Sunday, January 20, 2008

Convention delegates not bound to candidates

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

To our loyal readers: Oreo and I have been invited to post on occasion to MyDD. Oreo made his first post on Friday (can you guess the subject), and I just made my first one today, which is also below. Be assured we will continue to provide you the most deep and detailed coverage of the convention and the nominating process right here at 2008 Democratic Convention Watch.

For those of us who have been around a while, the last time a Democratic Convention had even a little suspense was 1980, in Madison Square Garden, New York. Ted Kennedy was making a last attempt to try and get the nomination from President Carter. The problem: Rule F(3)(c), which officially bound delegates to the candidate they had been elected for on the first ballot. But with a weak Carter campaign on the horizon, Kennedy thought that if the delegates were released from their pledges, he could get enough votes to get the nomination. The problem was, Carter still had a majority of the delegates, and they voted not to overturn the rule, and Kennedy's campaign was over.

But subsequently, the rules were changed, and now convention delegates are free to vote for whomever they want to. The Call for the 2008 Democratic National Convention states:

VIII C(7)(c) Delegates may vote for the candidate of their choice whether or not the name of such candidate was placed in nomination.
The Delegate Selection Rules state:
12 I: No delegate at any level of the delegate selection process shall be mandated by law or Party rule to vote contrary to that person’s presidential choice as expressed at the time the delegate is elected.

12 J. Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.
But nowhere does it state that delegates are bound, either legally, or by rule, to vote for the candidate they were elected for, whether on the first ballot, or any subsequent ballot.

Now lets be realistic. The campaigns who put the delegate slates together are not going to put anybody but the most committed loyalists on the ballot. But once those delegates get to the convention they are free to vote for whomever they want. In reality the only way for a candidate to lose those delegates would be for some major political damage to happen to a candidate between the time he or she secures a majority of votes and the convention, and for the candidate to refuse to withdraw. In that scenario, you could see delegates being pressured to change their vote, and they would be able to under the rules. The 796 superdelegates would also be under the same pressure to revoke any endorsements they had made. It's an unlikely scenario, but, the point is, it is possible. Delegates are not bound to the candidates.


Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

does anyone know the actual percentage of delegates that vote against their pledges? I'm just wondering

Matt said...

Close conventions are so rare, its hard to say. You would probably have to back to 1984 to see if any pledged delegates changes their vote, but even then, the nomination was decided before the convention. In 1980, delegates were required to vote for their candidate on the first ballot, but that rule is no longer in effect.