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Superdelegate System Upgrade

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C — The Democratic Party has publicly and now privately split as to how (and when) Superdelegates should choose to wield their power, and promises to spawn even more divisiveness should the weight of nomination come down on their shoulders. Voters want to know: Will the average citizen ever be able to influence the system of private brokering of Superdelegate votes? Now the possibility exists, especially with new media technology. Let’s take the Superdelegate system as a case in point, since , in the words of Tad Devine (a creator of the superdelegate system whom we interviewed on video), “after 25 years it is,about time to take a serious look at our nominating system”. But first let’s look at the history of the Superdelegate system and examine its roots to see how it has evolved.

Flashback to 1968. The story of Superdelegates begins in the aftermath of race riots, assassinations, and counter-culture protests. After Democratic Party insiders nominated Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey (who hadn’t won a single primary or caucus), the then primary process was exposed as a farce in which public opinion was sublimated to “old pol” opinion in smoke-filled rooms.The McGovern-Fraser Commission (established at the ‘68 Chicago Convention) suggested ways for the Democratic Party to provide transparency and disseminate power by installing regulated caucuses, primaries, and quotas for black, women and youth delegates. By 1972, Senator George McGovern (whose favorite author may have been Hunter S. Thompson) was the populist nominee. But his efforts went for naught; and in the end, the Democratic Party lost to Nixon’s GOP juggernaut.

Meanwhile back in the formerly smoke-filled rooms of the DNC, the pols were antsy to re-light their smokes. The Democratic Party had lost to Nixon twice, and the McGovern-Fraser Commission, which had promulgated reforms that fostered transparency and open government and also curbed the elite, was scapegoated. By the 1984 election, a predecessor of the current Superdelegate system was instituted (or re-instituted depending on your viewpoint), so that Superdelegates were not elected, were free to endorse whomever, and constituted 1/5 of the total vote.Flash-forward to 2008 and CNN’s ‘Best Political Team’ (with super-sharp game show graphics). Every pundit and journalist is lining up at the photo-finish line to get their ’spin’ on with Superdelegates. With such public exposure,, some have come to realize that premature endorsement can be extremely embarrassing and even undemocratic, especially when your share of the affair nears 20% and is being taped.

So what does the future hold? Will fundamental governance decisions, processes, and the “inside” nominating process ever become truly transparent? The Economist published a 14-page spread titled “Super Report on Technology and Government,”which takes a realistic, pros and cons look at the prospect of a technology/public sector marriage. “Believers in technology’s potential in public administration speak of e-government, or of ‘transformation.’ The practicalities are sometimes vague, but the big picture is clear: Government not only puts its services online, but in doing so changes the way it works.”

Without mentioning Off the Bus’s Superdelegate crowd-sourcing project, Mr. Devine seemed aware of our take on the applicability of the new media, and he was optimistic; “It’s a great time…what we have to do as a party is to make sure we are fully participating in that age…[and] whatever we do I think it is incumbent upon us to do it transparently…an open and transparent process…principally through the Internet and through the Media.”

While holding the video camera my inner voice said, “Fair enough, I certainly agree.” When I finally got home to my sister’s apartment in DuPont Circle, I began to ponder the core message of what I had produced. As a ‘Millenial,’ my mouth waters at the prospect of a government that embraces technology and mass participation. It seems like a natural fit. Still, I am skeptical that D.C. politics-as-usual wants, or even knows how, to accomplish massive government upgrades to better reflect modern lifestyles. In a consumer world, the consumer is king. Accordingly, in government, the citizen should be king: “A good e-government scheme starts from the citizen’s eye view, not the bureaucrat’s ….”

As a part owner of my Government, I am entitled to know why and how decisions are made for filtered softened drinking water. And if Superdelegates (that I did not elect) have a say in deciding my future, even that may be appropriate as a choice-smoothing mechanism, as long as I know who they are and how to contact them and make them accountable, because like them, I want the ball to be in my court. For the full interview with Tad Devine click here.

Cartoon photo via Starbuck’s Addict on flickr.

One Response to “Superdelegate System Upgrade”

  1. Cody Cooper Says:

    OK. Now, at Why Tuesday?, you seem to be digging into the significance of the applicability of the new media to the process of governing, from the election process to that of instituting and managing “elected” policy. You have noted the absence of it for the Romneys, and the importance of it in respect of keeping the electoral process of the Primaries accountable. What else about the new media is crucial to maintaining the democratic fabric of our society? I for one am looking forward to your observations on that issue.

    Again, Good Reporting!

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