Democratic Party rejects Md. plan for choosing delegates State Democrats ordered to prepare new convention plan or forfeit votes.

July 16, 1991|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- The Democratic National Committee has rejected the Maryland Democratic Party's plan for selecting delegates to the presidential nominating convention, forcing state party leaders to develop an acceptable alternative or risk losing delegates.

Maryland's plan did not meet a new DNC requirement that delegates to the nominating convention be awarded to presidential candidates based on the candidates' popular vote totals in the March 3 primary.

Maryland's plan instead rested on direct election of delegates, each committed to a particular presidential candidate. The top delegate vote-getters in each of the state's eight congressional districts would have gone to the convention, regardless of the popular vote received by presidential candidates, who also are on the ballot.

The DNC approved its requirement in 1990. Supporters of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who lost the 1988 Democratic nomination to Michael Dukakis, sought the change because they said it would better assure that voters' wishes were fulfilled.

But Maryland party leaders don't see it that way. Led by chairman Nathan Landow, they voted this spring to keep the party's delegate election system, which they say has been in place for 22 years and works best for party members who vote in the primary.

Landow yesterday expressed outrage at the DNC's decision, which was made over the weekend.

"I think it's one more example of how the national party has shown a lack of concern for the needs and concerns of individual states," said Landow, who has long been at odds with DNC Chairman Ronald H. Brown. "We're going to present an alternative plan that will comply but will still serve the purpose of our original plan."

The revised plan will be considered by the DNC later this summer. If the state party ultimately does not present an acceptable plan, it could lose 25 percent of its delegates.

Maine and New Hampshire also must develop new plans, though for different reasons, said DNC press secretary Ginny Terzano. She would not comment on the revised plan Landow said the state party will present.

The state party had tried to meet the DNC's new requirement by agreeing to award at-large delegates, who are not elected by voters, to any candidate who received fewer than his or her "fair share" of delegates in the primary. Forty-four delegates are elected by congressional district; there are 14 at-large delegates.

In theory, a candidate who received 50 percent of the primary vote, but whose delegate slate ran poorly, would receive sufficient at-large delegates to wind up with 50 percent of the combined 58 elected and at-large delegates. Landow said that using the at-large delegates ought to satisfy the DNC requirement, and he said the DNC's decision was based on a "meaningless technicality."

But there are scenarios, under the rejected plan, in which a candidate could end up with fewer delegates than his popular vote total would indicate, even with at-large additions.

For example, if a candidate won a large percentage of the popular vote, while the delegates running in his name did poorly, there might not be enough at-large votes to make up the difference.

Landow said such a possibility wasn't likely. But in that event, he said, the party would switch some elected delegates to the candidate who deserved them.

The revised, or alternative, plan Maryland will submit would still require voters in each congressional district to vote both for a presidential candidate and for individual delegates. But the revised plan would apportion the elected delegates to the presidential candidates based on the candidates' popular vote total in each district, Landow said. The 14 at-large delegates also would be divided according to the popular vote totals.

Under the revised plan, a top delegate vote-getter might not get to the convention if the delegate was committed to a presidential candidate who received a low percentage of the primary vote and hence was entitled to few delegates.

This possibility, and the fact that the long-established system will change, will confuse voters, Landow said, and will require the party to spend money and time educating them.

What Landow admittedly seeks is a winner-take-all primary system, in which the dominant vote-getter with the best organized delegate slates would win the lion's share of delegates in a primary. This would permit an emerging consensus candidate to seize command of the field before the convention, and head off a divisive fight for the nomination.

Landow said the proportional primary system "could be very divisive for Democrats."

"It just delays the primary process in choosing a candidate early to get behind, unite the party and focus on what's important in the election, and that's beating the Republican," he said.

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