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Why the Super Tuesday Tie is Good for Democracy

02/06/2008 11:15 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

So most of last night, as I watched the returns, I couldn't shake the feeling that I wanted my guy to just flat-out win, even though I knew there was something wrong with that. It took me till this morning to figure it out. (What can I say? I was an academic long before I became a blogger, and academics need to chew things over.) Here's what's wrong with the desire most of us share for the definitive victory, the knockout punch, as it were.

1. We're smack dab in the middle of the most democratic primary campaign in a generation. That's "small-d" democratic, as in the practice of democracy. Instead of the big money and party brokers having locked up the nominations early on both sides, in this season the voters--remember them?--turn out to be key. Turnout is way, way up, breaking records in some states. That means the electorate is expanding--which is healthy for our political system.

The fact that Super Tuesday didn't wrap up the nomination for anyone keeps folks interested in the campaign, and more likely to vote in the general election. Now the upcoming primaries actually matter, so my family in Virginia are now much more likely to go to the polls next Tuesday. If either candidate had cleaned up, I think most of them would have stayed home. Who likes voting for a done deal, on either side?

2. I realized yesterday just how much I love proportional representation. It's the "winner-take-all" of Electoral College politics that has warped our feelings about presidential campaigns, especially in states that appear to be a lock one way or another. I live in New York State, which most folks figured Hillary Clinton would win big (she is our Senator, after all)--and she did, by 17 points. But my vote for Obama wasn't wasted at all--it helped get him delegates that he'll take to the convention. Similarly, the Clinton votes in Connecticut or Illinois aren't wasted either. That's what democracy ought to look like.

3. Winner take all is a version of the knockout punch--whereas proportional representation is not only more democratic; it also keeps those who "lost" in the conversation. I'm delighted that my Democratic friends who "won" in Massachusetts and New York and "lost" in Connecticut are still engaged in the process, considering whether to give money to their favorites, following the numbers, arguing about what it all means, and able to be proud that their votes counted.

4. This is why politics is different from sports. In sports, a tie is almost always bad--it's messy, inconclusive, and unsatisfying. In politics, Super Tuesday's tie is good for democracy.