Convention delegates not bound to candidates

Matt here from 2008 Democratic Convention Watch. As Oreo said, thanks to Jerome for letting us spread our delegate and Democratic Convention obsession to a wider audience.

For those of us who have been around a while, the last time a Democratic Convention had even a  little suspense was 1980, in Madison Square Garden, New York. Ted Kennedy was making a last attempt to try and get the nomination from President Carter. The problem: Rule F(3)(c), which officially bound delegates to the candidate they had been elected for on the first ballot. But with a weak Carter campaign on the horizon, Kennedy thought that if the delegates were released from their pledges, he could get enough votes to get the nomination. The problem was, Carter still had a majority of the delegates, and they voted not to overturn the rule, and Kennedy's campaign was over.

But subsequently, the rules were changed, and now convention delegates are free to vote for whomever they want to. The Call for the 2008 Democratic National Convention states:

VIII C(7)(c) Delegates may vote for the candidate of their choice whether or not the name of such candidate was placed in nomination.
The Delegate Selection Rules state:
12 I: No delegate at any level of the delegate selection process shall be mandated by law or Party rule to vote contrary to that person's presidential choice as expressed at the time the delegate is elected.

12 J. Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.

But nowhere does it state that delegates are bound, either legally, or by rule, to vote for the candidate they were elected for, whether on the first ballot, or any subsequent ballot.

Now lets be realistic. The campaigns who put the delegate slates together are not going to put anybody but the most committed loyalists on the ballot. But once those delegates get to the convention they are free to vote for whomever they want. In reality the only way for a candidate to lose those delegates would be for some major political damage to happen to a candidate between the time he or she secures a majority of votes and the convention, and for the candidate to refuse to withdraw. In that scenario, you could see delegates being pressured to change their vote, and they would be able to under the rules. The 796 superdelegates would also be under the same pressure to revoke any endorsements they had made. It's an unlikely scenario, but, the point is, it is possible. Delegates are not bound to the candidates.

Tags: Democratic National Convention (all tags)

Comments

20 Comments

Re: Convention delegates not bound to candidates

Hoping that the elected delegates will change their votes is a lot like hoping that the electors vote for someone else. It's an interesting train of thought, and it is possible, but it will probably never happen. Like you said, these are the most dedicated of partisans. It would take a major catastrophe or scandal (Enron-size theft, live boy/dead girl) to get them to change their choice.

by Kal 2008-01-20 09:04AM | 0 recs
Convention delegates not bound to candidates

Is this one of Axelrod's new talking points?

by hwc 2008-01-20 09:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Convention delegates not bound to candidates

A contested primary is good for the party but an actual brokered convention of any type would be a nightmare.

In the past, voters may have been content with whatever result emerged from the party's smoke-filled rooms, but in the modern era we expect the results to have something to do with the votes actually cast by the people.  The trend is towards more democracy in the primary process, not less.

by Steve M 2008-01-20 09:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Convention delegates not bound to candidates

I agree. It would be devastating for the party. We can only hope the GOP has one.

by msn1 2008-01-20 09:21AM | 0 recs
Re: only a brokered convention is democratic

I'm not saying the primary process is democratic, but a brokered convention is certainly much less democratic.

You're talking about the nomination being decided by a bunch of delegates, some of whom were never elected as delegates by anyone, and others who will be shifting their allegiance from the wishes of those who elected them in order to support the outcome of the brokered convention.

I sure would love it if we had a brokered convention and made Al Gore the nominee, for example, but I wouldn't exactly call that outcome "democratic."

by Steve M 2008-01-20 11:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Convention delegates not bound to candidates

Very educational diary. Thank you.

by lonnette33 2008-01-20 09:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Convention delegates not bound to candidates

I would assume if neither Obama or Clinton get enough delegates, Edwards' will be persuaded to join one side or the other. Possibly as V.P., or at least a major position in the new Administration (Department of Poverty Affairs).

by C S Strowbridge 2008-01-20 09:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Edwards delegates

But Edwards doesn't control his delegates - they don't have to follow his lead.

by msn1 2008-01-20 11:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Convention delegates not bound to candidates

