Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Political Party Convention Delegates Are Supposed to Exercise Their Good Judgment

After seventeen major candidates had declared their candidacies for the Republican nomination, and with three of them remaining, it is likely that no candidate will obtain the required majority of the delegates to the Republican Convention to avoid a contested convention.  Conventions are the appropriate manner for the leaders of parties to select the presidential and vice presidential nominees that best represent the party’s platform and are capable of being elected to office. 

Presidential primary elections did not start to become common until the 1950s.  I note they are an expense to the taxpayers, unlike caucuses or county, state or territorial conventions.  Under certain state or territorial party rules, they do allow some unbound delegates. 

In fact, contested conventions have been the usual way Republicans have chosen their nominees.  Seven times the candidate with the plurality of committed delegates did not become the nominee.  For example, William Seward did not win the GOP nomination in 1860; instead Abraham Lincoln, a former one-term United States Representative, secured the nomination at the Convention and became the first Republican President.  A number of dark horse candidates have won their party nomination after multiple convention ballots, were elected to the presidency and served successfully in office. 

            The liberal media has decreased coverage of party conventions because they regard uncontested conventions as not producing any news.  A contested Republican Convention would attract much media attention to the GOP.

            Convention Delegates are a check on populism, like Presidential and Vice Presidential Electors were originally intended, as the President and Vice President are not popularly elected.  The Electoral College is modeled after the College of Cardinals that elects the Bishop of Rome.  At the time of the founding, it was regarded as unseemly to seek political office, just as it would be to campaign for the papacy.  “The office seeks the man, not the man the office,” was the credo.  In fact, no one campaigned for President for the first 52 years of the Republic, until the 1840 election.  Electors are appointed by State Legislatures (Article II, Section 1).  Those who were elected originally were elected directly, not as an anonymous slate based on voter preference for the presidential and vice presidential nominees, whose names appear on the ballot.  Some States continued to appoint Electors.  The first election in which all Electors were popularly elected was 1868.  Electors were not necessarily bound, unlike how many States bind them today, by the preference of the electorate, but were to exercise their good judgment.  Electors were directly elected, not chosen as a slate through voter preference for the names of parties’ presidential and vice presidential nominees, as is the current practice.  It is important to note if no candidate wins a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President (voting by State delegation among the candidates with the three highest totals of electoral votes), as the Senate elects the Vice President.
            Alas, between the all-but-direct election of Presidents and Vice Presidents nowadays the direct election of Senators (the Seventeenth Amendment), there is no longer any meaningful federal check on populism.  The only check that can be exercised is through the parties’ nomination processes. 

            The opinions of a party’s general membership ought to be considered, but in many States, voters do not register with a political party.  Even in some of those that do, Democrats and others are allowed to vote in Republican primaries.  It is like members of a club voting for the leadership of a rival club.  Either these non-members vote for a candidate for the nomination of the opposing party they agree with more or engage in party raiding, meaning choosing the candidate to be the nominee of the opposing party they think would be easiest for their party to defeat in the General Election.  Even in those States with closed primaries, voters may switch parties only 30 days before the primary.  The current Republican front-runner has benefited from an unusually large number of votes during the primary season from non-Republicans and is attracting party-switching.  Furthermore, there is no loyalty required even of those that do register with a party; they simply check a box on their voter registration form to be legally eligible to participate in that party’s primary.  Thus, liberals and other non-conservatives may register Republican and vote in GOP primaries. 

            With a primary season lasting months, a person legally may vote in the primary or caucus in more than one State, let alone illegally.  Indeed, fraud affects every election to some degree or another.

            Early voting in primaries has also influenced the outcome of the nomination process this year.  Those who vote early always deprive themselves of the information learned through a full campaign through election day, but this year early voters have cast thousands of ballots for major candidates who suspended their campaigns before election day.

            Voting is a privilege, not a right.  There is a difference between the right to be represented, which belongs to all, including minors, non-citizens and felons, and the privilege to vote, which is intended to be an informed, rational choice.  However, in some States, those who are mentally incapacitated may vote, even though they are not legally permitted to make any financial or even health decisions for themselves.  Among the electorate also are those who are too insane, ignorant, foolish or immoral.  All such individuals are manifestly incompetent to elect anyone to office, especially to choose the Commander in Chief of the United States.  Voters also may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs when they cast their ballots, especially when voting by absentee ballot or online.  Furthermore, there is always a more-than-negligible amount of voter error in any election.

            In short, elections do not necessarily reflect that rational, informed will of moral voters.  Even if they do, elections in a representative republic are intended to produce a choice of leaders who will, as Seventeenth Century British Member of Parliament Edmund Burke counseled, exercise their good judgment, based upon more complete information, as a check on populism.  

           Political parties are not obligated to include most of their voters directly in their process of selecting presidential and vice presidential nominees, or even in the selection of convention delegates, as Delegates ought to exercise their good judgment and serve as checks on populism and oppose candidates who does not agree with significant parts of the party’s platform, and instead favor candidates who can be elected to office.     

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