Is the Democratic Party’s delegate system outdated?

Cas Sweeney ’19
Assistant Layout Editor

Colorado planned to have a caucus for the Republican primary on March 1. However, Colorado did not have a caucus this year. Instead, the pledged delegates were decided upon solely by the party officials. The delegates themselves were elected, but they were allowed to make their own choice, and all voted for Ted Cruz.

This decision has created an outcry among Trump supporters. They claim voter disenfranchisement, saying that by not having a public vote in Colorado, the GOP is taking away the rights of the voters. Cheryl Griggs, a Trump supporter from New York said, “To go against the votes of the people and the will of the people and put somebody else in there, I think, is horrific.” In response to Colorado’s delegate selection, Trump himself said, “Let us make Colorado a rallying cry on behalf of all the forgotten people whose desperate pleas have for decades fallen on the deaf ears and closed eyes of our rulers in Washington, D.C.”

Colorado has not broken any laws by not holding a vote. Caucuses have never been a way to collect an unbiased and accurate opinion of the people. College students and voters who cannot get to caucus location at the specific time have long been prevented from participating. Colorado already used caucuses to get a general idea of what the state wanted, instead of a vote from the general public. The Republican voters in Colorado have not been officially disenfranchised, at least not in the same way the voters of Arizona were suppressed in this election or the way that people of color have been prevented from voting throughout American history.

However, this election has caused supporters of both parties to reexamine their methods of electing nominees. Supporters of Bernie Sanders have also lodged complaints about the party system on a federal level. Hillary Clinton has just over 55 percent of the pledged delegates while Sanders has almost 45 percent. However, Clinton has almost  94 percent of the unpledged delegates, while Sanders has only 6 percent, though the unpledged delegates do not officially vote until the Democratic National Convention.

While watching the presidential primaries unfold, I have formed two opposing opinions on the delegate system. On one hand, as Trump pulls further ahead from the other candidates, I can’t help but ask, “Can’t anyone stop him?” On the other hand, while watching the gap between Clinton and Sanders widen significantly due to unpledged delegates, I feel angry over the lack of democracy in the process.

Trying to understand how these two potential scenarios could occur, I looked into the way the two parties’ delegate systems work.  I expected to find that since the Democratic unpledged delegates have significant sway over the nomination, the Republican delegates would be even more powerful. The delegate system was decided by the parties, not Congress or the Constitution, and the Republican Party has recently changed their delegate system. The GOP does have unpledged delegates like the Democratic Party, but they have much less sway over the results of the election. Democratic unpledged delegates, also known as the “superdelegates” make up 15 percent of the total delegates. Though the super delegates votes are not determined by the people, the superdelegates themselves are elected members of the party.

In the GOP, only 7 percent of the delegates are unpledged delegates. Unlike Democratic superdelegates, Republican unpledged delegates do not have the power to chose who they vote for. They must choose who the state choses. It is possible for superdelegates to sway the vote on the side of the Democrats, but not the Republicans. In this way it is not entirely accurate to say that the Republican delegates are “super,” as they do not have extra sway. More accurately both parties have “unpledged delegates,” but they serve different purposes.

I personally found it ironic that the Democratic Party has taken up a method of selecting a nominee that is fitting for a republic, while the Republican Party uses a method that reflects a democracy. Both are officially legal ways of selecting a nominee, but the Democratic Party’s process is no longer a valid way.

The original reason that the U.S. was founded as a democratic republic instead of a democracy is because of the founders’ concern that the general population would not be aware enough of politics to make a decision about their leaders. However, as a country we have come a far way from the original inconsistent method of spreading news by rumors and word of mouth used in the 1700s.

The Republican Party has decided that we have come far enough to reduce the power of their unpledged delegates, while the Democratic Party still relies heavily on letting the party officials make the decision. The Democratic Party should reduce the power their superdelegates have over the process and give more power to the voters. As strange as it sounds, in this way, the Democratic Party should be more like the GOP for better or for worse.

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