Dems will "have to" seat the MI and FLA votes--If they did not,and as a result Obama might win, they would likely know that it would virtually eliminate the Dem' chances in MI and FLA in the General ('disenfranchisement')--particularly if McCain was the adversary

so-before the Dems got to the 2nd stage of their convention, the first order of business would likely be to accept the MI and FLA votes---that's the only way that they could get any traction at all in the General

by ionsys 2008-01-20 09:53AM | 0 recs
Re: seating FL or MI

Why would you ever just hand that many electoral votes to your opponent? That's just dumb. Besides even if we lost Florida, a competive race makes Rep spend money there instead of spending it else where. And in a race where we are likely to have the financial advatage, it would be foolish to save them the time and effort

by world dictator 2008-01-20 12:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Convention delegates bound by conscience

Being bound by conscience is very different than being bound by rule. I don't expect this to happen. The point is, it could, and the rules don't prevent it.

by msn1 2008-01-20 11:17AM | 0 recs
I was at a meeting yesterday...

...of my congressional district committee to go over the post primary delegate selection caucus rules. About fifty people attended (and asked a lot of questions) about the processes. The issue of "bound" delegates came up - the rule was discussed.

There have been a few rules changes since I participated in the last one. Among them - in my state you now must have actually voted in the primary to be able to participate in the delegate selection process. That wasn't the case in the past.

My congressional district will be allocated 5 national delegates. Two males and three females. The delegates will then be allocated in proportion to the primary vote, with a minimum 15% threshold.

To get to the point of actually being selected as a national delegate at a congressional district meeting you have got to be either seriously organized over a twenty five county area if you don't have a history of party activism (a "name" as it were, with everyone else who is active in the district), have a compelling personal story, or have a widespread reputation for effective and sustained party activism.

You ain't going to get elected as a delegate if no one has ever heard of you before the meeting, unless you've managed to organize those 25 county caucuses this far out. Right now, that's not happening in our area.

As an aside - a helpful hint for crashing the gate: read, understand, and implement the rules. They are there in plain daylight.

In all likelihood the elected delegates will come from people who are advocates of the specific candidates, but not newly active amateur fans. The elected delegates will be people with a long history in the party. In areas, such as mine, where there might indeed be a close contest, the calculus for a potential delegate comes into play.  Where is their best shot at getting a delegate slot? An individual might just choose to go to a sub-caucus based solely on that.

The party activists in attendance at yesterday's meeting do not revile any of the three leading candidates at all. And especially not with the acid rhetoric that we tend to see from the candidates' amateur fans on many blogs.

I met Edwards, Clinton, and Obama supporters (all activists, and all potential delegates) who are thrilled that the next president will be a Democrat. First. They are not going to do anything to damage any potential party nominee (An enthusiastic Edwards supporter from a rural county told me that their county committee was Clinton - 10, Obama - 5, and Edwards - 5. She loved them all.).

So, given the broad sentiments of support for all, and the possibility that something in the nomination situation might change between delegate election and the convention, you better believe that a delegate could and would change their allegiance.

by Michael Bersin 2008-01-20 11:41AM | 0 recs
Re: I was at a meeting yesterday...

When I looked at the Michigan rules I noticed the extremely detailed affirmative action rules.  Not just gender balance in delegate selection, but also race, disability, GLBT, you name it...

by Steve M 2008-01-20 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: I was at a meeting yesterday...

...being a member of organized labor also helps.

by Michael Bersin 2008-01-20 01:30PM | 0 recs
Its true in theory that they can change, but....

In practice people will be elected under a process that rewards strong supporters with a trip to the national convention.  Yah, these people can change their vote, but the party rules aren't what will keep them in place, it will be their loyalty to a particular candidate and the friends that gave them that position of trust and responsibility.  I don't know how it is in other states, but here in MN if someone went back on their promise on who they would vote for, they would have a tough time explaining it back home.  They would probably lose all credibility with all sides and be viewed as untrustworthy.  The same goes with some Super Delegates.  They need to be careful about what they do or they will lose that position.  It is a powerful incentive not to switch your vote.  Switching votes will make life long enemies.  People don't forget those kinds of betrayals, they carry them to their graves.  I don't see a lot of switching going on until after the first ballot.

by pjv 2008-01-20 12:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Its true in theory that they can change, but..

