There now seems to be a strong possibility that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama will emerge at the end of the primary season with enough elected delegates to gain the nomination at the Democratic Convention. The nomination would then go to the candidate who can garner the most Super Delegates (mostly Democratic office holders who are not chosen by voters in the primaries and caucuses but are automatically awarded approximately 800 out of the 2025 delegates necessary to nominate a Presidential candidate).
This would be analogous to the Supreme Court giving the Presidency to George W. Bush in 2008 and would lack legitimacy in the eyes of millions of voters. If either Obama or Clinton win the nomination through this kind of back room deal, it would be a disaster for the Democratic Party, for the nominee, and for Democratic candidates for the House, Senate, and local office.
By the end of the primary season, tens of millions of Democrats and independents will have voted in primaries and caucuses; close to two million people will have made campaign contributions to Democratic contenders; nearly 300 million dollars will have been spent on the campaign; and tens of thousands of volunteers will have made phone calls, stuffed envelopes, and knocked on doors for their preferred candidate.
If after all of this, either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama has more elected delegates, but is denied the nomination by the Super Delegates, millions of supporters of the losing candidate will be enraged. Many will stay home in November, many will vote for John McCain or a third party candidate, many potential contributors will zip their wallets, and many potential volunteers will suddenly have no time to help out.
This is not an issue only for Obama supporters or for Clinton supporters. While Clinton may temporarily lead among Super Delegates, it is impossible to know how the majority of Super Delegates will ultimately vote. Many elected officials who are Super Delegates owe favors to the Clintons and lean towards Hillary. On the other hand, many red and purple state elected officials will support Obama because they think he will be more helpful to them in local elections. It is vital to both Clinton and Obama that whoever wins the nomination is viewed as legitimate by the voters.
If Democrats hope to defeat John McCain and increase their congressional majorities, Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee must immediately take steps to assure Democratic primary and caucus voters that their votes will determine the Democratic nominee. Before voter cynicism starts to escalate, they must devise a solution that will deter Clinton and Obama surrogates from twisting arms and making promises to garner the support of Super Delegates for a backroom deal that would override the will of the voters.
Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee should immediately take two steps:
1. They should demand that all Democratic Super Delegates sign a pledge that would read something like this: "I pledge that at the Democratic National Convention I will vote for the presidential candidate with the most elected delegates at the end of Democratic primaries and caucuses. This pledge will become effective automatically when enough other Super Delegates have signed this pledge to guarantee that the candidate with the most elected delegates, when combined with the votes of the Super Delegates who have signed this pledge, will win the Democratic presidential nomination."
2. The Democratic National Committee should organize and pay for new primaries or caucuses in Michigan and Florida. It would be a mistake for the Democratic Party to disenfranchise Democratic voters in Michigan and Florida, two states that will be vital to a Democratic victory in November. At the same time, it would be illegitimate if a candidate wins the Presidential nomination by the votes of the current delegates from Michigan where all of the candidates except Hillary Clinton (and Dennis Kucinich) took their names off the ballot, and from Florida where none of the candidates were permitted to campaign. A new primary or caucus in Michigan and Florida is not a perfect solution, but it's better than the alternatives. Since Clinton seems to do better in primaries and Obama seems to do better in caucuses, perhaps a primary should be held in one of these states and a caucus in the other, to be determined by a flip of a coin.
I propose that an internet petition be circulated addressed to the Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee, all Super Delegates and the Obama and Clinton campaigns in order to garner hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of signatures supporting the above proposals. Frankly, I don't know anything about the mechanics of organizing an online petition drive, but I suspect that there are readers of the Huffington Post who do know how. If readers agree with this proposal and have ideas on how best to implement it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, I would hope this petition drive can gain sponsorship from various democratic party and grassroots organizations, both for their name value as backers, and for the use of their email lists to circulate the petition. If you are associated with any such organizations which might want to lend support, please email me. Finally, it would help if the petition drive starts out with a set of sponsors with name recognition: activists, pundits, bloggers, political figures, members of the DNC and even members of Congress and other Superdelegates. If you can be helpful in convincing relevant people to offer their sponsorship, please email me.
Let's start a grass-roots movement to help prevent the Democratic Party from once again self-destructing.
UPDATE: I've received a number of emails from people who would like to get a copy of the petition when it's ready sometime next week. Please keep those coming. But I would also particularly appreciate emails from people who can provide additional help--people with personal or organizational email lists to circulate the petition; people who can help line up the support of organizations who can provide email lists or sponsorship; people who can help line up endorsements for this petition from well known figures and even Superdelegates; people who can help publicize this campaign in the media. People with other ideas on how to make this more effective.
I'm grateful for all the comments below, but too many are about convincing readers to vote for or against Clinton or Obama. This is not about which candidate you like or dislike but about insuring that the Democratic Party has a democratic nominating process, so it does not seriously undermine the ability of whichever candidate wins the nomination to defeat McCain. I'm more interested in comments about whether or not you think these are good proposals and how they can be improved.