Plenty. Somewhere in Howard Dean’s office there must be a picture of Will Rogers on the wall and underneath it the quote for which he’s justifiably famous: “I am not a member of any organized party - I’m a Democrat.” Just look at how inconsistent their rules are for the single most important function they perform as a political party.
Delegates to the party’s National Convention are charged with deciding who will be the nominee for President of the United States. Getting a Democratic President is the very reason the national party exists. Are all delegates chosen fairly, consistently or even with a rational regard for the intention of the voters? Are you kidding me?
In choosing their nominee for President, the Democrats involve their actual members – “the voters” – in less than two-thirds of the several states, plus a few non-state locations. In those areas where voters help to select the nominee, they do so under varying and different rules, regulations and procedures. The Democrats who live in Iowa don’t follow the same rules as those who live in neighboring Illinois, Wisconsin or Minnesota, or in places far away like Maine, Oregon, Alaska and Florida. The two states with the largest number of Democrats, California and New York, assign delegates differently from each other. Rules and regulations, instructions and procedures for operating a caucus are so complicated and detailed it is nearly impossible to find two caucus states that actually make their delegate selections exactly the same way.
In the caucus states, the allocation of delegates is separate from the actual caucus voting and the procedures employed in this process are even more obscure and confusing and subject to manipulation. Not all caucus votes are equal with regard to the possibility of assigning delegates. As with the notorious Federal Tax Code, it takes a highly trained and educated expert to completely understand the intricate workings of the Democratic Party caucuses. And, as is also the case with our taxes, the experts themselves are often misinformed, mistaken or just plain wrong.
You would think the remaining states, those holding primaries - not caucuses - would be easier to comprehend in their procedural rules and more fair in the sense that they do operate in a system of one-voter/one-vote. How can you screw that up? You count the votes and you have a winner – then you allocate your delegates accordingly, right? Wrong.
As it is with caucuses, not all primary votes are equal with regard to the possibly of assigning delegates. In many states, voters in certain “locations” count more than voters who vote in other “locations.” Why? Even here the reasons are neither consistent nor easily understood. What is certain, however, is – a candidate who does well in some places, within a primary state, earns more delegates than another candidate who does well in other areas, within the same state. You do, in fact, in state after state end up with two candidates who each have a similar number of votes, yet one gets more delegates than the other. Yet the delegate variance in every state is different. Does the average voter know why this happens? Are you kidding me?
You don’t learn much listening to the talking heads on TV. These folks, who have studied the rules and regulations of the Democratic Party because they know they’re going to be on-the-air talking about it – that’s their job – differ in their own assessments of the same vote totals. And even they often can’t explain the results.
Its not only that one candidate may garner more votes than another, the confusion is exacerbated by the fact that a candidate’s vote advantage may not be reflected in the overall delegate selection. To make matters worse, some caucus states don’t report their actual vote totals at all, while some others do - although the vote totals mean nothing in the way of delegate allocation in those states.
One state, Texas, had both a primary and a caucus – on the same day. Clinton won the primary. Obama won the caucus. The vote totals favored Clinton, but Obama actually emerged from Texas the winner in delegates. Those are the rules. You think that makes sense? Are you kidding me?
And then, there’s the silliness of the Democratic Party staging primaries and caucuses in places where the Democrats who participate aren’t really voters at all. Why do they have a caucus in Guam (“Where America’s day begins!”) or the Virgin Islands? Why is there a primary in Puerto Rico? The last time anybody checked, there’s no one in Guam, St. Thomas, St. Croix or St. John, and nobody in Puerto Rico who’s eligible to vote for President of the United States when it really matters in November. Why should they be involved in picking who runs? Why not ask the Dutch or the Swedes or the English to vote? How about the good Democrats in Omen or Kuwait, Mali or Peru?
Really now - should people who can’t vote in your election pick your nominees? Are you kidding me?
There is one thing I’m not indignant about - the so-called Super delegates. Frankly, I think having them is a good idea. They are the people who really run the party and it makes them responsible for the party’s ticket. Most organizations rightly belong to those who daily breathe life into them. As far as I can see, its their party – that’s the right way to do it.
In a “normal” election year, when a clear frontrunner emerges early and wraps up the nomination in February or March, the party may have as long as six months to regroup, organize and mobilize behind the obvious nominee, plenty of time to prepare and to come together in unity for the upcoming general election. But, what happens when you have a year like this one – 2008? There’s precedent, you know… the Republicans in 1976, the Democrats in 1980. Each of those parties lost the general election. And now this time. Has the Democratic Party screwed itself? If so, its their own fault. Can this be fixed? Sure, but not for this election cycle. The rules can be changed to make things better the next time around. What are the odds that might happen? If Will Rogers’ wisdom holds true, the answer is – are you kidding me?