You call this democracy? fTC

Frank A. DeFilippo

January 17, 1992|By Frank A. DeFilippo

ANYONE WHO wonders why Democrats can't elect a president ought to take a close look at the way delegates are selected to attend the 1992 Democratic National Convention. It's enough to make Democrats want to vote Republican.

For openers, state Democratic parties are allowed to select one of four Democratic National Committee plans for choosing delegates and nominating presidential candidates. Maryland chose formula one.

Under this formula, there are three steps to choosing the 79 delegates and 18 alternates who'll represent Maryland at the Democrats' convention in New York.

Step one appears, at first glance, to be fairly straightforward: 44 delegates and eight alternates will be chosen by the voters in the March 3 presidential primary.

Before the primary election, however, presidential candidates have a chance to review and strike persons who have filed for election as committed delegates, thus clearing the way for slates authorized with the candidates' seal of approval.

Step two resembles a game of three dimensional chess, only with real people. Under this prescription, 14 at-large delegates and 10 at-large alternates will be designated by the Democratic State Central Committee at a meeting May 14.

If there's still a Democratic Party left after step two has been executed, step three clicks into play: nine party leaders and elected officials will be appointed as pledged delegates and six members of the Democratic National Committee will be designated as super-delegates.

Because the Democratic party is more interested in the purity of the process than in electing presidents, the 44 district delegates and eight alternates must be apportioned to give equal weight to total population and to the average of the vote for the Democratic candidates in the two most recent presidential elections. The formula will be based on the newly configured congressional districts.

Now, if all of that seems fairly complicated, try this paragraph from the party's statement on the selection process:

"Since the total must be equally divided between men and women delegates and men and women alternates, the congressional district delegates and alternates will also be equally divided, with the delegate and alternate candidates listed on the ballot by sex. The voters will be instructed to vote for the appropriate number of each sex. The voter will be allowed to vote for the total number of delegates and alternates allocated to his congressional district. The highest vote-getters will be the delegates and the runners-up will be alternates. Delegate and alternate candidates will appear on the ballot either by the name of the candidate they support or the word 'uncommitted' following their own."

This year, for the first time, the so-called "beauty contest" and the awarding of delegates are directly linked at the congressional district level. Nominating a presidential candidate in Maryland is no longer by direct election. To win delegates, candidates must reach a threshold of 15 percent of the vote. Pledged delegates will be awarded in direct proportion to the percentage of the vote a candidate receives.

The number of delegates and alternates presidential candidates win at the congressional district level will determine the number of delegates and alternates allocated to candidates at the at-large level, providing the 15 percent threshold is met.

It was on the point of proportionality that state party chairman Nathan Landow had a nasty dispute with DNC chairman Ron Brown. Landow preferred a winner-take-all primary while Brown insisted on proportional awarding of delegates.

Ever so politically correct, the Democratic Party rules also stipulate that priority must be given to blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Americans and women. Equal representation of men and women must be achieved, if necessary, by using at-large delegate slots.

And after all of that, many winning delegates and alternates wake up the next day only to discover that they must pay their own expenses to the convention. And in New York, that's not cheap.

To further complicate matters, Maryland's secretary of state, Winfield Kelly Jr., is said to be considering adding to the ballot a slot for "uncommitted as a preference," which would eliminate many delegate candidates who would be unable to reach the 15 percent threshold.

Back in the bad old days when politics was politics, the business of politicians was electing presidents and the voters could vote for whomever they liked. Now they can't even do that.

Voters are now being told how to vote, and if they don't vote according to the Democratic Party's formula their errors of sexual or racial preference will be overridden by the imposition of at-large delegates.

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