For the first time since the establishment of the superdelegate system in 1984, the votes of the superdelegates may decide the presidential nominee at this year's Democratic Party National Convention.
Twenty percent of the approximately 4,000 delegates at the Democratic convention attend as superdelegates, or individuals uncommitted to a candidate, said Henry Brady, a professor of political science at UC Berkeley. The Republican Party sends some unpledged delegates to the convention but does not have a superdelegate system, he added.
The Democratic superdelegates are prominent and involved party members who have the freedom and responsibility to vote for the candidate of their choice at the national convention, said Brian Brokaw, the communications director for the California Democratic Party.
The superdelegate system "was instituted in 1984 because there was a feeling that the system was not necessarily producing the best candidates," Brady said. "Sometimes the voice of the people led to extreme or populist candidates," he added, citing George McGovern and Jimmy Carter as examples.
The diverse group consists of Democratic congressmen, members of the Democratic National Committee, former U.S. presidents and vice presidents, local elected officials and grassroots activists, Brokaw added.
In most of the recent elections the superdelegates have not played a significant role because the winning candidate gathered enough delegates prior to the convention, Brokaw said.
For example, John Kerry secured the nomination before the convention in the 2004 election, as did Al Gore in 2000, Brokaw said.
This year, the close race between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is leading to speculation among political analysts and the media that the votes of the superdelegates could sway the results of the convention.
"No election has been this close going down to the wire," Brokaw said. "We are in somewhat uncharted territory here -- but (the) system was put in place for a reason."
© 2008 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE