Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Super Tuesday

Yesterday was Super Tuesday, the day in which nearly half the nation cast their vote to help determine the Democratic and Republican nominees for President. We all know by now how the voting turned out, but do you know how your vote and the nomination process works?

The rules that dictate how voting works differ from state to state. First, states work in conjunction with the Republican and Democratic national conventions to determine the election schedule. A select few states are authorized to hold elections before February, but most are not. This is what led to Florida and Michigan being stripped of their delegates to the national conventions this year -- a scheduling disagreement with the DNC and RNC.

Some states choose to hold primaries, while other states choose to hold caucuses. States holding primaries can choose between an open primary and a closed primary. In an open primary, a registered voter may vote for the candidate of his choice, regardless of party affiliation. In a closed primary, registered Democrats must vote for a Democratic candidate and registered Republicans must vote for a Republican candidate. Voters may arrive at any time during the hours that their polling place is open on election day, and they cast a secret ballot.

Caucuses work a little bit differently, and I'm not 100% clear on what happens because I've never voted in a caucus before. From what I've been able to glean from my research, caucus procedures differ between the Democratic and Republican parties. It seems that voters all gather at their assigned polling place at a specific time of day. Republican caucuses take a straw poll amongst the voters present, sometimes done by a show of hands or by having voters break up into groups based on which candidate they support, and sometimes by giving all voters a blank piece of paper and having them write down the name of their candidate of choice and place the paper in the ballot box. Unlike Democratic caucuses, Republican caucuses do not use rounds of voting and do not require candidates to attain at least a specified minimum percentage of the vote. At Democratic caucuses, voters break up into groups depending on which candidates they support. If a group for any given candidate holds less than 15% of the caucus-goers, those voters must either choose to support another voter, join an uncommitted group, or choose not to vote.

Presidential nominees are not actually selected by the popular vote. When an American votes in a primary or a caucus, he is not actually voting for the candidate of his choice but rather for a group of delegates who, in turn, pledge to support his candidate. In order for a candidate to become the party nominee, he or she must receive the vote of 50% + 1 of the party's delegates. There are 4,049 delegates for the Democratic party, and a candidate must receive votes from 2,025 of them to be nominated. The Republican party has fewer delegates -- 2,380, with 1,191 needed to secure the nomination.

The manner in which delegates are allocated to the candidates differs from state to state and between the two parties. In most states, Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally to candidates who receive at least 15% of the vote. The Republican delegates of most states, on the other hand, are usually awarded exclusively to the candidate who wins the state (but some states allocate delegates proportionally and some states adopt a winner-take-all system by congressional district). In states where delegates are awarded by congressional district, it is possible for a candidate to win the popular vote statewide but receive fewer delegates than the second-place candidate -- this has already occurred within a few states during this year's primaries.

The delegates won by candidates in both parties during primaries and caucuses are called "pledged delegates". Within the Republican Party, these pledged delegates may be bound or unbound, depending on their state's election rules. Bound delegates are required to vote for the candidate they are assigned to, whereas unbound delegates are not required to vote for their assigned candidate, but usually do. Within the Democratic Party, pledged delegates are not legally bound to vote for the candidate for whom they are pledged, but they generally do because candidates may remove their pledged delegates if they feel that they will not be loyal.

Each party also has a certain number of "unpledged delegates," or "superdelegates," who are determined according to its own rules. Superdelegates for the Democrats include the Democratic House and Senate members, Democratic state and territorial governers, DNC members and distinguished party leaders. 796 of the 4,049, or about 20%, of Democratic delegates are superdelegates. These delegates vote for the candidate of their own choosing, and are not bound by any election results. Unpledged delegates for the Republican party are chosen according to slightly different rules, and 463 of the 2,380 Republican delegates are unpledged delegates (also about 20%). As a result of the unpledged delegate system, 0.000007% of the voting population holds 19.6% of the voting power in the 2008 primaries.

If none of the candidates from a given party win a majority of their party's delegates, then the party nominee is chosen by means of a brokered convention.

Now let's take a break from the facts so that I may air my personal opinion. It's a pretty plain and simple opinion: I don't like our primary system. Here's why:

1. Nationwide voting does not take place on one specific date. I think that the outcome of the primary election might be different if everybody had to vote on the same day -- namely because the media would have less time to publicize one candidate as the front-runner while neglecting to report on other candidates. I think our current system encourages people to jump on the bandwagon without researching the position taken by each and every candidate on the issues central to the election. It also gives a lot of influence to small states holding a minority of voters.

2. Nominees are not selected solely by the popular vote. Granted, the President is not elected by the popular vote, either, but I'd like to change that, too!

3. The rules governing the distribution of delegates to each candidate vary not only between the two main parties, but also amongst all the states! I think that we need a uniform, transparent voting process.

4. Pledged delegates are not legally bound to vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged. In other words, if a delegate decides to go off on a wild hair and disregard the popular vote, he is free to do so.

5. The DNC and RNC are able to strip individual states of all of their delegates if they so choose, disenfranchising a significant percentage of the American population.

Off my soapbox now.


Twango said...

Very good breakdown. I have to agree with your reasons for disliking our primary system. It's very Grrrrrr inducing.

Dixie said...

But the DNC and the RNC aren't the government. They're political parties and have the right to choose their candidates for office in any way they choose.

Princess Cat's Pajamas said...

That's true, Dixie. I just don't like it. And I really wish that the American public as a whole had a clearer idea as to how our elections work.

As an interesting side note, I've come across several articles quoting Democratic party members who say that it will be a disaster for the party if they have to resort to a brokered convention to decide the nominee... they all talk about trying to find an alternative, but they're not very specific about what that alternative might be... If anybody knows, I'd love to hear about it.