On the Democrat side, the issue of super-delegates has come to the fore. The story is that the '72 McGovern nomination was such a disaster in the general election that the DNC created the super-delegates, which represent about 20% of the total delegates; a group of democratic Congressional representatives, governors, and other current and former higher-ups in the party.
There are two obvious anti-democratic principles put into play here. First is the dilution of the popular vote. In a simplistic sense, each registered Democrat counts for 4/5ths of a person, since every 4 delegates elected by the "commoners" is offset by a super-delegate. Secondly, the rule was put into place to guard against the people voting for the "wrong" candidate. It is hard to imagine anything more un-democratic than having an elite class that can partially override a group of second class voters when said elite class deems the choice of the common man to be unseemly.
This ugly issue of the super-delegates has already come into play, helping to elect Mondale over Hart in 1984. Apparently the super-delegates, who favor the establishment candidate, aren't so wise after all. It's hard to imagine a more uninspiring, bland nominee than Mondale, and it's also hard to argue in favor of his phenomenally bad loss to Reagan.
The 2008 Obama-Clinton race is so close that the super-delegates may again play a deciding role. Please take the following analysis of numbers with a grain of salt, because I am just taking a cursory look at them using this breakdown from demconwatch blog.
Looking at my home state of California, the popular vote was split 45% for Obama to 55% for Clinton. Yet Clinton reigns supreme in super-delegates by a 3-1 margin. Now I can see some sort of argument that it's "winner take all super delegates" in the sense that hardly anyone could fault one of these people saying they will just pledge for whoever wins the primary in their state. Looking at Missouri, which Obama won, Clinton also has more supers. Looking at the bigger picture, Clinton's 211-113 dominance of super-delegates pledged to her side would seem to have little or no relationship to the popular vote, the will of the people.
The super-delegate issue could end up being a nasty black eye on the desired happy face of the Democrat convention. If that weren't bad enough, there is another huge fist of a problem that could blacken its other eye. The DNC punitively stripped two very populous states, Michigan and Florida, of their delegates for moving their primaries prior to Super-Tuesday. On the face of this issue it appears simply that these states will seat no delegates at the convention, but as was pointed out at Attytood, the issue is far more complicated than that:
The truth is, no one really expected that the Democrats would hold a convention without delegates from the 4th-largest state, Florida, which of course decided the disputed 2000 election, or Michigan, which is the 8th largest state and has also been considered a fall battleground.Obviously nullifying the votes of so many people is quite un-democratic as well. The DNC has potentially made quite the bed to laid in come convention time. Could courts end up having to decide what will be done with the votes of Florida and Michigan?
Getting back to the super-delegates, while it is true than many have "pledged" their vote to one candidate or another, nothing prevents them from changing their vote at the convention. Unsurprisingly, the Obama camp (and presumably the Clinton camp as well) has already spoken of lobbying super-delegates to switch to their side, and the obvious question of behind-the-scenes favors has been raised.
While the system of super-delegates was inherited by DNC chair Howard Dean, the Florida/Michigan fiasco was a self-inflicted wound. If the Obama-Clinton race breaks badly for the party, in the sense that there is no clear winner, Dean and other leaders of the party could suddenly be on the hot seat in the national media. Dean has already tipped his hand on one possible remedy:
“I think we will have a nominee sometime in the middle of March or April,” Mr. Dean said Wednesday on the NY1 cable news channel, “but if we don’t, then we’re going to have to get the candidates together and make some kind of an arrangement."Democrats are highly excited about both Clnton and Obama. They feel '08 represents a historical year for them, with a field full of compelling candidates that nearly all of the base likes. A bad idea from the past, and some bad decision-making this time around threaten to seriously dampen the joyful mood. The solution that DNC chair Dean alluded to, or one like it, could possibly prevent a bad situation from getting far worse, although such a deal itself may turn out to be an un-democratic act. It is far more likely, however, deal or no, a close race will result in a large block of voters feeling alienated and angry, as was the case in the 2000 Gore/Bush/Florida debacle.