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My Turn: The truth about New Hampshire superdelegates

For the Monitor
Last modified: 2/25/2016 12:50:46 AM
I am a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention.

As anyone who follows politics in New Hampshire knows by now, under the nominating rules of the Democratic National Committee, not all delegates are selected in accordance with the outcome of party primaries and caucuses. About 15 percent of delegates are members of the Democratic National Committee, governors, senators or members of the House of Representatives. This 15 percent is unpledged. Even if they have endorsed a candidate, they can change their minds as many times as they want until actual voting takes place at the convention. The remaining 85 percent are pledged delegates awarded on the basis of the results of each state’s primary or caucus. The superdelegates have never been the deciding votes in the nominating process.

Superdelegates were not concocted for the 2016 nominating convention. These rules have been in place since about 1984, with some changes in 1988. Interestingly, one of the people closely involved with the delegate selection rules in 1988 was Tad Devine, senior strategist for Bernie Sanders’s campaign.

Since then, there has been only minor tinkering with the rules. The superdelegates have not been particularly controversial. In New Hampshire, for example, there have been 50 superdelegates since 1984. Eighty percent of the superdelegates endorsed a candidate prior to the primary, with no objections. Not one of those delegates changed an endorsement in the days immediately after the primary.

For example, in 2008, Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary. Based on the allocation rounding rules, she and Barack Obama split the delegates chosen by the popular vote evenly. Three superdelegates supported Sen. Clinton and another three backed Sen. Obama prior to the primary. No one suggested that the Obama superdelegates switch their allegiance. At the convention, every superdelegate who had supported Hillary Clinton voted for Barack Obama. It is a New Hampshire tradition: The delegation supports the nominee unanimously.

There was some anger from a handful of Clinton supporters after that convention. Most Democrats, however, accepted that a unified party was important if we were going to win that November.

This year, I endorsed Clinton months before the primary. No one seemed to care much until the day after the primary, when that endorsement led to a few nasty emails and social media postings saying the Democratic National Committee and its superdelegates were part of the corrupt political establishment.

I am not sure where this corrupt political establishment thing comes from. All the members of the Democratic National Committee I know are hardworking, ordinary people who are active in the party because they believe in social and racial justice, equal opportunity and the United States of America.

Like me, most of the members are elected by their state committees, which are made up of representatives of the party’s grassroots. Our goal is to elect Democrats – nothing more, nothing less. Sadly, Bernie Sanders’s blanket condemnation of the “corrupt political establishment” tarnishes good people who have spent decades trying to build a strong party to elect Democrats, with the goal of providing opportunity and justice for all. These people are patriots, not a power hungry cabal. If he were to win the nomination, they would work hard to try to elect him.

The nasty emails are in the minority. I have had healthy, respectful conversations with Sanders supporters about the fact that automatic delegates are not pledged to any candidate, and New Hampshire’s traditional unanimous vote at the convention. I understand their frustration at reading incorrect press reports that New Hampshire has awarded more delegates to Hillary Clinton. I admit I am more pointed with ones who say things like, you have betrayed democracy; that is not a particularly great way to start a productive conversation. But I have not yet suggested contacting the Nevada superdelegate pledged to Bernie Sanders about switching to Hillary Clinton.

Politics can become heated and personal attacks come too easily in this age of the internet and email. It is unfortunate; we all, whether Clinton, Sanders or Republican supporters, are patriots who want the best for their country. As we go through this nomination and presidential election process, I hope we all can remember that.

(Kathy Sullivan is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.)


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