Point/Counterpoint: Of ‘Primary’ importance: are primaries good for America? YES

Derek Thurber

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Some critics of the presidential election process in the United States claim the primaries are a fundamentally undemocratic process, but this view is wrong. The primaries are the most democratic part of the election process and, without them, the election would be only marginally democratic.

Here is what the critics say:

First, the primary process supports party politics.

Second, money is too important.

Third, the “superdelegates” (U.S. senators, congressmen and women and prominent members of the political parties) often change who is actually elected at the conventions.

And fourth, the process excludes many people because of mobility, time constraints, or because they are not registered with one of the two major parties for which the primaries are held.

So there you have it: the argument for why the primary process is undemocratic. I don’t buy it.

First of all, yes, the system supports two-party politics, but that is simply because no other party has the following to organize a nation-wide primary process like the Democrats and the Republicans do. This does not mean it is illegal for other parties or independent candidates to run or even hold their own local elections or primaries, they just don’t.

Some editorialists might hit on something when they say the candidates are supported based on how much money they earn. However, this is the result of a simple cause and effect relationship: The cause is that a candidate catches the attention of the people with the effect of getting money from those people.

The question of superdelegates is, perhaps, the hardest to contend. However, The superdelegates are still citizens just like the rest of us. Superdelegates are people who have been elected by citizens of the United States to represent their views. Thus, though their vote is their own, they are still democratically elected officials who have an obligation to represent their constituents.

In an election like the one we are currently in, superdelegates do not have a strong enough sway anyway. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are so close, within 60 delegates of each other, that if the final number of delegates for each candidate remains as close they are now, even if all of the superdelegates voted for one candidate they would not get the 2025 votes needed for the nomination at the election. On the Republican side, McCain is more than 700 delegates ahead of his rival, making it impossible for the superdelegates to overrule who the people have voted for.

Finally, the primary process is no more or less exclusionary than the actual election. The primaries have absentee ballots that can be sent to people and the caucuses are held at local sites during non-business hours. It is up to the people to make their vote heard, and it is heard in the primaries in way that it might not be in the actual election.

This is the most definitive reason why the primary process is a democratic process. In the elections in November, the people vote but only to determine the Electoral College from their state who then vote entirely for one side or the other. This means if the state is split 51 percent Republican and 49 percent Democratic all of the votes still go to the Republican candidate.

However, this is not the case for the primaries. Each candidate gets a number of delegates equal to the relative percent of the state that votes for that candidate. For example, in the Super Tuesday race on the Democratic side, Clinton “won” the large states like California and New York; yet, since the margins were very close, it did not actually strongly affect the race as a whole since both candidates got delegates from each of these states.

In the primaries’ system, which is based on proportional representation and not winner-takes-all, every vote can have an effect on who is selected by the people. In the regular election, the people who vote for the minority, no matter how slim the minority is, in each state get whipped away, making their vote unimportant; however, the primaries make sure every vote counts, even if that vote falls in the minority.

Thus, every vote in the primaries counts because delegates are elected based on the people’s votes. This is the foundation of the primary process and the most democratic concept there is.

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