How are delegates to the political conventions chosen?
July 28, 2004 10:10 PM   Subscribe

How are delegates to the political conventions chosen?

Do campaigns choose them, or state or county party organizations? Is it a reward for people who have donated large amounts or volunteered for the party? Do they pay their own way to the convention? Do they have any real role besides the roll call vote? Has any MeFite ever been a delegate? (If so, care to share your experiences?)
posted by Vidiot to Law & Government (7 answers total)
A friend of mine was made an alternate delegate just by virtue of helping host the district convention for his party. He was there, and they needed another body, I guess.
posted by apathy0o0 at 11:20 PM on July 28, 2004

Response by poster: Do alternate delegates go to the convention?
posted by Vidiot at 11:37 PM on July 28, 2004

DNC delegate allocation rules for 2004. Basically, it used to be that delegates were always local pols pledged to particular candidates; the various convention ballots involved the delegates actually voting for their candidate, or to whomever else their candidate endorsed once off the ballot. The rules have been changing since WWII especially, as the states have increasingly turned to direct primaries to choose nominees, and the age of broadcast media has made the mouthpiece role of the party largely moot. In the 1970s there was a concerted effort to "democratize" the Democratic party by increasing the number of unpledged delegates, but this led to a tilt toward special-interest politics that the party has fought against ever since. In the 1980s there was a large increase in the number of "superdelegates" who were basically party or elected officials, regardless of candidate support. This provides an anchor for centrist policy, in one view, or a latter-day smoke-filled room, in another. Nevertheless, in today's conventions, the post of delegate is a mere irrelevancy, since the rules dictate no extended balloting (DO NOT BREAK GLASS EXCEPT IN ACTUAL EMERGENCY UNDER PENALTY OF LAW) as it exposes party weaknesses, and the nominee is selected, in practice, long before the convention.

In earlier times, the delegates not only particpated in the roll call vote, they helped write the party platform. Today, that's a job ceded to the advisors to the presumptive nominee, who barely use a fig leaf to conceal their iron-fisted control of the process (I think as recently as Bush 41 there was a flap over such control as GOP rank-and-file revolted on a handful of points).

The GOP has followed a roughly similar path during the same period with less drama.
posted by dhartung at 11:59 PM on July 28, 2004

Delegates must be selected through a primary or a caucus. In most places I have lived, the local congressional district party organization holds the caucus or primary. The spots are given as rewards to people who've worked hard. True, they don't have real political power, but they do get to go on one sweet free ride.

Oh, and yes, alternate delegates do go to the convention.
posted by profwhat at 5:26 AM on July 29, 2004

They're chosen very badly. There's a primary or a caucus, but almost always, the party chair introduces a "slate" that has not previously been described. The slate consists of whomever the party chairs owes favors, whoever has "paid their dues," etc.
posted by waldo at 1:33 PM on July 29, 2004

Minnesota has a caucus system.

Precinct caucuses in March elect delegates to the Senate District convention (that's State Senate or legislative district).

Delegates at the Senate District convention in April elect delegates to the State convention.

Delegates at the State convention in June elect delegates to the National convention.

In theory, someone can show up cold at their precinct caucus and find themselves going to the National convention a few months later. In practice, there's lots of competition for both State and National delegate slots, and a person is unlikely to get selected by their fellow delegates unless they're well-known for their work in the party or community--or can give a good speech on their own behalf.

The same process selects State Legislative and statewide candidates, and the same local delegates attend conventions for other political units, cities, counties, congressional districts to select candidates for those elections.

One criticism some people have of the caucus system is that it supposedly magnifies the influence of the radical fringes of the two large parties. Of course, that's also happened in states that don't have caucuses...

I think there might also be an "out" here that allows elected officials to be delegates automatically at some levels, partly because they are expected to travel around from neighborhood to neighborhood on caucus night, give speeches, rouse the faithful, talk to the media, and so on. Local politicians don't get to go National automatically, though--they have an advantage if they want to go, since they're well known, and generally have a reputation for doing work for the party, but they don't get a free pass.

If you know the party chair (or precinct convener), it's probably easier to move up to the next level, but often they'll know you because you were out doorknocking, licking envelopes, making phone calls, and doing the often tedious drudgery of retail politics.

And that, too can be a problem--some people think they deserve to be a candidate because they've put in 30 years of envelope-licking, and not because they're necessarily a good candidate. But that's a different discussion.
posted by gimonca at 6:38 PM on July 29, 2004

Here's a document from the Minnesota DFL Party (that's Democrats to the rest of you) explaining how delegates were allocated. Looks like Mondale gets a free ride, local officials have to compete with each other in a special selection for a few spots, some delegates are elected at-large from the floor of the State convention.
posted by gimonca at 6:47 PM on July 29, 2004

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