Although Donald Trump is a wrong-headed person in many ways, he has made a point that his Republican party is corrupt and that its system is rigged. This is nothing new, but only Trump dares to say it because his campaign does not rely on his party for money. Trump asks why a candidate like him receiving millions of votes more than his closest rival (Ted Cruz) may still lose the nomination to somebody else when the party convenes in July. This is a very legitimate question that everybody should ask.
The Chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, answers in effect that rules are rules that every candidate of an organization must follow. This is true but Priebus is wrong! Rules cannot override people’s votes. A political party serves a higher purpose than any ordinary organization. Its members are the voting citizens of the United States who choose to join the party because of its ideas and leadership, rather than the benefits offered like those of a country club. Besides, the party takes great pains to organize primary elections in all the 50 states for the people to vote for the nomination of a presidential candidate. If the candidate getting the most votes is not nominated by the party, what are the people voting for? Is voting in the primary a joke? Should they even bother to vote? Should the rules follow the people’s will as expressed in the ballots?
Unless living in a bubble, we should have no illusion that the whole world is corrupt and rigged. The simple reason is that money can buy souls and conscience, if not happiness. The difference is to what extent. The extent of corruption varies from one country to another. So a democracy that gives people the right to vote differs in many ways depending on how the voting rules are set up in the system. As always, the rules are complicated and non-transparent, proving that they are rigged by those who control the system.
There are two big issues with the US presidential election. The first is the system of electoral votes already written into the Constitution. You may notice that US presidents are not directly elected by a national popular vote. The voting system is bifurcated into each individual state which conducts its own popular voting on election day. Each state determines the winner who is entitled to the entire electoral vote of that state (a winner-take-all system except for Maine and Nebraska). For instance, California being the most populous is allotted 55 electoral votes according to the latest official US Census, while Wyoming being the least populous is allotted 3. Thus the winner in California gets 55 electoral votes while the winner in Wyoming only gets 3. There is a total of 538 electoral votes for the whole country and it takes 270 to win the presidency. This system of electoral votes was invented in the 18th century when people traveled on horsebacks and in carriages. Although seemingly antiquated, it has valid practical and historical reasons, and requires no urgent need for reform simply because it is based on the votes of the people across the land, albeit divided into the states. For further information, please see my earlier article, “US Presidential Election: Counting Electoral Votes”.
The bigger issue is the party nomination process that Trump complains about. This process takes several months because it involves a series of primary elections conducted in all the 50 states. The political parties of each state organize their own primary elections mostly for members only. They exist in two forms, open popular voting and member caucus voting, the latter being much less transparent. The bone of contention is the delegate allotment and their loyalty to vote for their candidates at the party convention after the primary elections are over.
The political parties in each state assign a certain number of delegates, who are individuals actually going to the party convention to vote for the nomination. For instance, the Republican party has 1,820 delegates nationwide and it takes 1,237 to win the nomination. On the other hand, the Democratic party has 3,629 and requires 2,383 to win the nomination. Among those, the Democratic party features 559 super delegates consisting of legislators and other influential party members who can vote for any person as they please after the primary elections. All these are mysterious magical numbers and complicated rules that the political parties never bother to make the public understand although they want their support.
After the primary or caucus election in a state, the party allocates the delegates among the candidates according to some non-transparent rules. As free-will individuals, the delegates are bound by the rules to vote for the candidates they represent on the first ballot at the party convention to be held later. However, if the first ballot falls short of the magical number required for nomination, the delegates will not be bound in the second or further ballots. This opens up the chance for jockeying and bribery. Thus somebody else may be nominated to represent the party rather than the candidate getting the most popular votes. This sounds very corrupt and undemocratic. The fact is, those are the rules invented by the different political parties but are not written down in the US Constitution. Facing a general uproar this year, the two major parties should consider reforming those rules if they pay attention to the will of the people. Failing that, they risk becoming irrelevant and alienated from their members. They also risk a mass exit of their members angry about their votes being ignored. It looks like a political rebellion is brewing in America this year.