Good points. Political pressure will surely keep almost all delegates in line with their candidate. As I said, the only scenario that I could foresee is a candidate who is badly damaged for some reason but refuses to drop out. Under that scenario, the pressure to switch would be more than the pressure to stay loyal. Unlikely, but at least possible.

by msn1 2008-01-20 01:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Convention delegates not bound to candidates

Thanks for that. Very informative. I remember the 1980 convention. I was 17 at the time and was pulling for Kennedy until the end.

by The Exile 2008-01-20 02:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Convention delegates bound by conscience

Mightn't there be times when a delegate believes in good conscience that the sentiments of the voters who elected him or her have changed since the primary or caucus?For example, imagine a delegate pledged to a candidate who is caught red-handed in some kind of corruption after the delegate is elected. Or imagine that candidate simply didn't win enough to have a real shot at winning the nomination, and a delegate believes that his or her constituents would want to throw their support behind a candidate who does have a chance.

by slvn 2008-01-20 02:32PM | 0 recs
Quick Read...Diarist Is Completely Wrong

A quick look at the rules (I gotta run...will look into this later) suggests that diarist is completely mistaken, 100% wrong.

Look at the system set up by both the Call and the Delegate Selection plan. It explicitly creates two classes of delegates: pledged and unpledged. And pages and pages are spent describing the selection of these DIFFERENT types of delegates!

If the diarist's "interpretation" of the rules is followed, then it would render a complete and utter nullity the distinction between "pledged" and unpledged.

The first rule of statutory interpretation is to harmonize rules to the maximum extent possible, and not use a single interpretation of one part of the rules to render nonsensical the rest of your rules.  The logical interpretation, the harmonizing interpretation, is to accord meaning and substance to the word "pledge" and the term "pledged delegates."  

Does "pledging" to support a candidate have meaning in the rules?  Uhm, yes, it sure does. For example, here is paragraph 12B of the Delegate Selection Rules (emphasis added):

12 B.  All persons wishing to be elected to a district-level or at-large delegate position must file a  statement of candidacy designating the presidential or uncommitted preference of the delegate candidate AND A SIGNED PLEDGE OF SUPPORT FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (including uncommitted status) the person favors, if any, with the state party by a date certain as specified in the state's Delegate Selection Plan. Persons wishing to be elected as pledged party leader and elected official delegates shall comply with Rule 9.C.(3).

Why make them sign something if you think it is a nullity, meaningless?

Let us now turn to the single thing that this diarist is citing to suggest (wrongly) that the PLEDGED delegates are actually not pledged delegates:

12J Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.

This rule actually states just the opposite of what the diarist suggests.  Not surprisingly, it uses the word SHALL to mandate that they DO reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.

For some peculiar reason, the diarist thinks the words "in all good conscience", should be read to mean that all signed, pledged delegates ARE NOT pledged.  But this is an untenable reading of a phrase that is nothing more than boilerplate.  

The delegates shall, being upstanding citizens, honor their pledges. What does that mean to you?  That rule tells me that they SHALL.  And if they do not, they will be seen as violating the rules and not allowed to do so.  Yet, the diarist suggests that this means just the opposite: they can do as they please, and render a nullity the entire systemic distinction between pledged and unpledged. They can nullify the signature provisions as well.

Hmmm....which interpretation makes sense, and which is untenable?

Gotta run...  

by Demo37 2008-01-20 04:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Convention delegates not bound to candidates

Still, the wording--"reflect the sentiments of those who elected them"--seems a little ambiguous. What if a delegate believes that the voters' sentiments have changed since the primary or caucus? If the party didn't intend to provide flexibility for delegates in this situation, why didn't they just say that "the delegates must vote for the candidates for whom they pledged to vote"?

It could be that the pledge is there to make it more uncomfortable for delegates to capriciously, unjustifiably base their votes on changes in their own preferences (while still not completely taking away delegates' discretion to reflect perceived changes in their constituents' preferences).

If the delegates really are bound to vote as pledged, shouldn't there be some mechanism in the rules for the "faithless" votes to be reversed, or for the faithless delegates to be disciplined? Or is there such a mechanism?

by slvn 2008-01-21 02:43AM | 0 recs

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