Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Call for Help: How "pledged" are pledged delegates?

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at http://www.DemocraticConventionWatch.com

As the Democratic nominating race has gotten closer, bubbling in the background is the question of whether the "pledged" delegates allocated to each candidate are truly locked into voting for that candidate at the convention, or could be persuaded to switch by a rival candidate.

Clinton first percolated this idea as mentioned in the Washington Post:

...{B}ut the idea keeps rearing its head -- most recently with help from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton herself, in interviews on the campaign trail. Earlier this week, she told the Philadelphia Daily News that pledged delegates "in most states are not pledged."

"You know, there is no requirement that anybody vote for anybody," she said.

Then in an interview published today, Clinton brought it up again. "Every delegate with very few exceptions is free to make up his or her mind however they choose," Clinton told Time's Mark Halperin. "We talk a lot about so-called pledged delegates, but every delegate is expected to exercise independent judgment."

Is this really true? Technically, yes. Rule 12-J of the DNC Delegate Selection Rules stipulates that:

Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.

So the DNC rules do not allow the state parties to mandate that delegates vote for their presidential preference. However, some state legislatures have implemented election law that does require the delegates from their state to vote for their preference through at least one ballot at their respective party's convention.

So how feasible is this? Most national convention delegates are vetted by the campaigns ahead of time to ensure die-hard loyalists are the ones most likely to advance; although with the huge surge in participation by ordinary folks in this election this has created some backlash when the results of such vetting excludes a lot of supporters.

That said, some preliminary research on my part found it difficult to find which states require pledged delegates to stay committed to their candidates and which do not. So, similar to our efforts to utilize our readers to track the superdelegates, we'd like to ask you to help us figure out which states have election law around delegates and which are "open" for pledged delegates to decide at the convention.

So far the only concrete example I've found is for Georgia (OCGA 21-2-196), which requires delegates to be committed through the 2nd ballot:
Any person selected as a delegate or delegate alternate to such national convention shall file a qualification oath with the Secretary of State pledging support at the convention to the candidate of their political party or body for the office of President of the United States for whom they are selected to support. The oath shall state that the delegate or delegate alternate affirms to support such candidate until the candidate is either nominated by such convention or receives less than 35 percent of the votes for nomination by such convention during any balloting, or until the candidate releases the delegates from such pledge. No delegate shall be required to vote for such candidate after two convention nominating ballots have been completed.
If you find examples either way (committed or open), please post a comment here with relevant citation and link, and we'll update the site over time.


Update from Matt: From PolitickerME.com, Maine State Chairman John Knutson reinforces everything Charlie said:


Galois said...

Even in a technical sense, I would say Clinton's statements are false. Yes rule 12-J has those words "in all good conscience" but to say they are not pledged is flat out wrong. They are pledged. Rule 12-J even refers to pledged delegates and both rules 12-B (for district and at-large delegates) and 9-C-(3)(for pledged PLEO's) require a signed pledge of support.

Nor is it true that they "are expected to exercise independent judgment" and each should "make up his or her mind however they choose". Rule 12-J notes that they are expected to "reflect the sentiments of those who elected them." The words "in all good conscience" says the delegates are trusted to follow their conscience in determining voter sentiment. If a pledged delegate believes in all good conscience that the voters who elected him or her now prefer another candidate he or she is free to break the pledge. That is far cry from choosing whomever they want and is a significant distinction from the unpledged delegates.

So even on a technical level I think Clinton is absolutely wrong on this. There is such a thing as a pledged delegate. In fact there will be over 3000 such pledged delegates and they will have signed very real pledges which while not legally binding should not simply be ignored.

Ayala said...

Thanks for raising this topic, even though I'm bitter that Clinton had the nerve to make it a topic. It's really through the looking glass with her. Unpledged delegates are "automatic" and pledged delegates aren't pledged. Why should intelligent Democrats be wasting their time dispelling such nonsense when we have such massive challenges ahead? Unfortunately, until these semantic arguments are exposed as laughable, they will continue to distract. Thanks for posing the question. I'll do my best to find any rules outside of Georgia that raise the question about the second ballot.

Mike in Maryland said...

According to the Annotated Code of Maryland, Election Law, Title 8. Elections, Subtitle 5. Presidential Elections:

(a) Delegates and alternate delegates to the national presidential nominating convention of a political party shall be selected as provided in the national party rules of the party."

Not a whole lot of help, since the Party Rules are not absolutely clear (from Hillary's 'through the looking glass' viewpoint).


Yamaka said...

"pledges which while not legally binding" (-galois) is the key to this issue.

Sometime ago, here at this site, I read that ALL delegates can change their "pledge" up until the Convention in August.

This does not mean most will change, unless a serious scandal breaks out just before the Convention.

