Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Delegate Primer

If you are like the plethora of people confused about the delegate process for Democrats, find solace that you are not alone…

So, like I did before Super Fat Tuesday, I thought I would create a Democratic Delegate primer for all of you that are confused and flummoxed by the process.

First, you should understand that there are two kinds of delegates; pledged delegates and the so-called super, or un-pledged, delegates.

Pledged delegates are those who are, oddly enough, pledged to a candidate based on the candidate's performance in a state's nomination contest… have I confused you now? Remember, most states and territories have a primary, but some have caucuses, and even fewer have either a hybrid system or a state convention. Seventy-five percent (75%) of a state's pledged delegates are allocated by Congressional district with the remaining twenty-five percent (25%) allocated in proportion to statewide results… but only if the state has more than one Congressional district…

God, I’m confusing myself now…

Let’s start with the basics… and you can’t get much more basic than republicans… republicans award delegates on a winner-take-all basis, usually by the entire state, although some places award delegates based upon winners of Congressional districts.

Democrats, however, award pledged delegates in proportion to their share of the vote; for example, if a candidate receives at least 15% of the vote in either a congressional district or statewide, he or she will receive at least one delegate from that jurisdiction. Because delegates are parceled out mostly by Congressional district, it is possible, and not rare, for a candidate who finishes second statewide to actually get more delegates than the candidate who won the state, so what matters isn't just the number of votes, but also how they are distributed.

Staying with me so far?

Okay… each state party has a process for determining the actual individuals who will serve as pledged delegates at the Democratic Convention, but individuals can submit their names to the state party and declare which candidate they would like to represent at the convention… these names are then vetted with the campaign so they can determine that these individuals are in fact supporters of their candidate, which is relatively important as there is nothing that binds the individuals to vote for the candidate to whom they originally pledged their support once they’re at the convention.

But that’s why those people are vetted, in an attempt to prevent that from happening. And truth be told, it’s exceptionally rare for someone to not vote for the candidate to whom they originally pledged their support.

Weeks after the state's primary, or caucus, the state party holds a meeting of the leadership and votes on the individual delegates which must have an equal balance of men and women, and must also represent the state's racial make-up.

Now we arrive at the other type of delegates, the un-pledged or “super-delegates” who are not obligated to pledge support for anyone in advance of their arriving at the convention. Furthermore, even if one of these delegated publicly declares their support for one particular candidate nothing officially binds them to stick with that endorsement.

This means that anyone who now declares support for Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama could show up at the convention, change their mind, and throw the nominating process into chaos.

It should also me mentioned that most un-pledged delegates are elected officials, in fact, all Democratic members of Congress and the Senate are un-pledged delegates (except Joe Lieberman, whose had his super-delegate status yanked away because someone in the DNC finally realized the putz is a republican in Independent clothing…). Additionally, all Democratic governors are “super-delegates” as are most members of the DNC. Add to that that a small number of “party elders” are also “super-delegates”… and this group can range from former Democratic presidents (Carter & Clinton) to vice-presidents (Gore) to former presidential nominees (Kerry) and former House Speakers to past DNC chairs.

The delegate battle at this summer’s convention will determine our party’s nominee, and the contest is already gotten fierce and will not be decided for quite some time… so, as I like to say, stay tuned.

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