Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Who won in Nevada?

Last Saturday both the Democratic and Republican parties of the US celebrated their caucuses in Nevada in their battle to determine the presidential candidate.

The result of the Republican Party was straight-forward, Romney won with clear advantage over his opponents. However, on the Democratic Party front there is no clear answer to the question posted as today’s title.

Indeed, the answer could be: a) Clinton won, b) Obama won, or c) it was a tie. Ironically, all three options could be right (or wrong).

Let’s look at the facts: Clinton obtained 51% of the votes and Obama 45%. Therefore, option (a) seems the correct answer. More than 50% of the voters chose Hillary, so she was the winner. However, neither the battle for the presidential candidate nor the election of the president in US is direct.

The American electoral system is an indirect representational system. In other words, the voters do not vote for a candidate, they vote for delegates that would vote for the candidate in a National Convention. Interestingly, Obama obtained 13 delegates and Clinton obtained 12 delegates in the Nevada caucuses. Obama won in two districts (one of them with odd number of delegates) by a low margin. Therefore, he obtained one more delegate in that district. On the other hand, Clinton won in a district with even number of delegates. The margin was not big enough to secure more delegates.

Conclusion: with less overall votes Obama obtained more delegates. Hence, option (b) seems correct.

However, this is not all. In the Democratic Party there are Superdelegates or Unpledged delegates. These delegates are members of the Party that could choose to vote whoever they want. There will be around 4,000 delegates in the Democratic National Convention; around 700 of them will be Super or Unpledged delegates, and the rest are Pledged delegates.

Well, two of the Nevada Superdelegates will vote for Clinton and one will vote for Obama. Hence, there will be 14 delegates voting for each candidate. Therefore, option (c) seems correct.

To cut to the chase, if you are not confused already, there are even more surprises. In some states people do not vote even for the National delegates, they vote for the State delegates. These 28 delegates in Nevada are State delegates. They will have a State Convention in April and they will decide then to whom they would vote for in the National Convention. Consequently, we have to wait until April to know who the winner in Nevada actually was.

The problems of the indirect electoral system were apparent in the US 2000 presidential elections when Al Gore obtained more votes than George Bush, but the latter was the winner because he obtained more delegates.

A similar case occurred in Argentina, 1992. Buenos Aires City was choosing its Senator. Candidate A obtained around 45%, Candidate B around 30% and Candidate C around 25%. Everybody thought that candidate A was the winner; end of story. Nobody knew, though, that the electoral system was an indirect system. We were choosing delegates; we were not choosing the candidate directly.

Before the Delegates Convention, Candidate B managed to convince the delegates of Candidate C to vote for him. Consequently, at the Delegates Convention more delegates voted for Candidate B than for Candidate A; and the former was chosen as Senator.

In 1994 there was a Constitution Reform by which the indirect electoral system was abolished. Now, voters choose their candidates directly, they do not vote for delegates. The candidate that obtains more votes wins the election.
Will the Americans ever change their electoral system?


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