How should Democratic superdelegates vote? There's an easy answer that everyone should embrace: superdelegates should commit to vote for the candidate who receives a majority of the pledged delegates. The Obama campaign earlier made a tactical error by suggesting that superdelegates should vote for the best candidate or the primary winner in their district or state. This makes it difficult for them to defend Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry supporting Obama even though Massachusetts voted for Clinton.
A much better idea is to seek a pledge from the Superdelegates to follow the National Pledged Delegate Vote.
What I'm suggesting isn't an original idea. It's roughly the same idea that MoveOn.org has ("We urgently need to encourage them to let the voters decide between Clinton and Obama--and then to support the will of the people"), although MoveOn hasn't specified the idea of a superdelegate pledge or the details of this model. The biggest flaw with MoveOn's approach is that it asks superdelegates to stay silent and make no commitment. We have no way of knowing what superdelegates agree with MoveOn, since they are simply asked to be quiet. Instead, MoveOn should ask superdelegates to pledge their support for a National Pledged Delegate Vote.
Here should be the rule: the superdelegates should pledge to vote for the candidate who wins the majority of the pledged and committed delegates, no matter who they support. This would give the superdelegates freedom to decide in any election where a candidate falls short of a majority (in this election, Obama would need to defeat Clinton by 26 delegates to invoke the pledge, since that's the number won by John Edwards that would fall short of a majority). This approach would preserve the role of superdelegates to be involved when no candidate achieves a majority, while allowing the popular will to be controlling when a majority is achieved. (The Florida and Michigan primaries are excluded from this calculation under the party rules, unless they hold caucuses, as they should in order to avoid disenfranchising the voters of those states.)
The approach I'm advocating is similar to the National Popular Vote (NPV), a movement created in response to the 2000 presidential election, when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush was given the majority of the electoral votes by the Supreme Court decision. Passed by the legislatures in Maryland, New Jersey, and Illinois (where it was sent to the governor's desk last week), NPV works by having the states (once a majority of the electoral college votes are in NPV states) give all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.
If the national popular vote is my model, shouldn't we then use the total popular vote in the primaries to decide the winner? No. It's inevitable that voting in a caucus is lower than in a primary (and this might be a good reason in the future to urge that states hold primaries rather than caucuses). Therefore, a candidate who does better in caucuses would be penalized in a comparison of votes alone. The standard should be the pledged delegates, not the popular vote.
The National Pledged Delegate Vote would allow for superdelegates to have influence in a divided election, while preserving the concept of majority will in the voting. All superdelegates should be asked to take a pledge to follow the national pledged delegate majority (or plurality, if they prefer). And by embracing this idea in the Democratic primary, the superdelegates can also help move forward the movement for a National Popular Vote which would fix the flaws of the archaic Electoral College system.
Crossposted at ObamaPolitics.
Note: I'm the author of a new book, Barack Obama: This Improbable Quest, but I'm not part of the Obama Campaign.