One of the core principles of the Democratic Party is that it is supposed to be…well,democratic. Where the Republican Party is supposed to be the authoritarian defender of corporate and private power, the Democratic Party is supposed to be the fractious mix of traditionally underrepresented and disempowered interest groups fighting to change the status quo and create a better world. So one would think that Republicans would structure their party in such a way as to ensure that the poobahs and oligarchs got the final say, while Democrats would allow a less controlled yet more authentic democratic process to play out.
But that’s not the case. Burned by the McGovern nomination, Democratic Party leaders decided in 1981 to subvert the democratic process by inserting superdelegates into the mix, providing greater top-down control of the presidential primary system to top party officials.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz even admitted directly that the purpose of superdelegates is to stymie legitimate grassroots activists, and worse yet she seemed to have no shame about saying it. That’s a problem.
It’s not quite as bad as it might seem at first because, as in 2008, superdegelates do generally follow the will of the voters once they are clearly expressed. But their existence is an unseemly blight on the process that gives off the whiff of corruption, and the damaging effect of their weight in the delegate count is more subtle. By clearly favoring an establishment candidate over a grassroots insurgent, superdelegates give an messaging advantage of inevitability over an insurgent when they already carry the significant benefit of more money and more endorsements. In a party desperate for new life and new energy to help mobilize turnout among disaffected voters and rally its state and local losses, it’s damaging in the extreme to heap even more advantages on establishment candidates out of misguided fear of the ghosts of Mondale and McGovern.
Similarly, the presence of caucuses is also anti-democratic and invites accusations of corruption. By their very nature, caucuses disenfranchise voters: they’re confusing, stressful and tiring to participate in, they have no voter secrecy or privacy, they require at least an hour of the voter’s time and often more at a very specific time of day, there is no ability to caucus by mail, etc. Caucuses also require chairs, secretaries, check-in volunteers and other officials who count votes, make tallies and determine eligibility—all of whom are are chosen by party leaders who can and do stack the deck for chosen establishment candidates in ways that range from unseemly to blatantly illegal. Normally when a union gives time off to its workers to vote, that’s a good thing. But in a caucus system, when a selected union with demographics favorable to a specific candidate is leaned on by party leadership to give its workers time off to caucus when other workers from other sectors are not, it’s difficult not to cry foul. Moreover, the caucuses are always rife with delays and accusations of rigging and corruption by all sides.