Party Conventions and Delegates

And Why We Should Care

Democracy is cumbersome, inefficient, time-consuming, difficult, and frustrating. It is one of humans’ greatest inventions. If only works if we really want it. By now, numbers and types of delegates are probably swirling your head. This should help.

First, there are no laws regarding political parties and their processes. State laws control only voter registration, polling places, and election rules. Each party – Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Socialist, and even Communist – sets its own rules for how it will nominate candidates for public office. Generally, the parties operate through committees.

The Democrats and Republicans each have local, county, state, and national committees. The Democratic and Republican party structures are very similar. State laws allow only parties with significant public support to appear on ballots. The smaller parties have their own private processes. Federal law is primarily concerned with prohibiting discrimination.

The argument that closed primaries disenfranchise independent voters is bunk.
The public selects the delegates, not the actual candidates, during the spring primaries and caucuses.
When you choose to register as a Democrat, you get to choose the Democratic delegates. When you choose to register as a Republican, you get to choose the Republican delegates. When you choose to register as an independent, you don’t get to choose delegates.
If you’re not a Green, Libertarian, or Communist, you don’t have a right to choose their candidates.
You live with the consequences of your choices.

The delegates adopt the platforms and select the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates at the conventions.

During the primary season, several candidates compete for each party’s nomination. Gradually, the weaker candidates drop out, and the stronger advance. Democratic and Republican voters express preferences for candidates, but actually choose convention delegates. The two parties’ processes are similar.

The parties’ national and state committees use a complex mathematical formula to decide how many delegates each state gets. There are 3,200 total Democratic and 2,510 Republican delegates.

Each state committee decides the specific rules for choosing delegates in its respective state. The process includes votes by local and county committees.

There are two types of delegates – pledged and unpledged. Pledged delegates are elected at the party primaries in the spring. They are required to vote for their candidates on the convention’s first ballot. They may vote for their choice on subsequent ballots. Unpledged (“super”) delegates include party leaders and elected officials. Democrats are beginning to consider eliminating superdelegates, but that won’t happen this year. Unpledged delegates can vote for any candidate on any ballot.

You can see updated counts of each candidate’s delegates at

As much as some people like to gripe, these rules are not secret at all.
You just have to put a little bit of effort into finding and reading them.

It doesn’t matter if there is no acclaimed nominee before the convention. When there is more than one viable candidate, or a single candidate with significant disapproval, the parties resolve it on the convention floor, through their rules. That’s what they mean by a contested convention.

Right now, both parties are operating on temporary rules adopted in August 2015. The week before the convention begins, the party leaders and Rules Committee adopt final convention rules. Since there are no rules for the 2016 conventions yet, all predictions of candidates or contested conventions are just speculation. Considering current events, I bet we’ll see some interesting changes. Anyone can still win either nomination.

The conventions’ primary purpose is to nominate the parties’ presidential and vice presidential candidates for the November election. However, there are other goals too.

At the convention, the parties will adopt their platforms for the next four years. The platform is the statement of the party’s official positions on public policy issues such as the economy, foreign policy, taxes, the environment, education, and social issues. Each position is a plank in the platform. Platform committees have drafted the statements and convention delegates will vote on each plank. Once adopted, the platforms will appear on the parties’ websites.

The convention is also a pep rally to inspire party officials, campaign workers, and voters. To that end, each party invites some of its prominent leaders to speak to the delegates and the public.

The Republican convention will be in Cleveland on July 18 through 21.
The Democrats will convene in Philadelphia on July 25 through 28.

So, these are my predictions for the conventions: The parties will provide us with a lot of drama but in the end, they’ll get their acts together and choose candidates. They always do. Don’t be surprised if it happens late at night.

So, now that we’ve whittled down nearly two dozen original candidates to just two, we have a general election campaign. Traditionally, the formal campaigns begin after Labor Day. But don’t expect tradition this year. We’ll be lucky if they wait until the end of July.

At the general election in November, the voters express their presidential preferences, but they actually choose electors. The Electoral College meets on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. The Constitution’s 12th amendment specifies the voting process.

Each state uses its own method to choose its electors. In most states, the parties choose their electors long before Election Day. They’re usually party officials, state or local government officials, or influential party members. The party whose candidate wins the popular vote participates in the Electoral College. The other parties do not participate.

Some states require specific votes from electors, others don’t. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia require their Electoral College members to vote for the candidate who won the state’s popular vote. That’s the “winner takes all” system. Maine and Nebraska have a “district system” in which two votes are given to the candidate who won the state’s total vote, and the remaining votes are distributed to the candidate who won each Congressional district. In the remaining 24 states, electors are expected, but not required, to vote for the candidate to whom they have pledged. Sometimes, despite the law, electors vote for a different candidate. They are called “faithless electors” and can face a fine and lose their electoral positions. It rarely happens and has never affected an election.

