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Nichols: Nomination process offers a unique show

POSTED: September 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Perhaps the most confusing part of the presidential nomination and election process is the way the actual conventions are run.

The process starts in Iowa and New Hampshire. In Iowa, party members meet in homes or offices to cast their vote for their choice by moving to join like-minded members in one corner of the room. This vote is not secret, and other people in the room might try to argue that a member should change and join them to support their candidate.

I have no explanation as to why New Hampshire gets to vote before the other states and why Florida and Michigan were punished because they moved their primaries up from where they were in the last election. Why cannot a state party headquarters officers determine when their members get to vote?

Why are Iowa and New Hampshire given the special capability of voting before everybody else? Are not all voters in the United States supposed to be equal? All voters would be equal in importance if all primaries were held on the same day.

Delegates must pay their own expenses of transport, food and hotel expenses. Some lobbyists throw elaborate parties which many delegates seem to think are their rewards after spending so much money to participate in the convention at their own expense. A new law this year prevented the lobbyists from providing food with regular knives and forks. So some lobbyists threw parties with only spoons to be used.

I think something should be done to prohibit the lobbyists from throwing any convention parties because they appear to be buying future favors from the party officials being treated to all that food and drink.

The convention opens with all delegates from one state (and territories of the U.S.) seated in one location with a tall placard. Votes are taken by roll call of the state by name. When one candidate gets enough delegate votes to win, the roll call may be stopped and the candidate chosen by unanimous acclamation.

The news media were careful to use the term "presumed presidential nominee" because the delegates are pledged to vote for one particular candidate. Candidates are not legal nominees until elected by their party conventions.

Earlier conventions did not have pledged delegates. The longest process happened at the 1924 Democratic Convention, which required 103 ballots before they could select one candidate over all others to be the party's nominee. No party today wants to repeat this and appear to be so divided, because that would certainly bring defeat in the November presidential election.

The candidate for vice president is usually chosen by the presidential nominee. This year, Barack Obama chose Joe Biden and John McCain selected Sarah Palin, and the conventions ratified those selections.

The U.S. Constitution does not mention the words "political party" even once. Many of our Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution agreed with George Washington who believed that the political parties back in England divided the country with all their struggles in and out of Parliament. So our government began with no political parties.

But Jefferson and Hamilton differed over national policies and the Federalist Party gathered around Hamilton, and the Democratic-Republican party formed around Jefferson. The Federalist party died out after numerous lost elections, and our present Democratic and Republican parties evolved by the time of our Civil War.

National conventions keep the national central structure going. If the conventions were abolished, the national party headquarters would disappear, many analysts believe.

The convention ratifies the choice of the party's nominee determined by the primaries. They present a stage for speech making by top party leaders. The speeches by McCain and Biden were good with few surprises.

The truly remarkable speeches that riveted the nation's attention were given by Obama and Palin. Those two persons new to the national political scene will most certainly be part of the next presidential race in 2012.

It may be tradition that some delegates wear strange costumes, with weird hats, strange buttons or unusual clothing, However, I wish we could avoid looking like clowns when we are doing the most important task of selecting a candidate for our presidency.

The convention also approves a party's platform of policies and values. This document is sometimes partly ignored in the fight for the White House.

Both conventions were very well planned and presented interesting political drama. They made me glad that we have such an exciting way to select our nation's top two officials.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly and on gainesville times.com.



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