Are Primary Elections Rigged?

Trump & Bernie

Here we are in mid-April, and we still have a contentious presidential primary race for the two large political parties for the 2016 presidential race.  It seems that Democratic elites fear their party may be taken over by Bernie Sanders; and Republican elites fear that their party will be taken over by Donald Trump.  Regardless of who you favor, you have to admit we have a messed-up primary election process.

The Republicans

As it stands now, Donald Trump has a lead in overall delegates at 743 with his nearest rival being Ted Cruz at 545 delegates.  In order to win the Republican primary, a candidate must win a total of 1,237 delegates.  There are a total of 854 delegates who have not yet been won in the primary election by either candidate.  In order to secure the Republican nomination, Trump will need to gain roughly 58% of the remaining delegates.  Cruz would have to win 81% of these remaining delegates.  It is clear that both candidates will have a tough time winning the nomination from delegates during the remaining primary election.  If a candidate doesn’t reach the magic number of 1,237 delegates, then the delegates that had been bound by primary elections and/or caucuses held in their respective states can vote for whichever candidate they’d like.  John Kasich is still in the Republican primary, but in a distant fourth place behind Marco Rubio, who has suspended his campaign.

It is quite likely that the Republicans will have a contested convention in July that will allow delegates to abandon their primary voters and cast a vote for a candidate that may not have received the most votes in the primary election.

This should not be new to Republicans as the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln was elected in a similar primary when the Republican party emerged.  Lincoln was in second place going into the Republican primary election of 1860.  As a new political party which had no primary elections in southern states and thus no delegates from these states, only half of the states at the time participated in the Republican primary.  In the 1860 primary, Senator Seward of New York was the front runner with 173.5 votes and needed 233 votes to secure the Republican nomination.  Lincoln was in a distant second place with 102 votes. After four votes, Lincoln finally won the majority of delegates to secure the nomination.  He then went on to win the presidency.

The Democratic Party

Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead over her one opponent, Bernie Sanders.  Clinton has 1,756 committed delegates compared to Sanders’ 1068 delegates.  In order to secure the Democratic nomination a candidate will need to get 2,383 votes.  Hillary Clinton would need to win only 32% of these remaining delegates to declare victory.  Although, the Democratic primary seems much less contentious than the Republican party’s primary, many Sander’s supporters are pointing to the idea of Super Delegates as giving Clinton a lead she doesn’t deserve.  Super Delegates are delegates who are not bound by the votes in the primary election.  And, a large majority (93%) of Super Delegates are opting to vote for Hillary Clinton.  If the Super Delegates were not a consideration in the Democratic primary, Clinton would need to win 48% of the remaining delegates in order to secure the Democratic nomination.  This is certainly achievable, but it is a much higher hill to climb than 32%.

So What?

In full disclosure, my presidential candidate has long been out of the race.  I supported Rand Paul, and have little interest in any of the rest of the candidates running.  However, this primary election has surfaced many short-comings in how we engage in presidential primaries.  I am a proponent of Democracy.  I also feel like the U.S. had done a good job of organizing the idea of democracy into a Democratic Republic.  However, I am convinced that our primary election system is one of the greatest short-comings in our political system.  Here are some reasons why:

State vs Party

Primary elections are really not a byproduct of our formal system of government.  Primary elections started out; and have always been a product of political parties.  However, state governments have attempted to control primary elections by state as they believe such elections are somehow representations of each individual state; and therefore each state’s delegates.  This has clearly caused a clash of a demand for public sector accountability and fairness; and political party control that is evident in the 2016 presidential primaries.


We have somehow decided that Iowa and New Hampshire are somehow more important than every other state in our country.  If a politician gets snubbed in either one of these states, it is likely they will not have sufficient funds to make it any further.  After these starter states, there is Super Tuesday… then the second Super Tuesday. and we are watching each week as results come in from another state.  By the time candidates make it to some of the last states on the schedule, either a nominee has been selected; or there is very little choice among primary voters.

Caucus vs Primary

Sixteen (16) states hold a caucus instead of a primary election.  A caucus is normally conducted by the political party instead of the state.  Caucuses are usually facilitated by party officials and include discussion about which candidate the people in the caucus feels will best represent their party.  In many close primary elections, caucus goers cannot agree and so a coin is flipped to decide the winner.  In the case of Colorado, Republican Party elites decided to give all of their delegates to Ted Cruz even though it is likely individual Republican voters would have been split between Cruz, Trump and Kasich.

