Chapter 8: SUPERDELEGATES.
In the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, the threshold for victory was 2,383 “delegates.” Each delegate is representative of tens of thousands of voters from the delegate’s home state. Different states have different amounts of total delegates to be won, based on the state’s population. For example, New York has 247 (pledged) delegates, while Rhode Island has 24 (pledged) delegates. The delegates are then divided up per candidate, according to the votes cast by district. These delegates are “pledged” to represent the will of the voters of their district.
The Democratic Party, unlike the Republican Party, has another sort of “delegate” — the “unpledged” delegate, also known as the “superdelegate.”
Essentially, superdelegates are officials within the Democratic Party who have been granted a vote that is weighted about 10,000x more, on average, than the citizen’s vote in a Democratic party primary.
There are a few distinct arguments in defense of the existence of superdelegates:
- Democratic party insiders know the candidates better than the voters, and if they deem it necessary, should be able to overturn the will of the voters.
- Superdelegates “do not affect the primary process,” since they do not vote until the convention (after the primary voting has finished).
These arguments have easy rebuttals:
- If the reason for superdelegates is to overturn the will of the voters (if the voters’ choice is deemed “incorrect” by the current party establishment), this is a plain admission that the nominating process is not actually “democratic,” and the primary election is a sham.
- Even though superdelegates do not cast their final vote until after the primary elections have taken place, they are used from the beginning of the primary cycle to shape public opinion on who is the “better” and more “electable” candidate.
Argument #1, that the Democratic Party nomination process need not respect the will of the voters, is no argument against the “rigging” of the election — it is a plain defense of a “rigged” primary process. There is reason to believe that even if Bernie Sanders won more “pledged” delegates than Hillary Clinton, the superdelegates would have stepped in to overturn the results — nominating Hillary Clinton instead. Donna Brazile later admitted that she considered Joe Biden, who was not even in the race, to replace Hillary Clinton after concerns over her health.
As DNC chair, Brazile wouldn’t have been able to “unilaterally” nominate Biden or Clinton, but, as would be admitted later in court, the DNC as a whole could have technically chosen whoever they wanted in the end. Sanders staffers who were in contact with the superdelegates have said that even if Bernie were to win the popular vote and the “pledged” delegates, the superdelegates still would have gone with Clinton. That’s why they exist, for the party to override the vote if they really want to.
Argument #2, that the superdelegates didn’t actually influence the outcome of the election — since technically, they didn’t vote until after the election — is also incorrect: Superdelegates were weaponized from the very beginning of the primary cycle to engineer a perception of Hillary Clinton as the “inevitable frontrunner.” The mainstream media was incompetent, at best, in pushing this narrative. But more likely, the media was actively complicit in engineering public opinion to think that Hillary Clinton was far more ahead than she really was.
This use of the superdelegates ultimately affected enthusiasm, turnout, and the final vote for Sanders. Need it really be said, over and over again? Let us continue to explore how this is true.
Undemocratic by nature
In this report, it’s been made clear that a “rigged” election doesn’t mean the voter machines were all controlled by the victor, or the election was literally “impossible” to win for the challenger. What “rigged” really means is that the process is unfair, unethical, and undemocratic. The question has not been “whether” the Democratic presidential primaries were rigged, but rather to what extent the primaries were unfair, unethical, and undemocratic. A defense of the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries is ultimately a defense of an unfair, unethical, and undemocratic nomination process.
The Superdelegates are just one more piece of the puzzle. They were originally implemented, precisely, to overturn the will of the voters — to ensure, precisely, that the nomination process can subvert the democratic vote.
In fact, in 2016, the DNC chair admitted as much. When questioned about the role of superdelegates, Debbie Wasserman Schultz had this to say on CNN:
“Unpledged delegates exist to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.”
Immediately, Schultz attempted to amend her statement — that the Democratic Party wants to “include grassroots activists” in the process — but it was too late. She admitted what many already knew, that superdelegates exist to stop challengers to the current party consensus — challengers like Bernie Sanders.
