Editor’s Note: This post is the second part in a three-part series evaluating the current system by which the two major parties nominate their presidential candidates. Part 2 focuses on proposing one minor reform to the existing system.
In the U.S., political change is typically gradual. Rather than overhauling the primary system to suit the desires of losing candidates’ factions, it is far more likely that the parties will adopt minor changes to their current rules. In this post, contributors worked in pairs to develop minor reforms that will fix some issues with the current nominations system.
Samantha Coons and Marlena Mareno
We would abolish unpledged delegates (“super delegates”) in both parties. DNC super delegates comprise about 15% of the vote, while RNC super delegates make up 7%. Proponents of super delegates argue that elected officials who serve as super delegates bring years of wisdom to the nomination process. They also argue that including party senators and House members will help form an alliance between them and the possible future president. The drawback to super delegates is that it takes some power away from the voters, placing it in the hands of party elites. In close races, super delegates have the power to change the outcome. This cycle, super delegates have the power to decide the outcome of both parties nomination. Clinton has over 500 more super delegates than Sanders, making her the standout front-runner. On the GOP side, if Republican unpledged delegates decided to back Trump early, Cruz and Kasich may have dropped out even earlier.
McKenzie Franck and Kevin Callanan
One minor reform that should be implemented is the elimination of party caucuses. Caucuses have very low participation rates, are confusing, and last long hours. People who want to vote in the caucuses may also not get the chance to. Caucuses favor the wealthy and highly educated, as middle-class and poor people are unable to go to caucuses because they have school, work, or need to be home to take care of their families. This ultimately leads to only a small proportion of people being represented. Some political leaders also believe that more radical candidates will arise from caucuses because of the lack of voter representation.
Keshawn Langhorn and JaiCe Stinton
Super delegates have become a talking point of the 2016 cycle for the Democrats, with many Sanders supporters calling the system biased toward the party elites’ choice. Super delegates are elected officials, such as senators and governors, who count as unbound delegates at the DNC. Most super delegates have supported Clinton in this election cycle and that has given her a substantial lead going into the July convention. Our reform is to eliminate these super delegates, because they give party elites too great of a role in determining who wins the nomination. We would like to see the Democrats decrease the number of delegates that they have by eliminating super delegates as a whole and leaving the decision in the hands of the voters. Even though they are unbounded going into the convention, most voice their support early, leading to an unfair wave of momentum for one candidate. Eliminating this part of the the process would allow for an unbiased candidate to emerge during the primary stage.
Eric Brower and Jack Massaroni
One reform that could be made to the nomination process would be uniformity of delegate allocation rules in the Republican race. The Republican Party currently allows state parties to determine the rules for delegate allocation in their respective state’s caucus or primary. With this system, in some cases, the winner of the most delegates may not necessarily win the popular vote, or a candidate who wins the popular vote may take a disproportionate share of the delegates, as shown in New York and South Carolina in the 2016 cycle. When one candidate takes such a disproportionate share of delegates, it leads to many people feeling as if their vote was wasted and gives the victor a greater appearance of dominance over other candidates, even if the margin of victory in the popular vote was close. For this reason, the Republican Party should adopt uniform delegate allocation rules by state, like the Democratic Party has. The Democratic Party proportionally allocates delegates based on percentage of the popular vote a candidate obtains with a 15% qualifying threshold to win delegates. This system leads to fewer votes that seem “wasted” and a more fair distribution of delegates between candidates based on how they perform in a state.
Kait Krolik and Brianna Russo
One minor reform we would like to see made to the current system is the use and coverage of super delegates in the Democratic presidential primary race. Super delegates are unpledged members of the Democratic Party, meaning they have the ability to vote regardless of the state popular vote. In the 2016 race, super delegates have been a topic of much controversy and frustration. Super delegates can skew how voters choose their candidates if they believe that the candidate who does not have a majority of super delegates cannot win the nomination, even though super delegate support does not matter until the national convention. In addition, super delegates have the ability to change their affiliation. Therefore, we propose that super delegates become bound for at least the first round of voting or not be allowed to preemptively declare an alliance with a presidential candidate.
Aubrey Kirsch and Nick Pozzi
One major problem with the nomination system is that voters are not informed on how to vote when the time comes. Information on voting locations, registration deadlines, basic rules, and how to fill out a ballot should be provided by the state on their websites clearly and in a timely manner before the primary. States do not currently provide an easy and simple way to find this information; for example, New York’s complicated registration rules prevented Ivanka Trump from voting for her father in that state’s April 19 contest, largely due to a lack of clear information on deadlines. By making the process more transparent, more voters will be encouraged to show up on the day of the primary and people will not be turned away due to misunderstandings that could have been avoided if provided the information.
Emily Radigan and Cody Ingraham
We propose that all caucuses be switched to primaries. Caucuses have more costs to participate; they take several hours to participate in – which is shown by Downs’s Paradox – and can affect whether or not people vote. Caucuses require promptness and some prohibit early or absentee voting, disenfranchising some homebound or working people. Caucuses also result in some distortion of voting results because of the bureaucratic stages they require. Caucus information is harder to find and also have a history of being unreliably reported. Primaries have greater records of turnout. If primaries have less costs to the voter, then it follows that there is more turnout, giving more people a voice, enabling more democracy. While primaries may be more expensive, this reform will allow greater enfranchisement, a principle America prides itself on.
Amanda Knipple and Stella Pabis
One possible minor reform is the removal of winner-take-all and hybrid (with winner-take-all thresholds) delegate allocation of the Republican Party. One issue with the winner-take-all method is that it silences the minority. Substantial portions of the primary voting electorate may be disenfranchised, which can discourage future voting. Candidates may ignore winner-take-all states if they are not projected to do well. The rules as they stand now have helped political outsider Donald Trump this election cycle much to the chagrin of the Republican Establishment. If winner-take-all rules were eliminated, other candidates could still be viewed as viable. Nate Silver examined the effects of imposing DNC rules on the Republican race in 2016 and found that Trump would fare significantly worse under DNC rules. Finally, the idiosyncratic nature of the Republican Party rules renders Indiana a vital state as it is winner-take-all. This one small state was the most important contest of the 2016 Republican cycle. Due to its winner-take-all rules, a large margin (46.7%) of Indiana Republicans did not have a voice on May 3rd.
Be sure to stay tuned for the third and final post in our continued series evaluating the presidential nominations process!