You should care about this because you are an American. It is your responsibility to know how your own government works. And if you’ve read this far, you obviously do care. So take that caring a step further. Educate yourself. Read a newspaper. Learn about the issues. Lobby your public officials about issues that concern you.

So that’s it. There’s still a long road ahead of


For more information:
Democratic National Committee
Democratic National Convention
DNC Delegate Selection and Convention Rules
Republican National Committee
Republican National Convention
RNC Delegate Selection and Convention Rules
Community Matters 2016 Elections
Why We Need More Lobbyists

Contact Pat to get email notice of all new Community Matters articles.



Presidential Czars and the U.S. Constitution

 One of the most absurd tools that the Republicans use in their distraction campaign  against us is the incessant whining about President Obama’s “czars”. Because the monarchs of imperial Russia were called czars, they assume that you will believe that anyone associated with that title is a communist and, therefore, evil. Yes, that’s what they think of you.

The term dates back as far as President Woodrow Wilson’s administration during World War I, but it has never been the official title for a presidential adviser. It is purely a creation of the media. Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has appointed special advisers, which the media have termed “czars” because the actual job titles are too long for newspaper headlines. 

Read More …


Why We All Need to Vote on Tuesday

Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. We should all vote. I know you’re fed up with politicians. Believe me, I am too. I’d rather go bowling than vote for these clowns, and I don’t care for bowling. But in times like these, it’s more important than ever to choose our representatives carefully.

I live in Brentwood, and often write in “None of the Above” in municipal elections. This year, I’ll be writing in four names for mayor and council – Jonny Gammage and three young Brentwood men. Gammage died at the hands of Brentwood police officer John Vojtas in 1995. Brentwood police, including Vojtas, Milton Mulholland Jr., and Gerald Mikelonis routinely violate the others’ civil rights. The young men symbolize my son and the hundreds of other victims of Brentwood’s ongoing criminal enterprise, which operates with the approval of the police chief, mayor, council members, and borough manager. Maybe one day the cowardly locals will wake up and take a stand against their criminal cops, instead of bragging that they all went to high school together.

You can do something similar in your town.

County and municipal elections happen in odd-numbered years. So Tuesday’s election covers county and local offices and a handful of state and county judges. If you’re not registered to vote, it’s too late this time, but you can still register for the next primary election in April here. If you’re already registered, you can confirm your registration and locate your polling place in Allegheny County here.  

Allegheny County positions open for election:
Judges, County Executive, County Controller, District Attorney, Treasurer, and Council Members
County Council members serve staggered 4 year terms. Voter will choose representatives for odd-numbered districts this year.

City of Pittsburgh positions open for election:
City Council, City Controller, Library funding referendum

Other municipal positions open for election:
Some mayors, many Council members, district magistrates and constables, School Directors

There are far too many candidates to list here, but you can look at the Keystone Progress voter’s guide for a list of county candidates.

So why should be bother to vote when it’s “only” a local election?

All elected officials in the United States take an oath to uphold, and are supposed to understand, the six purposes of government, as listed in our Constitution:
to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

Elections are important because government officials – the ones we elect and those they hire – decide how much taxes we pay and how those taxes are spent.  They determine whether to build or repair our roads and bridges, what our schools teach, and what social services to provide, and to whom.  These folks have the power to clamp down on criminal cops who don’t hesitate to violate citizens’ civil rights.

Local elections are more crucial than ever before because the Republicans’ demands for federal and state governments to abandon their responsibilities force the local governments to try to take up the slack.

Government decisions favor the rich instead of the poor because rich people vote more than poor people do. People least likely to vote are new voters, people with lower incomes, with disabilities, with criminal records, minorities, youth, and women.  According to the US Census Bureau, people who earn more than $100,000 per year vote at a rate of nearly three to one over those who earn less than $30,000. 

So, if you don’t like current conditions, you CAN change them.  Voting is just the beginning.  Be informed about the issues important to you. Contact your elected officials, either on your own or as a group with your friends, neighbors, family, or co-workers. Join an organization that works on things you care about. If there isn’t an organization, start one. 

State and federal laws protect your voting rights.  You cannot lose your job, or your benefits, or be evicted for voting.  People with felony convictions, who are registered, can vote in PA once they are no longer incarcerated.  Homeless people who are registered can vote.  People with disabilities can get help from the person of their choice in the voting booth. No one can harass or threaten you at the voting station.

