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Our Lunatic Presidential Nomination Process

Don Rose 26 April 2016 No Comment

PARIS–Enjoying a respite here before the final run of primaries and caucuses confirm Hillary Clinton as most likely Democratic nominee and Donald Trump as the GOP choice–though it is still possible he will not gather enough votes to make it on the first ballot. If he fails, all goes up for grabs and the convention gets chaotic–anything from riots to walkouts.

But no matter which party you favor or which candidate within that party, you have to admit that the process of selecting a nominee for what most of us think is the most important job in the world is both undemocratic and more than a bit whacko. Here in Paris, the first question I’m usually asked is whether Trump can win the GOP slot and actually be elected. The response is a combination of fear and hilarity.

Paulsen

But what gets the strangest response is  trying to explain the primary/caucus nominating process and the weird variations from state to state and party to party. We can begin with the Democratic National Committee, which appoints–not elects–719 “super  delegates,” nearly a third of the total needed to nominate. They were created in 1980 after the peasants nominated George McGovern in 1972, who lost all but one state and DC. In 1976 the peasants nominated Jimmy Carter, who won but displeased the establishment. Thus super delegates were created to provide adult supervision over runaway peasants.

Both parties hold caucuses in numerous states, which are inherently undemocratic because they exclude voters who work different hours. Some, like Iowa, require hours of time not everyone can spend. All caucuses should be replaced by open primaries, where anyone can chose a party and vote regardless of his or her registration. In New York, for example, only registered Democrats, not Independents, could vote last week, which probably cost Bernie Sanders a  closer margin. Closed primaries ought to go.

Some states, like Illinois, do not require party registration at all. The 50 states and 5 territories that participate all have different rules for eligibility and for apportioning their delegates. All Democratic primaries and caucuses divide delegates proportionally and each is identified by the candidate he or she is bound to.  Most Republican states are proportional, some “winner take all” or some variation thereof. Other Republican states hold establishment-run conventions rather than primaries or caucuses and their delegates are unbound and uncommitted.

Candidates in both parties are justified in saying their nominating systems are undemocratic. Democrats can justly say their super delegates are a way of rigging the nomination.

The national parties make certain rules, but the states have leeway to bend them any which way. When I explain this to French friends their eyes glaze and their jaws drop.

We shouldn’t be picking presidents because someone knows how to negotiate the complex rules instead of winning more votes. As we know, once the candidates are selected, it is not the popular vote but electoral votes that put them in office, but that’s another story.

Any way you slice it, the job is too important for such lunacy.

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Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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