Trump, Sanders question campaign's primary system

The intense presidential primary races have brought new scrutiny to the way both the Republican and Democratic parties choose their nominees. With each state contest, candidates must navigate the myriad of primaries, caucuses, winner-take-all and proportional assigning of delegates, super delegates, and rules that vary from state to state.

It is a patchwork nominating process for the nation's highest office. Many voters say they don't understand why the current system is so complicated.

At Terry Griffin's auto shop in Berkeley, Griffin says he feels the Democratic Party's primary system is unfair, tilted to party boss favorites versus populist politicians. Griffin opposes the large number of super delegates who are able to pledge support for a candidate with no voter input.

"I don't think it works to represent the people," said Griffin. owner of Griffin Motorwerke.

Donald Trump feels the Republican primary process is equally unfair.

"It's a crooked system. It's a system that's rigged," Trump said following his New York primary win.

Trump pointed to the Colorado Republican convention where Texas Senator Ted Cruz won all the delegates without any primary vote.

"We're the only country in the democratic world that uses primaries to help nominate the president," said Thomas Mann, a scholar at UC Berkeley and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

At UC Berkeley, top political scholars and journalists met for a conference Friday to analyze this unusual primary season, where populist outsider candidates are challenging the party insiders and the primary rules that vary from state to state.

"There are not quite 50 different systems," said Eric Schickler, a UC Berkeley professor and Department Chair of Political Science.

Schickler says the primary system that allows regular voters to participate is relatively new.

"As late as 1968 Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic nomination without entering and winning a single primary he was selected essentially by party bosses and state leaders who saw him as the best candidate."

As both parties opened up their nominating process to the public, each state made up its own rules.

"It's a process that came about largely by historical accident and probably not one that someone who sat back and said how best should we do this, probably wouldn't be the one," said Gabriel Lenz, a UC Berkeley professor of political science.

Lenz says the primary process has continued to change over the years, such as the inclusion of super delegates in the Democratic primary process.
Mann says he was one who proposed super delegates to the Democratic National Committee.

"Sequential primaries and caucuses produce small turnouts and odd outcomes oftentimes and it's good to have elected officials and party officials play some part in the process," Mann said.

"They did this in the early 1980's because they saw that the initial system was allowing candidates like George McGovern and Jimmy Carter who didn't really have close ties to the party, to win the nomination," Schickler said.

The question moving forward is whether the parties will make changes to their nominating processes after this primary season, such as having national standards for presidential primaries.

"I think there will be a lot of pressure on the party to revisit its rules and to try and create a process that's more transparent," Schickler said.

Scholars say there will likely be more scrutiny on California this year when it holds the state primary June 7th.