Before supporters of Bernie Sanders vote in the Super Tuesday primaries on March 1, their candidate will already be behind Hillary Clinton in the participating states.
This is because the superdelegate count in those states already favors Clinton over Sanders as follows: Alabama (3 to 0), Arkansas (5 to 0), Colorado (10 to 0), Georgia (11 to 0), Massachusetts (17 to 1), Minnesota (11 to 1), Oklahoma (1-1), Tennessee (6 to 0), Texas (18 to 0), Vermont (4 to 3), and Virginia (11 to 0).
Even in his home state of Vermont, where Sanders holds a 75 point lead in the polls, he is behind in the superdelegate count.
In Massachusetts, where Sanders leads in the polls by 3.5 points, Clinton leads in superdelegates by 17 to 1.
These superdelegate numbers favoring Clinton are also reflected in the current national count. After the first three primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, Sanders and Clinton are tied in the delegate count51 to 51. These are delegates that reflect actual votes in those states. However, as of Tuesday, February 22, when committed superdelegates are included, the delegate count balloons to 496 for Clinton to 69 for Sanders.
Who are the superdelegates, exactly? A recent New York Times’ editorial identified them as “party bigwigs—712 Democratic leaders, legislators, governors, and the like.”
But that’s not the whole story. The majority of superdelegates are actually DNC members. And the DNC superdelegates (432) outnumber senators (46), members of the House of Representatives (193), governors (20), and “distinguished members” (21) combined. In fact, all DNC members—that is, the unelected political apparatus of the Democratic party—are voting superdelegates.
Lee Fang at The Intercept has identified a number of DNC superdelegates: one works for the Clinton campaign and is a former lobbyist for a private prison group and for TransCanada to build support for the Keystone XL pipeline; another works for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation; three DNC superdelegates, writes Fang, are officials at “a lobbying firm that is closely affiliated with the Clinton campaign and retained by the Clinton-supporting Super PACs Priorities USA Action and Correct the Record.”
Fang also reported that the same firm “was retained by the health insurance industry to undermine health reform efforts in 2009, including proposals to change Medicare Advantage,” and that the firm had “previously worked to influence policy on behalf of Enron, Countrywide, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, the U.S. Telecom Association and News Corporation.”
Another DNC superdelegate is a lobbyist registered to work on behalf of “the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a trade group for Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs, Fidelity, and Bank of America.”
This is a small number of DNC superdelegates (although Fang lists more). But it’s difficult to find out what the other 400-plus DNC superdelegates actually do—either inside or outside the DNC.
Clinton’s huge advantage in superdelegates reflects a playing field tilted against Sanders by party officials who have a say in both the superdelegate vote and the conduct of primary elections, especially caucuses.
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“One of the main differences between a caucus and a primary is that a caucus is organized by the political parties, whereas a primary is organized usually by the state board of elections as a regular election would be.” This statement comes from a 2016 New Hampshire state public service announcement, and it may explain why two of the first three momentum-generating primary elections are caucuses.
In the Iowa Democratic caucus, six of the seven Iowa state DNC members were listed as Clinton supporters, with one uncommitted. How is that a fair distribution of DNC officials?
In Nevada two of six DNC members were listed as Clinton supporters, with one supporting Sanders and three uncommitted. That might seem a little fairer. Then again, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, a superdelegate, was also officially listed as uncommitted.
Yet, one day after the Nevada caucus on February 20, a veteran Nevada political reporter wrote a piece for USA Today titled, “Harry Reid Delivers for Hillary Clinton: Nevada's ‘Neutral’ Power Players May Have Saved a Campaign and Changed History.” It describes Reid’s interventions on Clinton’s behalf in Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, and which was the county that tipped a close caucus election to Clinton.
In short, caucuses, as opposed to straightforward elections, permit the party apparatus to exercise more influence. And the DNC—which features dual-role DNC members as superdelegate voters and election apparatchiks—clearly favors Clinton.
Perhaps the best way to literally see and hear the undemocratic essence of the DNC’s superdelegate voting system is to view two must-see short videos of party leaders directly involved in currently overseeing (Debbie Wasserman-Schultz) and bringing (Harry Reid) this arrangement to the Democratic party.
In a televised interview with Fox News on February 12, the DNC chair, Wasserman-Schultz, was asked to explain the fairness of the disparity between the actual votes in Iowa and New Hampshire that together favor Sanders and the delegate count afterwards favoring Clinton. Wasserman-Schultz’s response was evasive and incoherent. (The relevant portion begins 1:50 into the interview.)
Likewise, in a televised interview with Reid, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked a similar question. Reid was as evasive in his response as Wasserman-Schultz was in hers. It seems that the indefensible influence of the superdelegates is literally indefensible.
As of this writing, Sanders and Clinton are tied in the delegate count due to actual votes. Sanders and Clinton are essentially tied in the two most recent national polls reported at Real Clear Politics. And a February 23 poll by Reuters had Sanders ahead of Clinton nationally by six points.
Yet the tsunami of Clinton’s undemocratic superdelegate support has emerged as the dominant force in the election. Recently, with media feedback, it has functioned as a self-fulfilling prophecy for a Clinton victory, while sweeping away the legitimate votes for Sanders.
If this were any other country, we’d be quick to call this a corrupt election.
The only available antidote is a massive turnout for Sanders on Super Tuesday and in every primary state afterwards.