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Editorial: Public outrage puts primary system in the crosshairs

That Americans are upset with the way delegates are counted in each party’s presidential primaries might be one of the understatements of the year. Voters are livid, and rightfully so. After all, when a candidate wins 55 percent of the vote in a state and splits the delegates equally, voters supporting the winner should be surprised, if not outraged. That is the case with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., when he took Wyoming by that margin last Saturday and yet basically split the delegate allocation with rival Hillary Clinton.
On the Republican side, leading presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters are doing their best to undermine the primary system by debasing its validity. Today, Trump called the system “rigged,” and went on to label it “dirty” and “disgusting,” citing his win of the popular vote in Colorado, but a delegate count that did not reflect the extent of his victory. Equally alarming, however, is that the American voter seems to be confusing the way primaries work versus the way the general election works.
The primary system was conceived by the Republican and Democratic parties to select their strongest candidates to run in the general election. Because the parties are each private institutions, they are not beholden to the voting laws of the country. It is not, in other words, a process in which one person equals one vote. That does happen in the General Election, but not in the primaries.
The rules for the primaries have not been contentious in recent elections because the public has supported mainstream candidates. But this year, candidates running against the establishment have gained favor, putting the primary process in the crosshairs. On the Democratic side, Clinton currently leads Sanders 1,289-1,038 in pledged delegates, while garnering a lead among superdelegates of 469-31. To win the Democratic nomination, a candidate must have 2,383 delegates. There are 1,938 delegates remaining to be decided.
Among the Republicans, Trump has 743 delegates, Ted Cruz has 545 and John Kasich has 143; there are a total of 2,340 delegates up for grabs. To win outright, a candidate must win the majority of that number. While Trump has won by large landslides in many state primaries, the delegate count has not necessarily matched the size of his victories — and if he doesn’t win a majority, delegates can be freed on the second round of voting and choose the candidate of their choice regardless of the vote at home — and that has Trump and his legions hopping mad.
What’s to be done?
First, it’s unrealistic to expect the rules of the game to change for this election. That’s a non-starter. If voters want to pressure the parties to reform the system, it needs to be understood that’s four years from now.
Second, while we agree the public’s vote needs to be more fairly valued, the superdelegate system for the Democrats makes some sense, at least on a second-round selection. It certainly can be tweaked to represent the popular vote on the first round, but the Trump phenomenon is evidence enough to question whether the public makes the best choice.
Third, there are viable options for this year. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., recently clarified his role as a superdelegate by saying he would cast his vote for the nominee who receives the most pledged delegates at the end of the Democratic primary. If that is Sanders, he’ll change his vote.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and other superdelegates in Vermont should consider making that same pledge. That seems to be a reasonable compromise, though it won’t assuage many voters who are demanding that superdelegates follow the will of the people. To that point, we would remind voters that superdelegates can change their minds at any time. It is a fluid arrangement.
Yet, the superdelegates’ support of a candidate who lost so overwhelming in the state sticks in your craw. Surely, since most cast their votes almost a year before Vermont’s primary (another egregious matter), they could be forgiven if they changed their support to Sanders now, while still maintaining to back whichever candidate ends up with the most pledged delegates at the convention. In Vermont, at least, that would lessen the perceived injustice.
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All of this, however, is at best premature, while also suffering from 20-20 hindsight. It’s premature because both leading candidates could earn enough delegates on the first round to win the primary outright, or have such a commanding lead that the other delegates fall into place. Case closed. It’s 20-20 hindsight because the primary rules have been in place for decades, and all the ruckus is really about a set of rules that don’t favor the critics’ candidate.
If you’re interested in a detailed explanation of the delegate process for both parties, go here for good explanation: http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/graphics/2016-delegate-tracker/,and if you’re still upset, get involved and help your party think of better ways to do it next time.
In the meantime, if you’re a Bernie supporter and you’re upset, get involved in the race by volunteering to make phone calls in the New York primary. If he wins New York, he still has a chance to pull off an unlikely national upset. If he doesn’t win New York, he’ll still be competitive until the convention, which is almost certain to be brokered, and will remain a strong number two for the party.
And having two strong candidates that have broad support among the party is an enviable place to be.
Angelo S. Lynn

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