In all states, Democratic members of Congress, governors and other high-profile party figures are given status as so-called superdelegates. Their votes at the nominating convention are not tied to that of the electorate. They can vote for whomever they please.
Superdelegates were introduced in the 1980s, Haskell said, after Democratic Party leaders soured on the choices made by their own voters.
‘What happened was the Democrats in the ’70s said, ‘Let’s let the public in, Haskell said. Then after George McGovern in 1972 and Jimmy Carter in 1976 won the Democratic nominations, “the powers that be said … maybe we should reserve some room” for party influence, Haskell said.
“In creating the super delegates, Democratic Party leaders sought to show that although they respected the popular will as expressed in the primaries and caucuses, they also expected that the super delegates could play a significant if not necessarily decisive role in the selection process. However, it did not work out that way. Popular will has put one candidate far enough ahead by the convention that the super delegates haven’t come into play. Every nominee since these reforms has been decided based on the primary and caucus votes.
This year might be different. Because no front-runner has emerged, and the compressed time frame of the election may prevent any candidate from gaining enough momentum, no candidate may have enough delegates by convention time. In that case, the super delegates, the majority of whom currently support Hillary Rodham Clinton — but who could switch sides at any time — could well be the decision-makers at the convention. And this could be a real problem for the Democratic Party.
In general, the last place the public would want the nominee selected is on the convention floor. In the heyday of the conventions, when the presidential candidates were selected in backrooms and on the floor, there were always rumors of vote buying and corrupt bargains for the nomination. Today, such events could fatally weaken the candidate in the public’s eyes. The existence of super delegates would compound the problem.
The elected delegates, though virtually unknown, are at least selected by the voters and pledged to the candidate those voters chose. Most of the super delegates aren’t chosen by the general populace, and they are not bound by the votes in their respective states. If they end up making the difference in the nomination — especially if the winner came into the convention in second place — there is a strong possibility of disenchanting a good portion of the party’s base, potentially costing the party the election.”