Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, and he won by a lot. But thanks to DNC rules, he still walks away from the Granite State with roughly the same number of delegates as his rival Hillary Clinton (maybe even less). The uphill battle Sanders faces in the Democratic party is undemocratic and illustrates why party politics needs to be reformed.
The discrepancy comes down to superdelegates (also known as unpledged delegates), party insiders whose vote counts the same as pledged delegates (the ones people voted for), but can support whoever they want. Hillary Clinton currently has 359 of these party officials in her corner, Sanders has 8, and 210 remain undecided, according to a recent survey posted on NPR.
Still, the total count is fluid, because the DNC insiders can change their votes at any time. As a result, estimates in New Hampshire vary. The conservative-leaning news site Daily Caller says Clinton has at least 15 votes total, and Sanders has at least 13. The Hill says they’re both tied at 15. No one is saying Sanders will walk away with 60 percent of the total delegates even though that’s the percentage of New Hampshire voters who supported him.
Mark Paustenbach, the Democratic National Committee’s national press secretary, insists that the New Hampshire contest was never about the state’s superdelegates.
“Let’s be clear, the only delegates at stake on Tuesday in New Hampshire’s First in the Nation primaries were 24 pledged delegates.”
But that doesn’t change the fact that 710 of the 4,763 votes cast (or about 15 percent) in the Democratic National Convention will belong solely to the party. With the declarations so far, that means Sanders could lose, even if he manages to get most of the primary voters.
There are plenty of defenders of the current system. As Vice pointed out, there is an assumed fail-safe system. The party officials would be foolish to vote against Bernie Sanders if he has “massive support,” because it would take legitimacy away from the primary process.
But what if Bernie Sanders didn’t have “massive” support at the convention, just enough to barely beat Clinton? Say, 52 or 53 percent of the pledged votes?
Either the superdelegates would change accordingly and give Bernie Sanders the win, which begs the question: why did they need to vote at all?
Or they would give it to Hillary Clinton, confirming what Bernie Sanders’ supporters have been saying all along — the establishment would not let a relative outsider take the nomination.
Those supporters would become disenfranchised and likely not vote at all in November, leaving Clinton with a massive legitimacy problem in the general election. This scenario also leads to the question: why have party insiders voting at all?
Harry Reid was asked if the system was fair on Thursday, according to Real Clear Politics. He defense was dodgy at best, but he asserted that it is fairer than before.
“Well, the process was totally unfair before – eight years ago. Eight years ago, I looked at this and I thought, how in the world could we have the future of this country be dependent on Iowa, which is 93% white, and we have New Hampshire which is 97% white, no diversity, no diversity in Iowa… So, think what it would be if this campaign didn’t go to Nevada and South Carolina… It was not a good system. It’s getting better.”
A more complete transcript is available here.
Answers like Reid’s are not satisfying to some people, especially Sanders’ supporters who think he should get the vast majority of delegate votes from New Hampshire.
Moveon.org has a petition to force the party insiders to “announce that in the event of a close race, you’ll align yourself with regular voters.” They cite the New Hampshire situation as a critical example of Sanders undemocratic treatment, and they have already received 165,000 signers. If they manage to change the system, it will be good for the party as a whole. It might not leave them with the candidate they want, but it will leave them with the candidate who will win.
[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]