The Democratic National Committee (DNC) formed a special committee in 1982 called the Commission on Presidential Nominations, which was responsible for the present-day superdelegate system. Superdelegates comprise about 700 party elites who are seated automatically at the Democratic Convention and can vote for the candidate they wish, regardless of the outcome of the primary in the state they represent. Without belaboring the details, the system was instituted to increase a sense of order and prevent a crisis at the Democratic convention. Instead, the system has spurred unbridled contentiousness in both 2008 (in the Obama/Clinton primary) and again this election cycle between Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders.
In the Obama/Clinton primary, there were fears that superdelegates would swing the election toward Senator Clinton–even though Senator Obama led in elected delegates, possibly effecting the outcome of the race. This time, Sanders rightfully notes that while he is behind in this election cycle:
“The point that I was making is, there’s something absurd, when I get 46 percent of the delegates that come from real contests, real elections, and 7 percent of the superdelegates. And the point that I made a few minutes after that is that some 400 of Hillary Clinton’s superdelegates came on board her campaign before anybody else announced.”
That seems unfair and smacks of a corrupt process. However, nobody seems happy with the superdelegate system–and, as the debate continues, nothing is getting done to change it. Even a commission backed by President Obama has recommended the rules be changed so that superdelegates are required to vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state they represent. For some reason though, the DNC has ignored its recommendations and has left the current system in place.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, has frequently come under attack for failing to revise the current system. She said earlier this year: “Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.” Obviously, comments like this have led to much anger and angst with many young voters in particular, who see the Sanders campaign as a grassroots movement to wrestle a corrupt system away from the party elites for the ‘benefit of their constituents’ they are supposed to represent.
Schultz serves at the behest of the president. Given the divisiveness that surrounds her, it is likely she will not be reappointed, regardless of whether Mrs. Clinton or Senator Sanders is elected president. As it turned out in 2008, superdelegates who had supported Senator Clinton realigned themselves with then-Senator Obama when it was apparent he won the the majority of elected delegates. The point of contention here is that the system is undemocratic, and having the potential of negating the will of the voters, it has persisted for too long. While it is too late to change the system during this election cycle, we can hope that, given the tension this undemocratic system has created over the past election cycles, that change is imminent in the Democratic primary process.