'Add-on' delegates further complicate Democratic nomination process

The 4,048 Democrats who will meet in August to nominate a presidential candidate include district-level delegates, state-level delegates, pledged delegates, unpledged delegates, party-leader delegates, distinguished party-leader delegates. Then there are add-on delegates, and in some states, add-on applications are now open.

Add-ons are unpledged delegates who are added on to each state’s allocation of superdelegates as a sort of convention party favor. There are 76 add-ons this year, or about as many delegates as those allotted to Idaho, Hawaii and Delaware combined.

Add-ons are “an incredibly convoluted solution to a particular problem,” says Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who says he helped invent add-ons at 2:30 one morning in 1988. The add-ons further complicate the nominating process and diminish the role of the voters, he and other insiders complain.

But Illinois Sen. Barack Obama currently leads New York Sen. Hillary Clinton by 110 delegate votes, and if the nomination comes down to a delegate hunt after today’s tight Texas and Ohio primaries, the add-ons will be key prey. That’s because most add-ons won’t be chosen until state conventions weeks from now, giving the campaigns time to lobby for their supporters.

States are allotted one add-on for every four seats they have on the Democratic National Committee. Most states have just one or two add-ons; California has five.

In delegate prestige, say party staffers, add-ons rank just below a state’s other unpledged superdelegates—its Democratic governor and members of Congress, its national committee members and its Distinguished Party Leader delegates, or DPLs, who are former presidents, vice presidents and House speakers, among others. Local- and state-level party leaders and elected officials, called PLEOs, follow the superdelegates in rank.

As Mr. Devine tells it, the add-ons were invented after the Rev. Jesse Jackson complained that he wasn’t getting his share of the delegates in 1988, despite winning five Super Tuesday primaries. To avert a rules fight, Michael Dukakis, that year’s Democratic nominee, agreed to a new category of superdelegates—the add-ons—who would reflect the winner of the popular vote.

The party eventually dropped the add-ons’ link to the popular vote, says Mr. Devine, who represented Mr. Dukakis in the late-night negotiations. But the states held on to the delegates, using the spots to reward party activists or to accommodate officeholders who don’t fit either the superdelegate or PLEO definition.

State conventions generally are held in the spring, which means that the add-ons may be named too late to have much influence over the nomination. Even so, the add-ons increase the number of superdelegates, which in turn makes it harder for a candidate to win the nomination on the popular vote, some party activists contend. Superdelegates now account for one in five votes at the convention, which makes it almost impossible for either of this year’s candidates to win the nomination based on victories in the primaries and caucuses.

That, among other things, has party leaders already talking about a post-election review of the party’s rules, including the primary calendar and superdelegates.

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