Was the Democratic Nomination Rigged? A Reexamination of the Clinton-Sanders Presidential Race
29 University of Florida Journal of Law & Public Policy 309 (2019)
49 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2019 Last revised: 14 Dec 2019
Date Written: August 27, 2019
This article examines one of the lingering controversies of the 2016 presidential race: whether the Democratic Party’s leaders corrupted the election process to ensure that Hillary Clinton secured the party’s presidential nomination. In May 2016, Bernie Sanders complained that his path to the nomination was blocked by a “rigged system” of superdelegates, party officials free to vote for any candidate at the presidential convention. In November 2017, former DNC Chair Donna Brazile revealed the existence of a fundraising agreement between the Clinton campaign and the national party that pre-dated the primary campaign. Amid the uproar over Brazile’s book, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2020, asserted that the 2016 Democratic primary was “rigged” in Clinton’s favor.
The controversy over the 2016 race raised fundamental questions about the health of the nation’s democratic institutions. For American voters, no decision is more consequential than the selection of the president. As both commander-in-chief of the armed forces and chief executive, the president exercises more power than any other single individual in the American system of government. The question of whether the Democratic Party’s senior leadership subverted the nomination process thus bears directly on the integrity of the presidential election system. Do ordinary voters choose the party nominee, or do elites secretly control the process?
This article makes three central points. First, it contends that the overwhelming weight of evidence makes clear the 2016 Democratic nomination process was not rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton. Second, this article argues that the Democratic Party rules and state election laws actually hurt Clinton and benefited Sanders. Third, the article concludes that the controversy over the Democratic nomination race reflects a broader, bipartisan decline in public confidence in the integrity of American elections.
Keywords: election law, voter fraud, party nominations, election integrity, superdelegates, rigged system, 2016 election, open primaries, closed primaries, caucuses
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