WASHINGTON – It sounds simple enough: When Maryland voters go to the polls Tuesday, they will select a presidential candidate as well as the delegates who will go to this summer’s national conventions to formally nominate that candidate.
But if it’s that simple, why does the Democratic Party need 37 pages to summarize its delegate selection process?
“It certainly is confusing,” said state Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, who will appear on the ballot as a delegate for retired Gen. Wesley Clark — even though Clark dropped out of the race weeks ago.
And it’s not just the Democrats. The Republican Party rules for picking delegates are only slightly less head-scratching — although their job will be simplified this year by the fact that President Bush is the only candidate on the GOP ticket.
On Tuesday, voters will be asked to select 45 Democratic delegates and 24 Republican delegates. The parties will later add delegates under another formula that will bring the total to 98 Democratic delegates who will head to Boston this summer and 39 Republicans at the convention in New York.
So both parties allow some of the delegates to be chosen directly by voters — except for those delegates who are chosen indirectly by voters and those on whom voters have no say.
All would-be delegates have to register with the state board of elections to get on the ballot — except for those who don’t have to.
Voters in both parties will be presented with delegates who have a candidate’s name next to theirs — except for those delegates who are uncommitted.
Delegates will be divided equally among congressional districts — except that some Democratic districts are more equal than others.
“People are going to be confused if they vote for (former Vermont Gov. Howard) Dean and Clark,” said Hollinger. “I’m not sure what we’re going to see come out of this.”
What will come out of it, after all the twists and turns in the process, are convention delegations that should accurately reflect both the primary voting results and the diversity in the state.
Republicans will have it relatively easy Tuesday. One part of the ballot will list the sole presidential candidate, Bush, and the other part of the ballot will offer separate lists of delegates and alternates, who will either have “Bush” or “uncommitted” by their names.
Bush delegates have been authorized by the campaign and must vote for the president at the party convention. Uncommitted delegates are free to vote for whomever they want at the convention.
Voters will be asked to choose up to three delegates and three alternates. Because Republicans have a winner-take-all system, the candidate with the most votes in a congressional district gets all three delegates.
The Democratic ballots will list 11 presidential candidates — even though five of them, like Dean and Clark, have already dropped out — as well as a bubble for “uncommitted.” After that, the ballots will vary slightly, according to congressional districts.
Unlike the delegate division on the Republican ballot, national Democratic party rules require that delegates be divided into men and women, to achieve equal gender representation. Candidates are also encouraged to authorize delegations whose racial and ethnic balance mirrors the state population.
The number of delegates voters pick depends on the number of registered Democrats in their congressional district. The heavily Republican 6th District will send only four delegates — two men and two women — while the more-Democratic 8th District will send seven — four women and three men.
Democrats do not have a winner-take-all system, but a candidate must get at least 15 percent of a district’s vote to get any delegates from that district. Similarly, “uncommitted” must receive at least 15 percent of the vote before an uncommitted delegate can go to the convention.
If more than one candidate gets 15 percent, the delegates from that district are divided up proportionally.
Though confusing, this system ensures that the candidate who receives the most votes gets the most delegates. For example, Sen. John Edwards’ delegates could get the most votes of all the delegates in a district, but unless Edwards himself receives at least 15 percent of the district vote, none of his delegates will go to the convention.
Democrats will also have the chance to vote for candidates no longer in the race — but those votes will not necessarily translate into delegates.
There will still be delegates on the ballot pledged to Rep. Richard Gephardt, Sen. Joseph Lieberman and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun. But because those candidates ended their campaigns, they would not be allowed to claim those delegates for the convention.
But the Democratic National Committee said the Dean and Clark campaigns are considered “suspended,” meaning they will retain any of those delegates who are sent to the convention.
So if Clark gets 15 percent of the vote in the 3rd District, there is a chance that Hollinger could be going to the convention in Boston after all.
“It’s exciting,” said Hollinger, who has been a delegate to national conventions twice before. “You certainly get to meet a lot of people and it’s a lot of fun.”
-30- CNS 02-27-04