will tend to be further right than Democrats, because in primaries the establishment vs. antiestablishment axis matters more than the left-right axis. It’s a little weird, but probably true.

            • I believe that.

              It will be interesting to see how the post mortem sorts out the bernie support.

              • wjts

                Anecdotally, the Sanders supporters I know that aren’t regular Dem voters are a mixture of unreconstructed Naderites, largely apolitical folks, and older-style Republicans who dislike Clinton but couldn’t stomach any of the offerings at this year’s Republican Clowntime Buffet. Admittedly, I’m talking about a single-digit sample size here, though.

      • xq

        (e.g., uncontested Republican primary, highly contested Democratic primary == lots of Republicans fucking with the Democratic primary)

        What evidence is there that this equality holds? If it does, ok, we need closed primaries to protect against it. But I’m not convinced there’s ever been this sort of large-scale ratfuckery by voters in primaries.

        • This is a good question.

          There does seem to be some evidence. The CA free for all seems pretty bad.

          But sure, if it’s not a strong effect then go ahead relax things a lot. I don’t think it’s wrong per se to exclude them (a la strong disenfranchisement) but upping participation is a good goal in itself If there’s evidence that open primary do that and the equality doesn’t hold then Yay open primaries.

          • Ok, the literature seems mixed. (e.g., this) Some studies show little strategic voting. So maybe it’s not a worry.

            One thing that interests me is that the theorising emphasised that the expected out come is often that *moderate* candidates benefit from open primaries. Which is understandable but a bit odd in the current discussion. Without true cross over, I’d find that surprising given that we know that independents tend to be as partisan as declared.

            Hmm. so I still think it isn’t *wrong* to have closed primaries, I’m more open to their being a positive good. (And the funding angle is just wrong.)

          • Hob

            The “CA free for all”, a.k.a. the blanket primary or jungle primary, is bad in a different way. There is no need for Party B to make any organized effort to fuck with the vote distribution among Party A’s candidates; all it takes it that you have more than two candidates on A’s side with evenly distributed enough support to split their votes, while B’s supporters are only split between two, and you can easily end up with an all-B slate even if there are fewer B voters overall.

            • bender

              I’ve defended the CA blanket primary on the basis of giving moderate voters a voice. There was a recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle saying that large corporations are spending a lot of money on super PACs supporting “business friendly” Democratic candidates running against more leftwing/progressive candidates in the parts of the state where Republican candidates are not electable. One person receiving all these mailers was quoted as saying that the election seemed to be between special interest groups, not candidates.

              Having seen how much corporate interests spend to defeat ballot propositions like GMO labeling, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

            • Richard Gadsden

              That would be easy to fix with a preferential ballot – use STV with two winners.

              • Yes, a la Gregor, better voting systems can mitigate a lot of the problems here.

        • Aexia

          Look at the exit polls for West Virginia. Sander’s entire margin of victory (and then some) came from voters who said they’d vote for Trump over Sanders in the general election. It was about a third of his support.

          It also happened in 2008 in Indiana, though at a significantly lesser scale. But since the margin was so close, it didn’t take much for Operation Chaos types to put Clinton over the top.

          • This is still a bit ambiguous, as I understand it. To be proper sabotage, we’d need those Trump supporters to be characteristically Republican either by registration or inclination and definitely by historical voting pattern.

            The other explanation is that these are antiestablishment types who otherwise are normally democratic. So their voting preference for outsiders or disrupters dominates but then is sorted by policy preference/affiliation.

            Indeed, some Bernie folks I interested with on FB we going to do a heighten the contradictions vote for Trump. The thought was that Trump was definitely going to be only 4 years, whereas the Clinton machine was a sure 8.

            It’s going to be a while, I think, to sort all that out.

    • bender

      I believe in representative democracy. Not direct democracy. I wouldn’t run anything larger than a New England hamlet directly.

      In a representative democracy, the representatives can ignore the will of the people who voted for them sometimes and substitute their own judgement or moral values on particular issues.

      Bound delegates cannot exercise their own judgement on the first ballot, regardless of what the candidates may have done or said and regardless of what events have happened between the primary and the convention. They are stuck voting for their candidate even if making that candidate the nominee guarantees a lost election or an election that is a victory for the party and a disaster for the country.

      Super delegates are unbound. Their power to exercise personal judgement is a safety measure for extreme circumstances. It doesn’t usually function that way, but I’ll accept some of the other ways it functions in order to have that one.

      I write this as someone who has never registered as a Democrat because I’m still sore over the party refusing to seat even a single delegate from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation in 1968, two years before I was old enough to vote. I can count the number of Republicans I have voted for on the fingers of one foot.

      • MPAVictoria

        Then create super delegates who are voted for specifically for that role. Otherwise it isn’t a representative democracy.

