The role of this country’s more than 800 “super delegates” (who cast 796 votes) rises more as the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination roils. Even with so much riding on the Pennsylvania primary next month, there is still no clear-cut winner. Neither Sens. Hillary Clinton nor Barak Obama will have the requisite 2,025 delegates to win the nomination outright, though Obama leads in the number of pledged delegates, with 1,622 to Clinton’s 1,493, and in the popular vote by about three-quarters of a million.
Still, voters reject the notion that the power to elect their presidential candidate may ultimately be out of their hands come the Denver Democratic National Convention (DNC) in August. And many inquiring minds are weighing the influence of “super delegates,” whose votes are given equal weight to the votes of pledged delegates garnered from primaries and caucuses.
These super delegates are members of Congress, senators, state and territorial governors, members of the Democratic National Committee, distinguished party leaders, former elected officials, and add-on state delegates. Most importantly, they can vote any way they like.
One powerful ’08 election insider and super delegate is a former school teacher turned county commissioner. Another is a retiree from a nonprofit foundation. Though candidates are stumping for high-profile delegate endorsements, many of these powerbrokers are everyday people.
Jeannette M. Council got involved in politics while teaching elementary school in North Carolina some 30 years ago. Concerned about teacher salaries, educational supplies, books, and services for children, Council says, “I started lobbying for more money on the local then state level. I just followed the money.” Today Council is a super delegate.
During the Women’s Rights Movement, Council says she “found out there was something called a precinct meeting” and decided to attend. It was at this meeting, her first, that she was elected chairperson of her precinct. Council would become a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972, the year of Democratic presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm. “That was the year that in order to be a delegate, a third (of the state’s delegation) had to be under age 30, a third black, and a third female. So they counted me three times.”
Council currently serves as vice chair of North Carolina’s Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. Comparing the level of excitement during that time to today, the super delegate says, “This tops it all.” She says it is her personal decision to wait until after the May 6 North Carolina primary to declare her vote. “I just feel it’s the right thing to do. My super delegate vote for North Carolina would claim the votes of thousands of regular votes. For as long as possible, the importance of ‘one man, one vote’ should prevail.” Normally, super delegates, who make up only about 40% of the number of delegates needed for a nomination, don’t wield the kind of power they potentially could this election cycle. Back in 1984, super delegates gave the Democratic nod to former vice president Walter Mondale over Sen. Gary Hart