How To Legitimize the Popular Vote

A campaign blog.
May 21 2008 2:53 PM

How To Legitimize the Popular Vote

Now that we’ve laid out Hillary Clinton’s logic for how she’s winning the popular vote, it’s worth examining whether and how she can turn this from a tenuous argument into a compelling case.

Right now, superdelegates aren’t buying it, most likely because no one thinks Michigan should be counted toward the popular vote, especially if you’re not counting the "uncommitted" votes for Obama. So if she’s going to persuade them, she needs a lead that doesn’t rely on counting Michigan’s dubious vote in order to put her ahead.

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The upcoming votes in Montana and South Dakota won’t help her much. South Dakota currently has 194,000 active registered Democrats. Even if turnout is as high as 50   percent and she wins with a   60-40 split, she’ll only net around 20,000 votes. Turnout in Montana is expected to be in the mid-100,000 range, which likewise won’t net Clinton more than a few thousand votes. And those are optimistic scenarios.

Puerto Rico looks like her best shot. The island has 2.3 million registered voters, all of whom are eligible to vote in the Democratic primary. (Puerto Rico’s parties don’t align with U.S. parties.) I’ve seen turnout estimates of 80 percent. That seems high, but say it’s true and 1.84 million people vote. If Clinton wins a 60-40 split, that would net her about 370,000 votes.

So it’s possible that in the next three contests, Clinton could net as many as 400,000 votes. Obama currently leads by 257,000 votes, counting Florida and all caucus states but not Michigan. Which means Clinton could still come out ahead by more than 100,000 votes. That sort of margin isn’t Florida-proof—it relies on counting Florida’s popular vote in order to hold. But counting Florida could become standard practice if the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee decides to seat the state's delegation on May 31. If all that happens, Clinton could make a reasonable case to superdelegates that more people voted for her than for Obama.

Update 6:16 p.m.: Clinton's task is even harder if you factor in the enigmatic Texas caucuses. Check out the revised analysis here .

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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