Super Delegates

The Democratic Party and some state Republican Parties have endorsed the concept of Super Delegates.  In a traditional primary election, a state will award delegates to a certain candidate in direct proportion to primary votes for each candidate.  However, many states have additional party-loyalists who can vote however they’d like.  These unbound delegates are called Super Delegates.  In the case of the Democratic Party, out of 4,923 total delegates, 719 are Super Delegates.  Super Delegates often will vote for the party favorite which will handicap a popular candidate that is not fully in line with political party values.  While this may seem completely unfair in a public election, it is quite understandable to a political party that doesn’t want to change its ideological bent.

Open Primaries

A traditional primary election requires that a voter needs to be registered with the political party in which they are voting.  In other words, only registered Republicans are allowed to vote in Republican primaries; and only registered Democrats are allowed to vote in Democratic primaries.  In an Open Primary, anyone can vote in any primary.  Twenty (20) states in the U.S. have Open Primaries.  While this may seem like a benign tactic, it can prove to be quite damaging.

Let’s say that you are a Democrat and feel like your candidate will win their primary quite easily.  But you don’t like a Republican candidate who is likely to beat your Democratic candidate in the general election.  So you vote in the Republican primary to ruin the opposition party’s chance of winning the general election.   Open Primaries tend to corrupt party unity; and damage the desired competitive nature of the general election.

Unaffiliated Voters

For quite some time, the U.S. has been controlled by two large national parties, Republicans and Democrats.  I challenge anyone to name the presidential candidate for the green party, the independent party, or any other party.  Ironically, the majority of Americans call themselves either moderates or independent.  In yet, this majority is either forced to join a party; or will not be able to participate in primary elections that are controlled by political parties.  The only time a non-affiliated voter can vote in a primary election, is if they live in an Open Primary state.  And, I have already discussed the problems with Open Primary elections above.


I hear a lot of people complaining about ‘money in politics’.  Nowhere is this more of a problem in our political system than in primary elections.

The first thing money does is it scares away any politician that actually has great ideas and great leadership qualities from entering the race in the first place.  If you have not lined up millions of dollars of donors, don’t even try.

Secondly, such a campaign war chest is an example of how tied to big-money each candidate is already.  Such large war-chests may be indicative of a great fund-raiser, but not a great leader.

Thirdly, large donors do not give away money for no reason.  They expect something in return.  It is often the case that such returns are not in the best interest of the American people, but rather the donors.

There is no question that money has corrupted our political system. The two largest fund-raisers in the 2016 presidential primaries were Hillary Clinton ($222 Million); and Jeb Bush ($153 Million), and Bernie Sanders ($142 Million).  It is estimated that over $1 Billion will be contributed to support 2016 presidential campaigns after all is said and done.

Primary Election Bias.

It is interesting to hear the differences between the two political parties as we watch debates on TV.  In the Democratic debate, we hear each candidate trying to give away more stuff than the other.  The person who promises the most give-aways seems to be the most likely to win the Democratic nomination.  In the Republican debate, we hear how each candidate wants to further build up our military and stomp out liberties of anyone who doesn’t claim allegiance to whatever Republicans call moral.  Every four-years we then get to pick between the far-right candidate competing against the far-left candidate.  What kinds of choice is that for the majority of Americans that consider themselves moderates?

What can we do?

The problem with our primaries is evident.  Primary elections are a creation of a dominant two-party system that wants to control power in our nation’s capital and throughout other political offices in our country.  Very few independently minded candidates have been able to make it to the front of the line when it comes to our political system.

There are a few things I believe we can do to create a more democratic election process:

Eliminate Political Parties – Our first president, George Washington, warned us against the emergence of political parties in his farewell address.  He stated, “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Eliminate Staggered Primary Election Timing: There is no reason why we should allow one state to gain any particular favoritism in the primary election process.  Could you imagine if your state elected its governor one county at a time?  It makes no sense and it only elongates and increases the expense of a primary election.

Consistent Primary Elections:  The idea that one state will have party elites vote; while others use Super-Delegates; while still others give all delegates to the majority supported candidate is simply ludicrous.  We need to have a single election process that is a replica of the actual presidential election and consistent for all states.

Populous Funded Campaigns: While fund-raising is partly a sign of support, when large donations come from corporate interests, we have an oligarchy and not a democracy.  Campaign donations should be limited to no more than $100 per person.

Multiple-Tier Voting:  Most Americans do not simply support one candidate over another.  Rather, they have a ranking of candidates that they would like to be elected.  Therefore, I believe that all Americans ought to be able to vote for multiple candidates with a 12-point system; where 6 points is awarded to their first pick; 4 points is awarded to their second pick; and 2 points is awarded to their third pick.  The two candidates with the largest national totals will compete in a final general election.

I am sure others have some equally beneficial ideas on how we can fix our presidential primary system; however, we need to do something differently, if we want to truly hold on to our democracy.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.