Electorate is free to change their opinion as and when new information becomes available to them (up until the final Election/Nomination at the Convention).

There are possibilities for major break out:

1. In Tony Rezko's trial, Sen Obama is mentioned as "unnamed political figure" who benefited from the ill-gotten wealth of this slumlord.

Prosecutor Fitzerald may call him to take the stand to answer questions in support of this allegation or to refute it. Who knows, new skeletons may come out of this inquiry.

2. There is a quid-pro-quo allegation that Michelle Obama had a 200K salary increase once her husband got elected to the US Senate. He immediately asked for a one million dollar federal money to build a pavilion for her employer's Univ of Chicago Hospitals. If this is true, the electorate will have a very negative view of the Senator.

3. A lot of the voters who voted earlier, had remorses once they heard that Sen Obama has been a member of the TUCC of pastor Wright for 20 years.

4. The recent condescending elitist speech of Sen Obama in SF is another example. Most people are now tuning in to look at the Senator very closely, as he is anointed as the "top dog" very recently.

Stay tuned.

Any thing can happen at the Convention. Cheers.

2009 Journal Writer said...

Thanks Mike in Maryland! I'm going to mark that as not a legal requirement (e.g. - DNC rules say they should prefer their candidate but can still change).

Mike in Maryland said...

Oh Yamaka, "A lot of the voters who voted earlier" might get fed up with the lies upon lies upon lies of Clinton.

What lies?

Her vote for the Iraq War authorization.

Sniper fire in Bosnia.

Experience - Babs Bush has as much as Hillary, from 8 years as wife of the VP, 4 years as First Lady, wife of a Congressman, wife of the CIA Director, wife of the Ambassador to China. Do you think she's qualified to be President?????

NAFTA - Was she against it from the start???????

Why did she pick an imported whiskey to drink on camera????? She insulted a lot of people who don't like to see drinking, and the US doesn't have a quality domestic whiskey? BTW - drinking the Canadian whiskey reminds people of NAFTA, dontcha think???

Mark Penn (Hillary said he was fired, but he's still on her payroll).

Etc., etc., etc., etc.

They might doubt that Clinton is able to lead from day one. She hasn't had the primaries play out the way she planned them, and didn't seem to have a back-up plan for what to do if she didn't have the nomination wrapped up by Super Tuesday. Is that an indication of how her Presidency would play out?????

They might get tired of the mud-slinging, without much substance on ISSUES, coming from the Clinton campaign. Tell us why we should vote FOR a candidate, don't sling mud at your opponent.

Clinton has given as many statements favorable of McCain as she has of Obama. She doesn't seem capable of throwing mud at McCain, but it sure flies at Obama.

Or they might get tired of the moving goal posts of what constitutes winning the nomination. Hint - the rules state that the candidate that attains the majority of delegates wins. There is nothing in the rules about Electoral College, or popular vote, or winner of most large states, or rules prohibiting a state having a caucus. There is nothing about the winner of the nomination must have won the most 'blue states' in the primaries. It's purely a delegate count, and whoever has the majority wins.

The superdelegates might decide that Clinton, with negative polling closing in on 50%, can't improve in that department, only hold at best, or even more likely get worse, and decide the mudslinging has gone on long enough, thus they would decide to vote for Obama.

The superdelegates COULD all decide to vote for Edwards, too, since he's suspended his campaign, not dropped out. That would mean a brokered convention would ensue. And the result of a brokered Democratic Party convention will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for McCain to lose the general election.

Want to see that happen? It IS what will happen if Clinton goes into the convention without a pledged delegate lead, and uses backroom deals to get enough of the superdelegates to vote for her to win the nomination.

And finally, how did your diatribe against Obama (hint - nothing you stated was actually FOR Clinton) answer the question of this thread, namely how do the state laws read on how pledged are pledged delegates?


DocJess said...

Mike --

You have to understand that Yamaka is truly towing the Clinton lie, oops, I mean "line"....

Step 1 -- "The inevitable candidate"
Back-Step 2 -- Lose Iowa
Back-Step 3 -- Cry crocodile tears
Step 4 -- Run a campaign on "experience" in a year committed to change.
Step 5 -- Lose the popular vote
Back-Step 6 -- Claim the popular vote doesn't matter.
Step 7 -- Lost more states
Back-Step 8 -- Claim the NUMBER of state doesn't matter, only the "big" states -- and then lose the delegate count in Texas.
Step 9 -- Lose the caucuses
Back-Step 9 -- Claim the caucuses don't matter and then act surprised when you lose EVEN MORE at the County conventions.

Lie about your experience, (trust me NO MOTHER willingly brings her child into an active war zone), fire your staff and blame THEM, bring in so little money that you have to lend your campaign $5 million of your husband's money earned by colluding with the Colombians and the Chinese and a bunch of criminals, and claim "street cred" by drinking a shot and a beer.