The Allegheny County Election Division supervises all elections in the county. There is a Judge of Election at each polling place to help you if there is a problem with your registration.  An Allegheny County Common Pleas judge will be on duty Election Day to handle voting disputes.  Call 412-350-5463 to report a problem. If you are not permitted to vote, insist on a paper provisional ballot. You can vote on that ballot and county election officials will confirm your registration status later. If your registration is valid, your vote will be counted.   

All polling places are open on Tuesday, November 8, from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Take your children, so they can learn about voting.  You do not need your voter registration card to vote, but you do need to show ID if this is your first time voting at your polling place. All of the standard forms of ID are accepted.

If you’ve never voted before, don’t worry. There is a large sample ballot hanging on the wall of the room.  You can look at it all you want and chat about it with anybody working the polls (inside or outside) or other voters who might be there.  Take your time.  Think about what’s important to you.  Don’t worry about using the new voting machines.  If you can use an automatic banking machine, you can operate a voting machine.  There’s a demonstration video online.  The poll workers will help you if you ask.

So vote.  Believe me, you’ll feel great afterward.

For more information on the candidates
Keystone Progress: Pennsylvania Progressive Voter’s Guide

For more information on voting and elections
PA Votes
PA League of Women Voters 
Allegheny County Elections Division 


We’re Waiting for YOU, Mr. President

Tax Cuts Don’t Create Jobs. Work Creates Jobs.

President Obama visited Pittsburgh on Tuesday to gather support for his American Jobs Act. He appeared at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in South Side, where he toured the apprenticeship facility before addressing the crowd of about 300 local politicians, building trades union leaders, apprentices, and their instructors.

It was a well-run event, managed by competent, considerate White House staff, Secret Service, Pittsburgh Police, and IBEW volunteers. Obama appeared about 25 minutes late – not too bad for a Democrat.

He gave pretty much the same speech he’s been giving throughout the country, and that’s fine, since that’s the message that he needs to send. He talked about entrepreneurship, green jobs, and restoring American manufacturing. He noted that those long-term initiatives are important, but the economy needs a jolt right now. He spoke prior to the Senate’s preliminary vote on his American Jobs Act Tuesday, calling it the Senate’s “moment of truth”. Senate Republicans – and two Democrats – failed the American people yet again when they refused to end their filibuster.

Obama exhorted the crowd – and all working people – to contact legislators and demand to know why they won’t support the Jobs Act. He wants us to ask our representatives to explain exactly why they don’t want to put construction workers, contractors, teachers, first responders, and others back to work. He wants us to find out why they don’t want to fix our roads, bridges, sewers, damns, and schools. He wants us to contact legislators, tell them we need the bill. He said, “Any senator who votes “no” should look you in the eye and tell you exactly what they’re opposed to”.

Obama knows why Republicans are blocking the bill. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said that defeating Obama is the Republicans’ “number one priority”. Defeating Obama next year is more important than your family’s economic security. It’s more important than your kids’ education. It’s more important than public safety.

Obama’s too polite to say it, but I’m not. Republicans don’t want an educated workforce. Republicans don’t care how many Americans are unemployed. Republicans don’t care if our bridges and sewers are crumbling around us. The money in their pockets is more important to them than American lives. So yes, contact your members of Congress. Visit, write, fax, call, email, or use telepathy. Whatever it takes, tell your family’s story. Ronald Reagan and his buddies began the class warfare 30 years ago. It’s time for us to finish the fight. Stand up for yourselves. Defend your family. Tax cuts don’t create jobs. Work creates jobs.

Obama asks all of us to stand with him and demand that Congress “pass this bill”. We are with you, Mr. President. We’ve been here all along. But we need to know that you’re with us. Stand your ground. Stop appeasing the republithugs. Stop giving in to the Republicans’ childish demands. Stop surrendering every time John Boehner says boo. Can the American people trust you, Mr. President, not to abandon us again?

A magnet on my refrigerator says “Stand up for your principles, even if you stand alone.” Maybe I should send it to him.

Like I always say, Republicans have no morals; Democrats have no balls.
Where does that leave us?


For More Information:
President Obama’s American Jobs Act
Get Your Message to Your Legislators
U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Senate
Text and Summary of Jobs Act
Infrastructure Spending Stimulates the Entire Economy

Obama to Visit Pittsburgh for American Jobs Act

I’ll be covering President Obama’s event at IBEW Local 5, Pittsburgh, for his American Jobs Act tomorrow in South Side. Watch my column for the story.

