February 19, 2008

Undemocratic Democrats, or, Hey, Them's The Rules

The Clinton campaign is complaining that the Byzantine delegate-selection process in Texas is unfair. The argument is that the rules are so complex, and allocate delegates around districts unevenly, that they could easily produce a delegate result disproportionate to the popular vote -- indeed, it could create a situation in which Clinton could get a plurality or even a majority of votes, but Obama could get more delegates than her. The argument is that these delegate-allocation rules are undemocratic in principle and application; the Clintonistas hint that the rule they would prefer would be for delegates to be awarded in strict proportion to the candidate's share of votes.

Huh -- an undemocratic means of deciding elections. In Texas? Really!

Fact is, these have been the rules in Texas for quite some time and no one has bothered to look closely at them since the early 1970's because they haven't mattered until now. No, people only complain about the rules when they think the rules are going to make them lose and another set of rules that they could plausibly argue for would make them win.

Let's also not forget that Clinton is still attracting more of the "superdelegates" than Obama. No one elects "superdelegates" to the convention; they get to go because they are party elites -- officeholders, past officeholders, successful campaign managers, state party chairmen, and big-time donors and contribution bundlers. Whatever else one might say about the "superdelegates" used by the Democrats in their Presidential selection process, they are not chosen in ways that reflect democratic principles.

A look at the results so far shows that almost every state that has had a primary to date produces delegate allocations that are not proportionate to the vote. Clinton, for the most part, has been the beneficiary of the more undemocratic facets of those rules. I've crunched the numbers, and found that in states where the percentage of delegate allocation is different than the percentage of the votes to the point where it matters in terms of the number of delegates, Clinton has actually had a net gain in delegates by a combination of these quirks in the rules and Clinton's advantage in attracting "superdelegates":

Alabama223,096300,3212828Clinton +4
Alaska103302510Clinton +1
Arizona201,380167,5083527Clinton +1
Arkansas202,01077,970347Clinton +4
California2,361,7891,943,033229178Clinton +6
Colorado38,48779,3441323Clinton +1
Connecticut164,831179,3492332Obama +3
Delaware40,75151,12499Clinton +1
District of Columbia27,32685,5341217Clinton +5
Florida865,099571,13311270Clinton +12
Georgia330,026704,2742964Obama +1
Idaho3,65516,880318Obama +1
Illinois662,8451,301,95443101Obama +6
Iowa7379401820Clinton +2
Kansas9,46227,1721026Clinton +1
Louisiana136,959220,5882128Clinton +2
Maryland283,846479,1383846Clinton +7
Massachusetts704,591511,8874865Obama +1
Michigan327,419236,9558055Clinton +1
Minnesota65,875137,3942754Clinton +1
Nebraska12,39625,986820Obama +1
Nevada5,4074,8051414Obama +1
New Hampshire112,251104,7721112none
New Jersey602,576492,1867150Clinton +4
New Mexico68,08467,0101412Clinton +1
New York1,000,915696,34217694Clinton +17
North Dakota6,94811,625512Obama +1
South Carolina141,217295,2141426Clinton +1
Tennessee332,599250,7303927Clinton +1
USVI1491,77215Clinton +1
Virginia344,477620,9193558Clinton +2
Washington9,99221,6291829Clinton +3
Wisconsin377,852525,9352539Obama +2

A few notes on the table: Where applicable, pledged state-level delegates are substituted for votes in cases of caucuses being used in place of primaries (e.g., Iowa). Voting and delegate reports are incomplete as represented in the cases of Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, and South Carolina -- because in those states, John Edwards earned votes above the 10% threshold for awarding of delegates. So although not illustrated, Edwards' votes have been considered for proportional delegate allocation in those states in determining whether Clinton received more, less, or exactly the right amount of delegates based on her proportional share of votes. Florida and Michigan are currently allocated zero seats for the convention by the DNC, and it's looking like that will matter. The votes and delegates counted for Obama in Michigan combine the "uncommitted" votes and delegates along with two "superdelegates" from Michigan who have announced for Obama.

But as the table demonstrates, in 23 states, Clinton has got more than her share of delegates. Obama has got more than his share in 9 states, and 4 states have given delegates close enough to the actual proportion that rounding the numbers up and down shows that the candidates got the delegates they actually earned in the primary elections.

The result of these arcane methods of allocation and selection of delegates is a net 63 delegate advantage for Clinton. It becomes a net 50 if Florida and Michigan are excluded, but as long as Clinton is cheating, she may as well cheat big and get those delegates added to the pot, too. The undemocratic rules of the Democratic party favor Hillary Clinton. (Even so, she's still be behind in the delegate count.)

These very rules, about which Clinton complains through her surrogates, have actually worked to her advantage for the past two months. Were the Democratic Party to have dispensed with those rules and adhered instead to a strictly proportional (above the 10% minimum) delegate allocation method, Clinton would have fewer delegates today than she does, and Obama would have more delegates today than he does.

This brings up some interesting questions. First, given that these are the rules, is it possible for her to win? Second, given that these are the rules, does she even deserve to win? Third, given that these are the rules, what principled reason exists to change them? (A principled reason is not "Because if they were changed, Hillary would win.") It's remarkably facile for her to suggest changing the rules in media res, too; she and her husband have dominated the inner workings of the Democratic party for fifteen years. In a very real way, she had every opportunity there could have been to re-write the rules before running for President -- something that she has to have known she was going to do for quite some time.

More than anything else I've seen in the campaign, this makes me prefer Obama to her as a potential President. Obama seems to at least be playing "fair" so far as that word has meaning in Presidential politics. He's playing far not just by way of skipping Florida and Michigan as he promised to do, but he isn't asking for the rules to be changed incrementally; instead, he's assessed the playing field as it is, and has figured out how to win on it the way it is. I'll still vote for McCain over either of them, but McCain losing to Obama will not sting nearly as bad as McCain losing to Clinton.

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