AND WHEN NONE OF THAT WORKS -- attempt to corrupt the system.

What is then left, 6 weeks out from the end of the primary system are supporters like Yamaka who cling tenaciously to the candidate people wanted Hillary to be.

Meanwhile, her true political surrogates backtrack, and point out, gently, that's it is over.

After Tsunami Tuesday, we all said "she can lose gracefully, or win ugly." Seems we forgot "lose ugly" as a choice.

For Hillary Clinton is doing something that NO OTHER candidate has ever done. At least not in my memory.

We are DEMOCRATS. We run against the Republicans. We may fight amoungst ourselve, but we always remember who "the other side" is. At least that's how it's supposed to be.

And as a lifelong Democrat, I hate to say what I'm going to say, because it is ugly. I have said it to friends, and they say "NO, that could NOT happen" -- but I believe it.

I believe that all that is left to Hillary Clinton is to directly, dishonestly, and in the most ugly of ways, attack Obama. Effectually doing oppo research for the Republicans.

Since she cannot win legitimately in '08, her only hope is to help McSame so that she can run in '12.

For the sad conclusion, the only conclusion, is that she only gets the nomination by corrupting the system. And barring that, she is willing to attempt to destroy Obama, attempt to destroy the party, so she can run again in 4 years.

I live in Pennsylvania, I volunteer for the Obama campaign, I talk to people EVERY DAY -- and I know that she's no longer playing well here. She still might win (I don't live in the "Alabama" section of PA, I live in the 6th District -- you can check the demographics....)but only by about 7 points. Which doesn't buy her the popular vote nor the delegates she needs.

Take your best shots Yamaka -- because the Obama delegates are "pledged" -- if not by law, by honour.

Matt said...

Folks, the purpose of this post is what can happen from a legal and rules point-of-view. What SHOULD happen is a different subject, and really belongs in the Open Thread.

DocJess said...

Matt --

I'm happy to play by the rules -- where is the open thread?



Ayala said...


I'm not sure conjecture, bordering on slander belongs on any thread. It's difficult not to respond to Yamaka floating potential scandals when Rove and his ilk have been using that tactic against Dems for years. Clinton/Penn are really bringing out the worst instincts in some Democrats.

Matt said...

Jessica - There's a link to the Open Thread at the top of the left sidebar.

Ayala - we've been letting people vent as they want on the Open Thread, while trying to keep the other threads focused on the topic at hand.

DocJess said...

Matt --

THANKS -- I never noticed it before.

Galois said...

Isn't the situation somewhat comparable to faithless electors? All of the pledged delegates are indeed "pledged". The question is what happens if a delegate breaks that pledge without being released. To take your example of Georgia. Suppose a Georgia district delegate breaks his or her pledge for candidate A and votes for candidate B instead. It would seem the vote for B still counts in Denver. For there is nothing in the national rules that declare such votes invalid. It is not even clear that anything could happen to the delegate upon his or her return to Georgia. So in that sense, ANY delegate may vote for whomever he or she chooses. All of the district, at-large, and pledged PLEO's, however, are required by the party rules [Delegate Selection Rules 12-B and 9-C-(3)](as well as some state rules) to sign a pledge of support.

Yamaka said...

"what can happen from a legal and rules point-of-view"-matt.

Thanks. That's my point.

mike and other Obamamaniacs:

What I said is NOT slander. These matters are in the blogs. When it will break out in the MSM is anyone's guess.

Sen Clinton is known for most electorate for the past 15 years. They know her good and bad already.

On the other hand, Sen Obama is largely an unknown entity - a product of liberal media, who gave him easy pass early on. Therefore, scandals would be expected to erupt on our face any day!

Stay tuned, and see what SDs do for the Nomination.


cbsmith42 said...

I found this pertaining to Texas:
"Delegate pledge. Delegates to the Democratic
National Convention are not bound to vote for the
candidate to whom they are pledged. The only requirement is that pledged delegates 'shall in all good
conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected

It is from this document http://www.hro.house.state.tx.us/interim/int80-3.pdf posted by the Texas House Research Organization. I was unable to find it in the actual election code. Will this suffice?

Dink Singer said...

I think the term "in all good conscience" is being misinterpreted by some who think it means "delegates should only keep there pledge if it agrees with their conscience". To me it means that any pledged delegate that does not honor the pledge is acting outside the moral expectations of the party. In other words it is the equivalent of the term "in good faith" and intensifies, rather than diminishes, the mandate to "reflect the sentiments of those who elected them".

I have not found much authority for my interpretation, but the only definition of "in all good conscience" I could find is from The Free Dictionary:
in (all good) conscience
In all truth or fairness.

