Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Crowdsourcing the Superdelegates...

The night of the Potomac Presidential Primaries, in which Barack Obama handily defeated Hillary Clinton, one comment made by MSNBC political director Chuck Todd resonated as prophetic. Todd argued that with neither Democratic candidate likely to get the 2,025 delegates necessary for the party nomination, internet activists would soon play a major role in influencing the superdelegates who would make the final decision.

And this has officially begun in earnest.

Now, as Sarah Lai Stirland from Wired explains, "thanks to the internet and wiki software, voters can see exactly what those superdelegates are up to, and can even try to apply a little pressure of their own. Party activists fearful of a Hillary Clinton superdelegate coup have created several new websites that use collaborative software to focus attention on the superdelegates, in the hope that once under a microscope, they'll resist lures like financial contributions and political quid pro quos offered by the competing campaigns."

The 795 Democratic superdelegates are either elected members of Congress or elite "party leaders" whose identities are often hard to peg down. Blogger and cyberactivist coalitions have begun using Wiki software to deduce the identities of all of the superdelegates from press releases and statements in news articles, and to organize online mobilization efforts to influence their votes.

Examples include the Superdelegate Transparency Project and Superdelegates.org. Such sites not only aim to identify the superdelegates, but also provide data on how their local constituents voted and who received campaign contributions from which presidential campaign.

These are extremely promising developments for American politics, regardless of which party you affiliate yourself with. The superdelegate system for selecting presidential candidates is jaw-droppingly undemocratic - whatever happened to the basic principle of "one-person, one-vote"? - and efforts are already underway by the likes of Democratic Party leader Donna Brazile to change the system. However, until that happens, it is hard to argue that, in the interests of a healthy democracy, there shouldn't at least be transparency in the process.

Whether we call them cyberactivists, citizen journalists, or some other New Media moniker, the bottom line is that if these people use crowdsourcing to find and share information about the superdelegates and bring transparency to the process, thereby avoiding political deals struck in smoke-filled backrooms, we will all be better off for it.


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