It really is. They gave us the electoral college — the indirect election of the President — which is imitated in the state conventions — the indirect selection of delegates. Please do read on…
1. A Democratic Republic
With the Constitution, the Founders gave us a republic with indirect democracy. If you look at the physical limitations, they did not have much of a choice. A country of 13 colonies hugging the coast from Maine to Georgia, barely even exploring west of the Appalachians, was still a territory over a thousand miles long and a couple of hundred miles wide. Not very conducive to a national town hall with everybody attending.
So we they gave us congressmen to represent the people, chosen by direct election, and senators to represent the States, appointed by the legislatures. Indirect democracy.
Likewise, for the task of choosing the President, they gave us the Electoral College. Again, it’s a number of individuals, directly elected by the people, but it is THEY, not the people, who vote for President. The original intention was to select these Electors on the basis of their demonstrated history of trustworthiness, judgement and wisdom, and charge them with deciding who should be the next President. NOT the direct election of the President; again, indirect representative democracy.
Of course over time we tinkered with original intent and we have direct election of Senators and reduced the Electoral College to a quaint old anachronism.
2. Let’s Have A Party
It was not the Founder’s intention that our system of constitutional government devolve into political parties, but of course it did, from the beginning. We had Hamilton’s and Adams’ Federalists who advocated a strong central government, We had the anti-federalists who wanted the States to remain more than just formally sovereign, and became Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans — both of them soon to become formal political parties fighting for control of the government.
It is human nature that every organization, especially an expressly political organization, have its insiders. It is also clear that such an organization depends heavily on its
hard-working staff, usually volunteers. So it’s is not surprising that insiders and staff develop this sometimes fierce sense of ownership and entitlement, which are soon expressed as resentment of outsiders who show up only in election years like some horde of invaders, seemingly or actually threatening to take over — then leave, not to be seen again till next time, if even then.
It is also clear that no organization can function without rules — especially when its members come from a country and a culture that at least nominally embrace the rule of law to curb our innate dictatorial tendencies. And of course while rules for the operation of different organizations may be similar, they can vary greatly in detail even among similar organizations.
3. From College to Conventions
Of course the same physical limitations apply to holding a political convention. We can’t expect every interested person even from a county, let alone a State or the nation, to come together all at the same time in the same place for any reason.
And so it came to be that the idea of indirect representation and a trusted “elite” to choose the presidential candidates, enshrined on the Constitution, has continued in the form of the party conventions that assemble for this very purpose in presidential election years. And because we are still a union of States, NOT “one nation,” each of the 50 States has its own rules for choosing delegates to their State conventions, and for using those conventions to choose their delegates to the national convention.
For those who might not know, it works like this.
By State law, a major party is allowed to select delegates of their county convention on the basis of the number of registered voters (Rep or Dem). In Carson City it’s 1 delegate per 50 registered voters in a precinct (NRS 293.133). The county convention selects delegates to the State convention. In Nevada it’s set to one State delegate for every 150 registered voter (NRS 293.145). The state delegates meet in the state convention, where they select the national delegates who are sent to the national convention. According to the rules of the GOP (Convention HQ | GOP), Nevada gets 30 delegates to the national convention.
Note that although political parties are said to be “private” organizations (see 181. Rocky Mountain… Low | Just The Facts, Ma’am), their organization and operation are heavily regulated by State law.
In Nevada, people wanting to be delegates start with self-nominating. They get to be State or national delegates if the county or State central committee membership votes to approve them. In other States the news reports say “party bosses” pick delegates. I don’t have the patience to research 49 other States; if you do, God bless you. The point is, in no case do the registered voters at large actually get to vote on who their delegates will be.
In a county convention, the chairman who conducts the proceedings of the convention tells people, all those who want to be delegates for Presidential Candidate A go on that corner to caucus among themselves, those for Candidate B go in that other corner, etc. The purpose of this “caucus” is for each group to select from their ranks the number of delegates to which their candidate is entitled, based on the popular vote in the presidential preference poll associated with the state-wide caucuses (as we do in Nevada), or with the presidential primaries (as some other States do.)
So while the registered voters at large don’t directly vote for their delegates, the number of delegates pledged to each presidential candidate is proportional (more or less) to the popular vote.
4. Theft of Delegates
And of course THIS is where the opportunity arises for people to play their games to actively finesse the process, and the reason why it then leads to the accusations about “stealing” delegates.
And THAT also explains why people were particularly upset by the news from Colorado. They did not even allow people to vote.
At any point, even in a State that does allow people to vote in a primary or preference poll, persons wanting to be delegates can hide or misrepresent which presidential candidate they want to be pledged to. Furthermore, it can and does happen that one candidate draws more wanna-be delegates than that candidate is entitled to, and some draw fewer. The convention chairman can and usually does allow “vacancies” for one to be filled from the overflow for the other — while reminding them of their pledges for the first ballot. Yes, we all are honorable men.
And so it happens that Ted Cruz is making news with the fact that his “superior ground game” and his “knowledge of the rules” are being put to good use — by using the delegate selection process to make sure that his supporters get selected, no matter what the popular vote was. Inherent in this admission, of course, is that an organization and their superior knowledge of the rules are used to achieve a result that was not earned at the ballot box.
To make matters worse, the airwaves and the internet are full with totally ignorant or literally stupid radio, TV and print commentators who are OK with “understanding the rules” even if the rules are disenfranchising people and nullifying their votes.
I think it is this kind of back room maneuvering is that gives politics a bad name. It is what delegitimizes candidates, turns off voters, and always leaves people with the disgusting choice of the lesser of two evils. No President should be anybody’s lesser of two evils. It is morally if not legally wrong to be given that as the result of an election. No; circling back to the Founders, in a real sense it is legally wrong — unconstitutional — to have that choice forced on us. The Founders had in mind a process to select the BEST possible candidate, not the least bad.
I say this to the candidates. Have the decency, sense of fair play and sportsmanship to let the people have the delegates they voted for, even if indirectly. If and when no one gets a majority to get the nomination, let each candidate convince the other candidate’s delegates to switch over — without rigging the game even before it begins, with stealth delegates. THAT is what the Founders had intended.