Why a Superdelegate Pledge May Not Be So Super

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Let me humbly suggest that Nick’s pledge idea has a flaw. Sure, you can try to compel Democratic superdelegates to vote for whichever candidate arrives at the convention with the most delegates. But few will sign such a pledge, whether or not the Obama and Clinton campaign ask them to do so. Why give up a privilege? Especially when–here’s the real issue–outside events might change the landscape.

The last big-state primary (Pennsylvania) occurs on April 22 and the primaries altogether end on June 3. What if in between those dates and the Democratic convention, which opens on August 25, something happens? Maybe Barack Obama is in the lead, and a news report discloses he once sold dope to lobbyists for a health insurance industry. Maybe Hillary Clinton is ahead, and it turns out she did hide legal records during the Whitewater investigation and plotted with her husband to kill their political enemies. In such instances, superdelegates might want to mount a course correction.

Admittedly, these are extreme examples. But there could be other less extreme circumstances in which it would make sense for the superdelegates to reconsider the popular will. As I noted, my hunch is that superdelegates will not willy-nilly vote to hand the nomination to the second-place finisher just out of personal preference. They will be under much scrutiny. And blowing up the party to save a nominee will not be undertaken lightly.

Still, there are other shenanigans that might transpire. Suppose a majority of superdelegates fancy Clinton but she narrowly trails Obama in non-superdelegates. Her supers could join with her regular delegates to vote to seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida, which as of now are not to be counted because each of these two states held its primary early and violated Democratic Party rules. Because Clinton ended up winning those two non-sanctioned primaries, she would pick up a net gain of delegates from these states. Now imagine if that margin is enough to put her ahead of Obama.

More creative minds can cook up other possibilities. But just as we shouldn’t ask politicians to pledge never to raise taxes–what if there’s a war? (oh, nevermind)–perhaps it’s not wise to remove with no exception the discretion of the superdelegates. There’s an old adage: be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Though in this case, I believe there’s little chance the superdelegates will be willing to give up their super power.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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