Voter Registration Deadline is Tuesday, October 11

If you want to vote in the general election on November 8, you must register by Tuesday, October 11. That’s next week. In a general election, the voters choose the candidates who will hold the offices that are open for election.  If you were registered for previous elections, you do not need to register again.

There are no federal elections in odd-numbered years. This year, Pennsylvania voters will choose judges in the Superior, Commonwealth, and Common Pleas courts, as well as local magistrates. In Allegheny County, the Executive, Controller, District Attorney, Treasurer, and Council seats are up for election. Municipal offices are also up for consideration, including many city, borough and township mayors, councilors, commissioners, and supervisors. School Board director seats, tax collectors, and some other offices are also open.

Local elections don’t carry nearly as much drama as federal and state contests, but are no less important. These are the people who are responsible for managing our local parks, streets, schools, and police departments. As Tip O’Neill said, “All politics are local.”

After you register, REMEMBER TO VOTE!  Don’t worry about the new voting machines.  If you can work an automatic banking machine or a TV remote controller, you can work a voting machine.  If you’re nervous about it, there is more information and a demonstration on the Allegheny County Elections Division website. The site can also help you locate your polling place and the workers can  help you at the polling place on Election Day.

If you don’t know for whom you should vote, now is the time to do some research.  In my experience, television commercials and campaign literature are practically useless in giving information.  Advertisers design them to make you remember and feel good about the candidate.  You can visit the candidates’ own websites, attend campaign events like rallies and town meetings, and read in-depth news coverage and voters’ guides.  In the end, vote for the candidates who reflect your views most closely.  No single candidate will be perfect, but you know what’s important to you. 

It is illegal for anyone to keep you from voting.  You cannot be fired from your job or evicted from your home, for voting.  No one can tell you how to vote.  If you can’t get to the polling place on Election Day, you can get an absentee ballot, but don’t wait too long.  November 1 is the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot, and completed ballots must be returned by November 4 at 5:00 PM.

You can find more information about voting and some of the issues from the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh, Community Information Center. An excellent guide is available online at  Click on the “Guide for New Citizens”.

A summary of the voter registration rules

WHO:  In order to register, you must:

  • Be a US citizen for 30 days or more on election day
  • Be at least 18 years old on election day
  • Be a resident of Pennsylvania, and your election district, for at least 30 days on election day

¬  You do not have to have a residence to register to vote.  You can be homeless, but you must have a mailing address. 

¬  You may be able to vote if you have a criminal record.  Go to for details.


  • In order to vote in a primary election (in May of each year) you must register in a political party. 
  • You do not have to register in a party to vote in the general election (held in November).
  • You can change your party registration any time you wish.
  • Even if you haven’t voted recently, you are still registered.  Call the Election Division or check VotesPA to be sure.
  • If you moved, changed your name, or want to change your political party, you must register again.

 WHEREThe Allegheny County Election Division office is located in the County Office Building.

542 Forbes Avenue, Room 604, Pittsburgh, PA  15219 (Downtown)

Phone: (412) 350-4500, Fax: (412) 350-5697


October 11, 2011            Registration forms must be in the Elections Division office, or postmarked, for the November 8 General Election

November 1, 2011         Last day to apply for a civilian absentee ballot for the November 8 General Election

November 4, 2011         Last day for County Board of Elections to receive completed absentee ballots

HOW:  Registration forms are available in several places:

  • Allegheny County Elections Division office, 604 County Office Building, Downtown
  • Many state and local government offices
  • Most state and local legislators’ offices
  • Many public libraries, community agencies, and state liquor stores 

¬  You can also find the form online at the Pennsylvania Department of State. You can download, print, complete, sign, and mail the form to the address below.  It must be postmarked by the registration deadline. Return the completed form to:

Voter Registration Section
Allegheny County Division of Elections
542 Forbes Ave., Room 609
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-2953

¬  You can get absentee ballot applications at your County Election Bureau office or at

For More Information:

League of Women Voters

PA Department of State

Allegheny County Election Division

Federal Election Commission


Why Congress Can’t Get Anything Done

And What You Can Do About It

America has serious problems. We need serious adults, working together, to solve them. Our government is supposed to do that, but most members of Congress care more about pleasing their big bucks corporate campaign donors than in doing the job that we hired them to do. Republicans claim to believe in the “free market”. Well WE are the market they’re trying to reach.

There are two chambers of Congress—the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Constitution allows each chamber to make its own operating rules. The party holding the majority of the seats controls the chamber and committees have enormous power. The majority party leaders appoint all committee chairs, who are nearly always majority members. In this Congress, Republicans control the House and the Democrats control the Senate.