Even if Sanders won in “regular” delegates, why wouldn’t the Democratic Party use the superdelegates to nominate Hillary Clinton in the end? That’s exactly why they were created. Most likely, this is what they would have done.
With the existence of superdelegates, and a majority of them lined up behind Clinton already in 2015, Sanders would have ultimately required a blowout victory in the popular vote to counter the 15% potential voting capacity of the superdelegates. It was not an impossible task to overcome, but once again, Clinton’s unfair advantage did not need to be “literally” insurmountable, it simply had to be “virtually” insurmountable.
At least as undemocratic as the “gatekeeping” function of superdelegates, and even more nefarious, was how they were used to prop up Hillary Clinton as the eventual nominee from the very beginning of the race. In the minds of many, many voters — including the vast amounts who “liked Bernie Sanders, but he can’t win” — Hillary Clinton had already won the race. So why bother to volunteer or even vote for him?
The great “superdelegate” mirage
Who knew about “superdelegates” before the 2016 Democratic primaries? Not many people. And who knew about them by the end of the 2016 Democratic primaries? Still, not that many people. But mainly, Bernie Sanders supporters.
That’s because the Bernie Sanders supporters, especially the ones who had invested so much time and energy on his campaign, watched “superdelegates” be used to trick the public into believing Hillary Clinton had already won.
Before the elections would begin, and during the elections, it would appear to anyone who caught a glimpse of the news that Hillary Clinton already had the nomination locked up. Sanders’ campaign was a grassroots campaign that depended on enthusiasm, optimism, and most of all, volunteers. Who is going to donate their time and energy to a campaign that has already lost? And who will decide to stay home on voting day, if their vote won’t matter anyways?
“The reason for this is because most media, though certainly not all, are including what are called “superdelegates” or delegates awarded to party insiders who have thus far pledged their delegates to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Given Clinton’s early “front-runner” status and deep connections within the party, it’s entirely logical why she would have such a considerable lead among the party elite, but it’s a precarious lead that, when presented without qualification, only serves to prejudice the voter into thinking Clinton’s lead is insurmountable.
“The media’s job should not be to play into power-serving tropes. The average media consumer cannot be expected to make such nuanced distinctions while briefly looking at a graph. Scrolling past Twitter or flipping through the New York Times and seeing a graph that shows Clinton with a 7-to-1 lead gives the impression the election is all but over, which can only serve to undermine democracy and further perpetuate the undeserved “inevitable” narrative advanced by the Clinton camp.
(Adam Johnson, AlterNet)
As the dedicated Sanders supporters and volunteers would watch with their own eyes — helplessly and painfully — this deceptive reporting of the delegate counts would persist through the primary.
Once again we find that, in a best-case scenario, the major media outlets were simply incompetent in reporting such basic information. But more likely, they were not just ignorant. They had incentives, whatever they may be, to favor Clinton in the race. As we saw in the last chapter, many of them also had “instructions” coming from the DNC and Clinton campaign.
CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and Google were only some of the outlets reporting the race in this way, but obviously, they have a lot of pull. There is a trend here. At best, it’s widespread journalistic malpractice. However, from what the Wikileaks revealed re: media collusion — and after a simple connecting of the dots (between the interests of the political and media establishment) — we can safely conclude that it is not just ignorance.
Even if we assume the best of Clinton’s campaign and the DNC, they made no effort to correct this basic misinformation in the media’s reporting of the race. But worse, it is not far-fetched that Clinton and the DNC could have used this as a part of their own deliberate strategy, maybe even urging for the misinformation to continue for as long as possible.
Either the media didn’t understand something basic about Democratic primaries, or, they let the lies continue as long as possible. These lies would convince a lot of people that Sanders never had a chance — even after the first two states put him ahead in the popular vote and “regular” delegate count.
