For democracy’s sake, let’s abolish the presidential primary system as we know it

Andrew Ohl is a junior history major and columnist for The Kent Stater. 

Andrew Ohl Kent State College Democrats

Before anything else: My congratulations to all the voters, both Democrats and Republicans, who participated in the exciting Iowa caucuses on Monday. Seeing voters in such large numbers and with such enthusiasm is no doubt heartening to anyone’s belief in democracy.

The bad news unfortunately is that the entire presidential primary system, which includes the Iowa caucuses, is a hindrance to democracy, not a facilitator of it. The presidential primary system determines the nominees for both major political parties by awarding delegates to candidates.

There are two types of delegates, pledged delegates and un-pledged delegates, aka ‘super-delegates.’ Candidates receive pledged delegates as a proportion of the percent popular vote they receive in each state primary, although the rules vary widely from state to state. As for the un-pledged delegates, they decide for themselves which candidate they wish to support.

According to Ballotpedia, in this election, there are a total 4,764 delegates in the Democratic presidential primaries. A Democratic candidate must win at least 2,383 of these delegates in order to become the party nominee for President. Furthermore, there exist 4,051 pledged delegates and 713 un-pledged delegates, which translates into an 85:15 ratio of pledged to un-pledged delegates in the Democratic primaries. As for the GOP primaries, there are 1,305 congressional district delegates, 999 at-large delegates, and 168 delegates who are members of the Republican National Committee (RNC). A GOP candidate must win 1,237 out of 2,472 delegates to become the Republican nominee.

I would like to ask everyone reading this: Why do delegates exist at all? What reasons are there to create a system which further distances the electorate from its own candidates and which the precise allocation of delegates is determined through a haphazard, state-by-state basis? Why would anyone want to risk a situation where the decisions of several hundred super-delegates end up overriding the majority choice for nominee, a majority that would consist of millions of voters across the country? Among other things, Iowa, or any other state in the Union, does not have special claim to being the standard bearer of democracy in the United States. This makes Iowa’s distinction of having its residents vote first in the primary-caucus system and therefore unduly influence the election by pure accident of its own demographics all the more remarkable.

In order to truly emancipate itself, the electorate ought to force the political parties of this country to abolish the delegate system and the process of chronological, state-by-state voting. A much more sensible and democratic system might be the establishment of a national primary day where all voters cast their ballots across the country, and who wins the majority popular vote wins the nomination, pure and simple. Any failure to achieve majority would be neatly remedied through run-offs, which is how numerous electoral systems across Europe and elsewhere already operate. This new system may mitigate the capacity for any one state’s voter make-up to unfairly harm a candidate’s chances of nomination, simply because their base of support happened not to be primarily located in the state first up on the primary schedule. In this system, the voters, not the delegates or the primary schedule, would have direct and unfettered control over their desired nominee.

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the College Democrats as an organization.