Bernie Sanders has already put forth several bold proposals to fix problems in our election system. He wants to remove the undue influence of money on politics by having Citizens United overturned, and he’s proposed legislation to make Election Day a national holiday so more people can actively participate in our government. But before he can implement any of his plans he’ll have to get past another undemocratic obstacle, the Democratic Party superdelegates.
To win the Democratic Presidential Nomination a candidate must get votes from at least 2,382 of the 4,763 Delegates at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in July. So far we’ve had the Iowa caucus where Clinton got 49.9% support and took 23 delegates and Sanders won 49.6% support and 21 delegates. We’ve also had one primary in New Hampshire where Sanders earned 60.4% of the popular vote and 15 delegates, and Clinton ended up with 38% of the vote and 9 delegates. But when you look up the current delegate count you won’t see those numbers, what you’ll see is this:
The reason Clinton seems to be 350 delegates ahead when only 68 delegates have been decided is that 712 of the democratic delegates are superdelegates. These are current and former Democratic politicians (including Bill Clinton) and other prominent members of the Democratic Party. What makes them “super” is that they can cast their vote at the DNC for whichever candidate they want, they are not obligated to represent the people by voting in line with the popular vote. In fact they can commit to supporting a candidate before any of us normal citizens have even had a chance to caucus or vote. 359 of the superdelegates have already declared support for Clinton, and eight have for Sanders.
With so many superdelagates it’s impossible to pinpoint precise or universal reasons why Sanders is not getting as much early support from them as he is from voters. It could be interpreted as a reflection of both who the superdelegates are and who Sanders is. Senator Sanders has long been a champion of Democratic ideals like ensuring that the most vulnerable members of society are cared for and that everyone contributes their fair share. But he has never been one to blindly vote the party line or play into the partisan bickering that fractures the country and prevents real progress. Sanders is a politician for people, not for a party. It would be understandable if that threatens some Democratic Party insiders. The political elites in this country have benefited a lot from the status quo and Senator Sanders is working hard to change that status quo so that citizens have a bigger voice than elites or billionaires. The fact that Senator Sanders is something of a political outsider is of course just one possible contributing factor to the current superdelegate discrepancy. And whatever the reason for Clinton’s early lead it may not last. Superdelegates don’t cast their actual vote for a nominee until the DNC in July and they can change their mind at any point up until then.
It’s probably not in the Democratic Party’s best interest to nominate a candidate who doesn’t even have majority support in their own party, so there’s a good chance that many of Clinton’s superdelegates will switch and cast their votes for Sanders when the time comes. In 2008 Clinton also started off with a large majority of superdelegates, though not as large as this year, and many of them did end up voting for Obama when it became clear that he was the choice of the people. This time around there is added public pressure for the superdelegates to respect the popular vote. A recent MoveOn.org petition asking superdelegates to commit to aligning with voters has gotten over 170,000 signatures. That’s a great start, but the truth is we shouldn’t have to ask the superdelegates, or anyone, to respect our votes. The political elite in this country should not be in a position to begrudgingly give in to public will, they should be obligated to enact the will of the people, that’s what democracy is all about.
Right now our democracy has some major problems. Billionaires and corporations have the entire campaign season to spend millions supporting the candidates they want, while the rest of us have to figure out how to get off work on Election Day so we can cast our one vote for the leaders we need. As President, Bernie Sanders will do a lot to fix these issues and strengthen our democracy, but in order to get there he needs our help. By caucusing and voting for Sanders we’re creating a better political future for the country. We’re also letting the Democratic Party know that we want real democracy and that means that the Presidential candidate gets chosen by regular voters, not superdelegates