Was this illegal? No. Was it unethical and undemocratic? Yes. That’s the point. If you were the group who largely determined what is “legal” and what is not (The DNC, which was biased to Clinton and her campaign), you wouldn’t necessarily have to do anything “illegal” in order to “rig” the primary. And if you were the corporate media, unaccountable to the public — and serving power instead of challenging it (like you’re supposed to) — you could pull this journalistic garbage, and get away with it.
For a final view of how the delegate counts were mis-reported, and a look into the undemocratic nature of superdelegates, this thread on Twitter by @philosophrob documents much of the primary election with regard to “pledged” delegates (the voters) versus the final delegate count in each state (which included the unaccountable “superdelegates” who technically “had not voted yet.”)
The information from this thread is re-formatted and compiled below.
2016 Iowa Democratic Caucus
Clinton: 49.84% = 29 total delegates (23 + 6 super)
Sanders: 49.59% = 21 total delegates (21 + 0 super)
“Hillary received 49.84% (only +0.25%) yet somehow got 58% of the delegates.”
2016 N.H. Democratic Primary
Sanders: 60.14% = 16 total delegates (15 + 1 super)
Clinton: 37.68% = 15 total delegates (9 + 6 super)
“Bernie received 60.14% (+22.46%) of the vote but only 51.61% of the delegates.”
2016 Nevada Democratic Caucus
Clinton: 52.64% = 24 total delegates (20 + 4 super)
Sanders: 47.29% = 16 total delegates (15 + 1 super)
“Hillary received 52.64% (+5.25%) of the vote yet 60% of the delegates.”
2016 South Carolina Primary
Clinton: 73.44% = 44 total delegates (39 + 5)
Sanders: 26.02% = 14 total delegates (14 + 0)
“Hillary won with 73.44% of the vote yet squeaked out 75.86% of the delegates.”
2016 Alabama Democratic Primary
Clinton: 77.84% = 50 total delegates (44 + 6 super)
Sanders: 19.19% = 9 total delegates (9 + 0 super)
“Hillary received 77.84% of the votes yet 84.75% of the delegates.”
2016 Arkansas Democratic Caucus
Clinton: 66.08% = 27 total delegates (22 + 5 super)
Sanders: 29.97% = 10 total delegates (10 + 0 super)
“Hillary received 66% of the vote and 73% of the delegates.”
2016 Colorado Democratic Caucus
Sanders: 58.98% = 41 total delegates (41 + 0 super)
Clinton: 40.31% = 34 total delegates (25 + 9 super)
“Bernie’s 58.9% of votes shrunk to 54.6% of delegates.”
“Hillary’s 40.3% of votes grew to 45.3% of delegates.”
2016 Massachusetts Democratic Primary
Clinton: 49.73% = 67 total delegates (46 + 21 super)
Sanders: 48.33% = 46 total delegates (45 + 1 super)
“Hillary won by only 1.4% yet received 18.6% more delegates than Bernie.”
2016 Minnesota Democratic Caucus
Sanders: 61.69% = 47 total delegates (46 + 1 super)
Clinton: 38.31% = 44 total delegates (31 + 13 super)
“Bernie won with 61.7% yet only received 51.6% of the delegates.”
2016 Oklahoma and Tennessee Democratic Primaries
These primaries were about proportional, with a slight favor to Hillary Clinton, who gained 7 superdelegates in Tennessee while Sanders gained 0.
2016 Texas Democratic Primary
Clinton: 65.19% = 168 total delegates (147 + 21 super)
Sanders: 33.19% = 75 total delegates (75 + 0 super)
“HRC got 65% of votes and 69% of delegates.”
2016 Vermont Democratic Primary
Bernie Sanders won 85%+ of the vote in his home state, rendering Hillary Clinton zero delegates to Sanders’ 16. Yet Hillary Clinton still gained 4 superdelegates, while Sanders gained 6. This gave Sanders 85% of the total delegates (22 out of 26).
2016 Virginia Democratic Primary
Clinton: 64.29% = 75 total delegates (62 + 13 supers)
Sanders: 35.20% = 33 total delegates (33 + 0 supers)
Clinton received 64.3% of the vote, but 69.4% of the total delegates.
