Welcome to (sort of) democracy in America. I'm talking about the super delegates of the Democratic party. This may be the most undemocratic idea in this country since the days of the smoke filled rooms. I guess the deals worked okay for the Republicans and Harding in 1920, but the modern super delegate is shaping up to be the modern and institutionalized political machine.
Here's a pretty good explainer from MSNBC. Check out the feature on the 21-year-old super delegate (and picture him walking out of a phone booth wearing a cape, tights, and a giant "S" on his chest).
The short version is that a person running for the nomination needs 2,025 delegates. When you vote in a primary or a caucus, you are technically voting for a group of people who are pledged to a particular candidates (Obama, Clinton, Gravel, Edwards, etc.). The number of delegates from each state are roughly proportional to the population of the state. The electoral college operates on the same principal. Additionally, the most of the delegates are apportioned based on the number of votes each candidate receives.
However, these elected delegates only amount to about 80 percent of the total delegates who will attend the nominating convention in August. The rest, 795 to be exact this year, are elected officials, party operatives and "elder statesmen" like Bill Clinton (I bet he votes for Obama). As Senators, both Obama and Clinton are super delegates. These people are not obligated to vote for anyone and can change their votes up until the convention. As a result, there is plenty of pandering going on toward this small and hardly diverse special interest group.
The upshot is that your vote in the Democratic primary counts, but only in a kinda sorta way. With the race for the nomination so close, there is a very good possibility that the nomination will come down to the votes of this elite special interest group. It's okay, though they are "potentially more in touch" with the issues than the rest of us.
Why is this such a big issue now? Simply put, it has been a while since the Democrats have fielded two strong candidates. Typically, most of the party rallies around one candidates early on. Considering the state of the loyal opposition (you know, the GOP) the Democrats have no excuse for not winning this thing, but a shady nomination fight might just do the trick.
If neither candidate stands out in the rest of the primaries (both Clinton and Obama lead in Texas), this nomination could come down to the super delegate vote...and whether the delegates from Florida and Michigan are counted or rendered voiceless because those states decided they wanted to vote before Iowa and New Hampshire. Come on. Let IA and NH go first. It's not like they get that much attention any other time and quite often, they are right anyway.
All things considered, it would just be cheaper and easier to let the party hacks select the nominee for us. Wait, wait. I feel better know. If your state hasn't voted yet go out and do it. Better a 80 percent vote than no vote. Sorry about that, Florida and Michigan.
It's almost stunning to consider that the GOP's nominating process is much more democratic than the big tent party.
Note: Update of original post from 60 percent to 80 percent. I had an issue with rudimentary statistics.