Which to me says a pledged delegate who ignores the pledge is being unfair.

Dink Singer said...

Connecticut law uses the term "commitment" rather than "pledge". It is the responsibility of the Secretary of State based on the results of the primary to inform the party chair of the allocation of delegates to candidates.
Sec. 9-485(c) of the Connecticut General Statutes says:
"If, subsequent to the primary, a candidate to whom one or more of such party's delegates are allocated either dies or files with the secretary a written statement, by him signed, to the effect that he has released all Connecticut delegates committed to him, the commitment of any such delegate to the candidate shall be deemed to have been released."

These are the only conditions under which the delegate is released.

2009 Journal Writer said...

Thanks again for the pointers to Connecticut and Texas. I'm going to mark both of those as following DNC rules (e.g.- they "shouldn't" change, but there's no state law mandating how they vote).

I'm currently working on a spreadsheet to display this info clearly but having some formatting difficulties. Once I get those worked out I'll post them here.

Dink Singer said...

The Connecticut Law as I stated it above is definitely not "following the DNC rules". There is no "good conscience exception" in the state law, if that is what is contained in Rule 12-J. Nothing about the delegates voting for someone else if it is their perception that that is what "the sentiments of those who elected them" now require. In fact the delegates are still pledged, committed, bound to vote for a candidate even if he or she is incapacitated, since the only way they are released is by the candidate's death or personal written notification to the state government the he/she is releasing all his/her Connecticut Delegates.

Dink Singer said...

A couple of additional thoughts. The national delegate selection rules contain the word "pledged" 27 times and the word "unpledged" 16 times. This includes the exact phrases “pledged delegates” 6 times, “unpledged delegates” twice and “unpledged delegate” once. In fairness to the Clinton campaign, the term "automatic delegate" is also used once.

Pledge is a very strong word. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "A solemn binding promise to do...something".

Matt said...

Responding to Galois' comment from this morning. I think you're exactly right - the Georgia law is totally unenforceable. There aren't any Georgia police on the convention floor, and the DNC isn't going to enforce a law that isn't in line with their own rules. Could the wayward delegate face a legal problem back home? Potentially, but it seems pretty unlikely.

Dink Singer said...

If anyone is still looking into this, I just found an interesting discussion by Cynthia Baughman published by Slate My quest to discover whether I could break my pledge to be an Obama delegate.

In Pennsylvania the law is very clear and delegates are still required to honor their pledge even if the candidate has withdrawn from the race.

And in response to Matt's last comment, we Democrats should be committed to the rule of law, even when the "law is totally unenforceable". The laws against torture were not enforceable in the post-9/11 environment so Bush simply ignored them. We are better than that.

Matt said...

Dink - great link. Thanks. Reading the article, I would disagree with your interpretation - it seems the article says the law in PA is rather unclear.

I guess my point is that the courts have generally ruled that the parties should have freedom to run their nomination process, and the Democrats have specifically chosen (in 1982) not to require pledged delegates to vote for their candidate. Given that, I don't have much appreciation for those laws that require otherwise, because they would probably be ruled unconstitutional if they were ever challenged.

Galois said...


The national party allows delegates to disregard their pledge, but it does require a pledge and it leaves the wording and form of the pledge to the state parties. The state party ,in turn, chose to use the state government to run its election and in so doing acquiesced to the state determining the wording of the pledge. It seems the state of PA has worded it in such a way that some could argue it would be perjury to violate the pledge. I don't see how there is anything unconstitutional in perjury laws. Also note that the party doesn't have to use the primary to select its delegates (for example in Washington the party chose to ignore the primary and run its own caucus).

This is not to say that the vote of a delegate who ignored their pledge wouldn't count. Rather that delegate could (in theory) face some consequences back home. Whatever the situation, it seems clear to me, though, that there is such a thing as "pledged" delegate because there is a signed written pledge. The difference between pledged and unpledged delegates is not simply in how they are chosen but also what form their commitment to a candidate takes. For pledged delegates it takes the form of a signed pledge and depending on the wording and the laws of the state, it may be perjury to violate such a pledge.

Matt said...

I'm certainly not an expert in constitutional law, and probably shouldn't have written "they would probably be ruled unconstitutional".

But I believe the courts have ruled that political parties are free to run their nomination contests under their own rules under the "freedom of association" concept derived from the 1st Amendment.

If the Democratic party has passed rules that pledged delegates are not required to vote for the candidate, you could certainly make a case that any state law which conflicted with the Democratic rules violates the Democratic Party's "freedom of association". As I said above, I'll withdraw any prediction of the outcome of such a challenge, but it certainly seems reasonable that anybody charged with perjury in this case could challenge it on constitutional grounds.