2016 George Democratic Primary
Clinton: 71.3% = 84 total delegates (73 + 11 supers)
Sanders: 28.2% = 29 total delegates (29 + 0 supers)
“Hillary won 71.3% of the vote and got 74.3% of the delegates.”
2016 Kansas Democratic Caucus
Sanders: 67.9% = 23 total delegates (23 + 0 super)
Clinton: 32.1% = 14 total delegates (10 + 4 super)
Bernie got 67.9% of the vote and 62.2% of the total delegates.
2016 Louisiana Democratic Primary
Clinton: 71.12% = 44 total delegates (37 + 7 super)
Sanders: 23.18% = 14 total delegates (14 + 0 super)
“Hillary won with 71.12% of the vote yet received 75.9% of the delegates.”
2016 Nebraska Democratic Caucus
Sanders: 57.14% = 16 total delegates (15 + 1 super)
Clinton: 42.86% = 13 total delegates (10 + 3 super)
Clinton’s delegates were +2% the vote, and Sanders’ were -2%.
2016 Maine Democratic Caucus
Sanders: 64.17% = 18 total delegates (17 + 1 super)
Clinton: 35.49% = 12 total delegates (8 + 4 super)
“Bernie won 64.17% of the vote but only 60% of the delegates.”
2016 Mississippi Democratic Primary
Votes were proportional with final delegates, with 82% to Clinton.
2016 Michigan Democratic Primary
Sanders: 49.68% = 67 total delegates (67 + 0 super)
Clinton: 48.26% = 73 total delegates (63 + 10 super)
Sanders won the vote by 1.4%, but Clinton received 52.1% of total delegates.
It is worth reiterating that most voters had no idea that superdelegates “technically haven’t voted yet.” They simply saw and heard, from before the primary, to voting day, to the end of the primary — on the major news channels, search engines, and social media — that Hillary Clinton had a crushing lead on Bernie Sanders. The superdelegates would not only threaten to overturn a Bernie Sanders victory, if it were to ever occur, but were used as a tool to persistently misinform the public on the “electability” of the candidates, and the state of the Democratic primary.
Is this not a blatant case of “interference in democracy”? Aside from superdelegates themselves being undemocratic in their very function, how are the voters supposed to make an “informed” decision — when the mass media, in some degree of collusion with one of the candidates (even if it were only a passive acceptance and enabling of that candidate) — is systematically misinforming and confusing the public on the candidates and election process?
This is not what a democratic election process would look like — with the media, for whatever reason, failing to report the real difference in democratically-elected delegates.
If Sanders was not cast as “unelectable” and hopelessly behind Clinton from the very beginning — especially through a dishonest use of the already-undemocratic superdelegates — the race would have been a lot different. A lot more people would have believed Sanders could win. More would have volunteered and voted for him. And he would have done better in the race. To think otherwise would require a major unwillingness to consider how media reporting influences the electorate. In the end, many Democrats and much of the media would blame “Russia” for tipping the general election from Clinton to Trump, but “Russia’s” media influence on the U.S. electorate pales in comparison to the influence of the U.S. media. If you’re mad at Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. democracy, surely you must be livid about the U.S. media’s interference in U.S. democracy.
How much better would Sanders have done in a “fair” and “democratic” process, including an honest and authentic U.S. media, which challenged and covered all candidates equally? We don’t know, and that’s the point. But we do know Sanders would have done better. We just don’t know exactly how much better.
Now we will turn to the most disturbing part of the entire primary process: We cannot verify the accuracy of the results. In states where exit polls were conducted, the final vote count was frequently outside the exit poll margin of error — and almost always favoring one candidate over the other. Other exit polls were cancelled. Audits and recounts were made difficult or nearly impossible. Voting machines are old, closed-source, privately-owned, and easily breached. A lot was at stake in this election — to many powerful interests — if Sanders were to win. Many experts have published analyses, and filed lawsuits, claiming that the 2016 Democratic primary votes were directly manipulated. Let’s take a look.