With the presidential primaries reaching a fevered pitch as we rush headlong toward the conventions, it has come to my attention that many of my readers don’t really understand how this whole democracy thing works.
So allow me to explain to you how our presidential candidates are chosen. This is very different from how our president is chosen. Whereas, in the election, the candidates are competing for electoral votes, in the primaries they are competing for delegates. In neither case does it matter much what you do.
The first thing you have to know about the primaries is that there are no rules. Both political parties make stuff up as they go along. To make things even more confusing, the states do have rules, but they’re different in each one and, sometimes, a state will have a set of rules for Party A and a different set of rules for Party B, and there may even be a few states where the delegates go to whichever candidate is the first to give an acceptance speech.
What you, as a wise participant in the democratic process, need to know is that, when you vote in the primaries, you may not actually be voting for a candidate. Instead, you’re voting for delegates who have sworn their allegiance to the candidate of your choice, at least for awhile. So you may think you’re voting for, say, Donald Trump, but you may actually be voting for Mabel Catorski, the lady who works in the yarn shop that you can’t believe is still open, and was praying that Trump would win the state so she could spend a couple of days at the convention away from all that friggin’ wool, but then she found out the Republican convention is in Cleveland this year, and so, suddenly, hanging out with balls of alpaca doesn’t seem so bad.
In some states, the candidate who gets the most votes gets all the party’s delegates from that state. In other states, the delegates are apportioned fairly so that, if Hillary Clinton gets 57% of the vote and Bernie Sanders gets 43% of the vote, Hillary will, of course, get 75% of the delegates and Bernie will get 20%. And now you’re thinking, “But, Mark, that can’t be right. You’ve only accounted for 95% of the delegates.”
It’s that sort of stupidity that inspired me to write this post. Obviously, the remaining 5% of the delegates are “super-delegates,” so named because they have been bitten by radioactive pollsters and have acquired the power to vote for any candidate they want regardless of who you voted for because, they figure, what do you know? Super-delegates only exist in the Democratic Party because Republicans believe that all their delegates are just super.
Moving on, perhaps you’ve heard the word “caucus” bandied about during the primary season. The Iowa caucus is a big deal, for instance. This is when any Iowan who wants to can come to a meeting and express his or her preference for certain delegates by raising an ear of corn. You might vote for Joe because Joe is committed to Ted Cruz, or you might vote for Pete because Pete finally committed to Annie from the coffee shop and it’s about time, since they’ve been dating for six years. As would be clear if you’ve seen the people who attend the Iowa caucus, this is where the word “Caucasian” comes from.
Now, lately there’s been a lot of speculation about the possibility of a “contested convention.” That’s what happens when none of the candidates has accumulated enough delegates to secure the nomination, a number determined by the last four digits of the total amount bet at Hialeah Park the previous day. In that case, all the delegates are released and go stampeding down the street in the manner of “The Running of the Bulls,” only, in our system, the “bulls” are political operatives trying to corral the freed delegates into their candidate’s “camp” by offering wieners and s’mores.
Then comes the really fun night when each state declares for a candidate in a lengthy and highly entertaining way, such as “The great state of North Carolina, where heels are tarred and nobody knows which bathroom to use, home to the losers of the NCAA Championship in heartbreaking fashion, is proud to tell Bruce Springsteen where he can go and gives its 72 delegates to…um, Jimbo, who did we say again?”
And so it goes until we end up with one candidate that nobody really likes from each party, and then the Legion of Super-Pacs comes in, and whoever spends the most money telling you how bad the other person is gets to be president unless they don’t get accepted to the Electoral College because their essay was really stupid.
See you soon.