This Letter to the Editor was submitted by Brendan L. Keating, a former Democratic Party candidate for the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the county legislature in Morris County, New Jersey. Keating is a self-described youth voting activist.
Last Tuesday night, the Independent Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, won the Michigan Democratic Primary in what is being called one of the greatest upsets in modern history. In the days leading up to the primary election, media outlets were citing polling numbers that said it was impossible for Sanders to beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It turns out they were right.
Despite the fact that Sanders won the Michigan Democratic Primary fair and square, Clinton walked away from the contest with more delegates. This is because of a system that was introduced in 1982 in the Democratic Party that allocates votes in the party convention for unelected “superdelegates” who are not bound to vote how the voters in their home state voted in the primary election.
These superdelegates or “unpledged delegates” have let their intentions be known, and they are widely reported in the media. If the media were to report the actual amount of pledged delegates won in primary elections, Clinton would be leading by only 343 Delegates (Clinton 1,021 and Sanders 678). This is hardly an insurmountable lead. Unfortunately, the media continues to add in the (un)pledged superdelegate totals, of which Clinton has 467 to Senator Sanders’ 26. This means that over 45 percent of Clinton’s total delegate lead of 1,488 to 704 is directly attributable to the undemocratic process that the Democratic Party has set up.
I am very concerned that this is happening in one of the most important elections in millennial voters’ lifetimes. I work every day to convince young people that their vote matters in every election. The Democratic Party is sending a message that this is not the case.
It is beyond hypocritical that the Democratic Party accuses the Republican Party of using voter suppression tactics to win elections. The superdelegate system is being used as a different type of voter suppression tactic. By showing that Sanders has very little chance of overcoming Clinton’s commanding lead, it encourages young people to stay home.
In reality, if the Democratic Party doesn’t want to risk alienating the voters that helped them elect President Barack Obama twice, they should move to place greater importance on the actual voters instead of the unelected political elites who make up the superdelegates. Young people are an “at risk” population when it comes to voting. People my age commonly say that their vote doesn’t matter. Democrats say over and over again, “When young people vote, Democrats win.”
Well, young people are voting in “yuuuge” numbers for Sanders. The Democratic party should be worried because many of those young voters who are fueling what Sanders is calling a “political revolution” may see the democratic primary as unfair, and choose not show up to the polls for the general election. They will see that despite what they have been told, their intuition might be right — their vote really doesn’t matter.
This will have repercussions at all levels of government, where candidates at the municipal, county, state and federal levels are counting on a big turnout to win in November. The party should be going out of their way to show these new voters that the best way to bring political change is to show up to the their local polling place every time there is an election.
Many of these young people sympathized with the Occupy Movement, and the political elites laughed at them and told them that the only way to get real change was to work with and within the system. Now that the former protesters have heard the message from the political elites and taken their tactics from the picket line to the ballot box, they are being shown that the ballot box won’t work either. The Democratic National Committee needs to work now, in the wake of Sanders’ historic upset in Michigan to level the playing field, or they will risk turning off another generation of voters and hasten the outcome in November that they fear most: further losses in Congress and a loss in the presidential election in November.