  • Gwen

    I’m fine with open primaries, and let me tell you why.

    The fact is that the Democrats and Republicans receive many benefits under the law. Let us count the ways:

    * Primary elections are typically funded by taxpayers.
    * Ballot access laws (and sore-loser laws; and outside of New York and a handful of other states, against fusion) make it hard for third parties to even get votes.
    * First-past-the-post elections with single member districts virtually assure a two-party system (Duverger’s Law).
    * Although it’s now a dead-letter, public financing of campaigns tended to favor the Dems and GOP over third parties.
    * The Presidential Debate Commission rules that make it hard for third parties to be included in debates (Gary Johnson *might* manage to be the first in 20 years to get a crack at the debates).

    Because of all these reasons, the Democrats and Republicans have a structural advantage that ensures their continued duopoly.

    And because of that, I think that the Democrats and Republicans should not be allowed to operate as private social clubs. Rather, they should be treated as quasi-public forums. And that would include opening up primaries.

    Furthermore, let’s keep in mind that party registration is, in many states, just another hassle that prevents people from voting.

    In Texas and some other southern states, we don’t have party registration. You become affiliated with a party for 2 years by voting in the primary of that party. I think that is the good, just, and right way to hold a nominating contest.

    • Pseudonym

      What do you (or anyone) think of California’s “semi-open” primary system, where parties get to decide whether to let non-affiliated voters participate in their primaries? The Democratic Party allows independents (though not registered Republicans or Greens) to request a Democratic ballot to vote in the Democratic presidential primary, but the Republican’s don’t.

      • bender

        I think it’s too soon to tell.

    • And because of that, I think that the Democrats and Republicans should not be allowed to operate as private social clubs. Rather, they should be treated as quasi-public forums. And that would include opening up primaries.

      They are not operating as private social clubs. They are treated as quasi-public forums. If you want to vote in the Democratic party, all you need to do is register as a democrat for that election. There’s no fee or loyalty oath. You can switch every election cycle.

      If you prefer, think of it as “registering your intent to vote in a given primary.”

      If you are going down this route, do you endorse letting everyone vote in *every* primary at once? If not, why not?

      • Richard Gadsden

        I actually can’t see the problem with giving voters the primary ballots for all parties.

        • Then you’re cool ;)

          Results wise it should converge on the moderate (given the median voter theorem). Organisation wise it’d probably push more decision making to the party apparatus (ie to control ballot access). This doesn’t seem to be a net win.

    • MPAVictoria

      I agree with this.

  • Brien Jackson

    Heh, I’d take exactly the opposite position: I’m basically fine with open primaries (though I have no real preference either way) and think superdelegates are a very important part of the system that absolutely should be maintained.

  • ForkyMcSpoon

    Registering to vote, changing your party registration and going to vote should be easy-peasy.

    Universal automatic voter registration should be a thing. I think there should be gov’t funded voter registration drives at high schools to register the students who will be of voting age for the next election, etc. etc.

    And if there is to be a deadline to be registered as a Democrat (for those who are not first-time voters) then there ought to be an automatic mechanism to remind voters when they need to change it and the reason for doing so. It should not be up to a politician’s campaign to do so.

    That said, I registered to vote this year when I was at the DMV updating my license. It was as simple as filling in a couple more lines. And registering as a Democrat for the closed Democratic primary was as simple as checking a box. Having an “ideological” barrier to checking that box is not real voter suppression. If you were registered to vote in time, and you were too pure to register as a Democrat, sorry, I don’t feel like you’re being unjustly excluded.

    We do have only two parties and the system is set up to favor the continuance of those two parties. I don’t, however, view this as a hindrance to the left or the right in itself. A coalition must be formed, either before or after the elections. It would be better if voters were to recognize this. Better civics education is more of the solution there, I think, rather than indulging the “ugh parties suck” thinking.

    • Richard Gadsden

      If the government holds data on you (e.g. social security, or taxes) that shows you as entitled to vote, then it should just use that to register you to vote.

  • azumbrunn

    I agree that super delegates could not have prevented the Trump disaster. But how about another kind of disaster? A candidate leads in the primaries. Between the primaries and the convention this candidate gets indicted on serous charges. What now? The pledget delegates are bound, can not switch their votes.
    Obviously there are other solutions to this problem, still there it is.
    Generally I think primaries are the problem and details around the process may make it slightly less bad or slightly worse, but there should not be any primaries, i.e. they should be entirely party-internal matters for paid up members to deal with. In the Anglo-Saxon two party systems it is essential that one candidate of each party is running in every district for results to be even remotely representative. That is why the California system is so idiotic. (Besides: Iit just enshrines the system of two-round elections. If you want to do that why not one round with instant run-off and no primaries whatsoever?)

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