There are 435 House seats, distributed among the states by population. The current House contains 193 Democrats and 240 Republicans. With a full House, a bill needs at least 218 votes to pass the House. Now, with two vacancies, 217 votes will pass a standard bill.

There are 100 Senators, two from each state. They include 51 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them, and 47 Republicans. In case of a tie vote, the Constitution empowers the Vice President, currently Joe Biden, to break the tie. Senate rules require only 51 votes to pass most bills, but any senator can call a filibuster, which stops a bill dead in its tracks. It takes 60 votes, called cloture, to end a filibuster and permit a final up-or-down vote on a bill’s merits. House rules do not permit filibusters.

Every bill must pass both House and Senate, and be signed by the president, to become law. Congress can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote. That’s 292 House and 67 Senate votes.

Given the numbers, House Republicans can do pretty much whatever they want to do. House Democrats don’t have enough votes to pass anything without support from at least 25 Republicans. The 53 Senate Democrats hold a technical majority, but Republican filibusters stifle nearly all Democratic bills. The Senate Democratic majority can prevent bills passed by the House Republicans from going further.

Teapartiers wield much more power than they deserve. They made SO much noise about “We the People” in the 2010 election, but only 14 percent of Americans are strong tea party supporters.  Only 74 House members and 10 Senators identify themselves as teapartiers, all registered Republicans. That’s only 16 percent of the entire Congress and 29 percent of the Republicans. The other 71 percent of Republicans are terrified to stand up to them.

Despite the Congressional oath of office, they owe their allegiance to the corporations who paid for their campaigns but they pander to the teapartiers. Mainstream Republicans are so out of touch with reality that they think the teapartiers represent public opinion.

Teapartiers don’t have a different vision of government, as traditional Republicans do. They want NO government. They want no services, no goals, and no sense of community. They whine incessantly about the Constitution, yet they’re always wrong when they quote it. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Congressman Ron Paul declared that every conservative who objects to government spending should “. . . take care of yourself, don’t ask the government for anything”. (Source, Paragraph 17) Sure. I’d pay money to see that happen.

And that’s why Congress is stuck. That’s why we need grownups in Congress who understand that we can only solve our problems with common sense and compromise. President Neville Chamberlain has compromised to the point where he might as well be a teapartier. Republicans stomp their feet and hold their breath until they turn blue. Republicans have no morals. Democrats have no spine.

Every now and then someone suggests holding a national referendum on a particular issue, like raising taxes on gazillionaires, or same-sex marriage, or creating jobs. A referendum is a public vote on an issue rather than a candidate. That’s just not possible. Our Constitution does not permit a national referendum on any subject.

In order to hold a referendum, we would have to amend the Constitution. Then we would have to get a particular referendum question onto the ballot according to the procedures outlined in the amendment. And then we would all have to convince a majority of voters to support our particular position in the referendum. That would take about a billion dollars and about 10 years of serious community organizing. Good luck.

The Supreme Court may have given corporations the same status as people, but corporations still don’t vote. Real people vote. I vote. You can vote. We can’t count on Congress to do their jobs, so we have to push them. We all can influence Congress. Yes we can, but don’t waste your time with online petitions. They’re the least effective method of making social change. The article linked below has more information on influencing Congress. Demand that your representatives honor their oath of office.

“I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

We may be stuck in neutral until the 2012 elections, but this is a good time to learn the issues and exercise your lobbying muscles. Learn where your members and the committee chairs stand. Don’t believe everything you see on TV. Read newspapers. Watch C-Span. Yes, really. Read the Constitution. Ask yourself who benefits from public policies.

  • Who benefits from shipping jobs overseas?
  • Who benefits from destroying labor unions?
  • Who benefits from decimating public education?
  • Who benefits from demolishing the middle class?
  • Who benefits from gazillionaire and corporate tax cuts?
  • Who benefits from allowing the infrastructure to crumble?
  • Who benefits from unlimited corporate campaign donations?
  • Who benefits from cutting Social Security, Medicare, and social services?
  • Who benefits from preventing the poor and the unemployed from voting?

You can be your own lobbyist. Your future is worth a couple of hours a week. Call, write, and visit your legislators. Volunteer for your candidate’s campaign. You know what’s important to you. Stand up for yourself. Demand that your representatives represent you. And then vote.

 And remember. WE ARE ONE.

 For More Information:

Congress by the Numbers

The White House

House of Representatives

U.S. Senate

Information on all Congressional Legislation

On the Issues—Legislators, In Their Own Words

U.S. Constitution


Get Your Message to Your Legislators

Watch Out America. They’re Coming for You Next

We Are All Welfare Recipients