Many people in the world look at the United States as the bastion of Democracy, citing their election process which boasts one-vote, one-person. In other words, each American 18 years of age or older has the same power to vote for and elect the people who represent them in government. It is a great concept, but in reality, it is not really true. The two major political parties have shortcuts and loopholes that put the final decision on who becomes president of the United States in the hands of the political establishment through the use of Super Delegates and also an Electoral College made up of the members of the U.S. Congress.
By Ray Hanania
Many people believe the American political system is based on a Democratic process in which each American citizen 18 years of age or older casts one vote for one candidate. And, the candidate with the most votes becomes the president.
It helped fuel the protests of citizens across the Arab World during the much hailed “Arab Spring.”
But that’s not really the case. And American Democracy is closely managed by the political establishment which puts emphasis on the power and preferences of elected officials over the preferences of the voters.
Here’s an overview of the problem
In order to become a candidate for president, you have to be supported by the majority of voters in each of the major political parties, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. This is done in preliminary elections called “Primary elections” which are held in each of the nation’s 50 states usually over a five-month period between February and June. Click here for more info.
Each party assigns “delegates” based on the number of votes each candidate receives in each primary election and which is based on the population of each state. States with larger populations have more “delegates” to award to candidates.
At the end of the primary election cycle, the candidate who reaches the minimum required to be named the official candidate of the party, is confirmed at the party conventions.
For Republicans, a candidate must win a minimum of 1,237 delegates out of 2,472 total delegates in order to win the Republican Party nomination. For Democrats, a candidate must win a minimum of 2,383 delegates out of a total of 4,765 total delegates.
Candidates that bow out of the process can give their delegates to other candidates at the convention.
Once the political parties select their candidates at the conventions, the final nominees face-off in the General Election, which this year is on November 8.
But in the Democratic Party the process of selecting the party candidate is skewered and based more on politics than on Democracy.
In 2008, for example, Hillary Clinton received more votes than Barack Obama in the Democratic primary process, but Obama won more delegates and went on to represent the Democratic Party in that year’s presidential elections. Click here for more info.
Obama only received 17,584,692 total votes while Clinton won more total votes cast, 17,857,501.
But Obama, who didn’t run in the primary election in Michigan (he ran in only 49 of the nation’s 50 states while Clinton ran in all 50 states), received the most delegates, 2,201 to Clinton who only had 1,896. Click here for more info.
This election, in the Republican Primary, the leading candidate is businessman Donald Trump. But it is uncertain if he will win the minimum number of delegates to be named the party’s official candidate. At least two other major candidates remain in the race, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Currently, as of the most recent Republican primary elections in Arizona, Utah and Idaho on Tuesday March 22, 2016, Trump leads with 739 delegates. Cruz has 465 delegates and Kasich has only 143. There are only 944 delegates left to win and Trump needs to win 498 more delegates.
The next GOP contests are April 5 in Wisconsin with 42 delegates at stake, and April 19 in New York where 95 delegates are at stake for Republicans. There are five state primary contests on April 26 with a total of 118 delegates up for grabs. More election contests will continue through May and June.
If Trump fails to win at least 1,237 delegates, the party leadership could select a candidate of their own who did not win a majority votes of the Republican Party voters.
“Super Delegates” in the Democratic Party system
In the Democratic race, the delegate race is much closer. Currently, Clinton has 1,243 total “pledged” delegates won in the election which is only a few hundred more than Sanders, who has 975 total “pledged” delegates.
But these delegate numbers, won in head-to-head election contests, are only part of the picture. Each candidate can also receive “Super Delegates,” which consists of 715 elected office holders including governors, U.S. Senators and U.S. Congressman, as well as leaders of the Democratic Party political organization.
“Super Delegates” are not won by votes but rather “given” to each candidate outside of the election process. Each of the 715 Super Delegates decides on their own who to support, and it can dramatically changes the process for both Clinton and Sanders.
“Super Delegates” are a part of a political party system that favors the establishment candidate, which in this case is Hillary Clinton.
Some “Super Delegates” wait to see which way the political winds are blowing in the states where they live, but these extra delegates clearly favor Clinton and give her an edge.
So far, Clinton has 469 “Super Delegates” while Sanders has only 29. When you add up the pledged delegates won in the primary elections so far, and the “Super Delegates” committed by the party, Clinton leads Sanders with 1,712 delegates to Sanders 1,004 delegates. Click here for more info.
“Super Delegates” allow the Democratic Party to influence an election despite how the public votes. They give the Democratic Party leaders more control of the final outcome.
Theoretically, Sanders could win a majority of the elected or pledged delegates, and even the popular vote across the country, but he could still lose to Clinton because she has a majority of the “Super Delegates.”
The General Election is decided both on the basis of total votes cast and on General Election delegates won based on percentages in each of the 50 states.
When the delegate count overshadows the popular vote
Four times in American history, a candidate who did not win the majority of votes cast in the country failed to win the presidency. That’s because the winner is decided based on who wins the most General Election delegates, not based on the actual votes cast, according to the U.S. Federal Government election archives.
In 1824, John Quincy Adams was elected president despite not winning either the popular vote or the electoral vote. Andrew Jackson was the winner in both categories. Jackson received 38,000 more popular votes than Adams, and beat him in the electoral vote 99 to 84. Despite his victories, Jackson didn’t reach the majority 131 votes needed in the Electoral College to be declared president. In fact, neither candidate did. The decision went to the House of Representatives, which voted Adams into the White House. Click here for more info.
In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes won the election (by a margin of one electoral vote), but he lost the popular vote by more than 250,000 ballots to Samuel J. Tilden. Click here for more info.
In 1888, Benjamin Harrison received 233 electoral votes to Grover Cleveland’s 168, winning the presidency. But Harrison lost the popular vote by more than 90,000 votes. Click here for more info.
In 2000, George W. Bush was declared the winner of the general election and became the 43rd president, but he didn’t win the popular vote either. Al Gore holds that distinction, garnering about 540,000 more votes than Bush. However, Bush won the electoral vote, 271 to 266. Click here for more info.
The truth is, much is made of the American system of Democracy and how it empowers individual citizens. But the reality is far different and many times, the elections are decided by the political insiders who control the political system.
The Electoral College
The final candidates nominated at the political party conventions by each of the two major political parties then run for election nationwide. But again, the selection of who becomes president is not based on which candidate gets the most votes. It is instead based on which candidate gets the most “Electoral College” votes.
The “Electoral College” votes are not represented by voters, but are a tally of special votes given to each State and the nation’s capitol, Washington D.C., which is not a state. Each state gets one “Electoral College” vote for each of the 435 members of the U.S. Congress and each of the 100 U.S. Senators that represent the various states. Washington D.C. receives 3 Electoral Votes, and that brings the total “Electoral College” vote to 538.
But the individuals who represent the Electoral College are not selected by the voters. They are selected by the insider establishment and usually consist of political insiders committed to the insider establishment and selected by the insider establishment. The voters do get to select the electoral college voters, based on the candidate they represent, but despite that, the Electoral College representatives are not required to cast their vote for the candidate they represent.
On election night, despite the actual total of votes a candidate has received, the person selected as president must receive a majority of the 538 “Electrical College” votes — not the majority of votes cast by American voters — becomes the president. It is very possible that a candidate who has the largest public vote total nationwide, could actually loss to the candidate who has a larger Electoral College vote. Click here for more info.
When you really look at it, the American system of electing a president is not really very “Democratic” and the people’s choices are secondary to the choices and preferences of the political establishment.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)