DEAR MR. BOVE:

Readers of this paper saw the case for an "open convention" that you made last week in a letter to the president, and your reasons for now opposing the party rule requiring delegates to vote on the first ballot for the candidate they were elected to support.

At the very least, your argument that the rule prevents those of us who will be delegates from raising questions on the issues and from talking about "how the people in their states feel" is curious. The 1980 convention will be the most open, most deliberative convention in our party's history. We will have debates on credentials, on charter changes, on resolutions, on rules, on the platform, on instructions to the 1984 convention.And we will have them because 12 years of reform have guaranteed that debate.

Your arguments, it must be conceded, have a certain superficial appeal. Surely, you maintain, there must be an opportunity for delegates to have second thoughts about their presidential choices. What if the pollsters report that a frontrunner's approval rating has slipped and the delegate, too, senses changed feelings in the electorate? In any event, you add, few, if any, voters knew about Rule 11(h) or Rule F(3)(c) at the time they voted, so that they could not have had expected that reflection of their presidential preferences would be assured.

While your concerns may be sincere, your answer to them -- allowing delegates to act as free agents at the convention, regardless of the primary and caucus votes -- is fundamentally antidemocratic and unfair.

For as well-developed as your conscience or political antennae may be, neither entitles you -- based on your subjective evaluation of "changed circumstances" -- to exercise veto power over the expressed preference of the voters of your state.

Circumstances always change in politics, or could be alleged to have changed. (May Carter supporters, for example, have a recount in Pennsylvania after last month's record rise in the leading economic indicators?) And if polls could supercede campaigns and elections, then the president need not have even declared in the fall of 1979, when he trailed his principal challenger by more than 2 to 1.

Finally, your implication that since voters may have known of the first-ballot binding rule, they therefore have no right to rely on it is perhaps the most dubious of all. What would plainly surprise and outrage voters -- whether or not they had heard of F(3)(c) or 11(h) -- is if they were told, after the fact, that their votes for Carter or Kennedy would not cause one or the other to gain more or less convention delegates.

When I was elected as a convention delegate, I held myself out as representing a particular, identified choice only on the question of the presidential nominating vote. The voters who elected me did not necessarily think of me as a solar energy delegate, or an ERA delegate, or an anti-MX delegate. But they did think of me -- and they have the right to think of me today -- as a Carter delegate who will vote their presidential preference on the first ballot.

Make no mistake: I will be a vocal, aggressive delegate ready to join in challenges on specific issues and push our party to support specific commitments. But every delegate must know -- as every voter surely understood -- that the reason we are permitted to go to the convention in the first place is that we pledged to support one candidate, and no other, on the first ballot.

The "open convention" argument must be seen for what it really is -- an attempt to disenfranchise the voters, deprive them of their voice at the convention, and change the rules after the game has been played. That is not only unfair: It is also disingenuous. Because what those behind it are actually up to -- despite their high-toned appeals to conscience -- is theft: theft of the nomination by candidates who have not won and candidates who have not run.

I was a delegate in 1972 -- and I saw the Humphrey forces try to steal California delegates from George McGovern with the rhetoric of "open conventions."

I was there when Joseph Rauh told the 1972 convention's credentials committee: "If the rules can be changed after the game has been played, then all that remains of our great Democratic Party is naked political power." I agreed with him then -- even if Mr. Rauh, a Kennedy delegate, does now agree with himself now.

I was a member of the Mikulski Commission in 1973 and 1974 -- and helped write the rules that would protect voters from being double-crossed at future conventions.

I was there when Barbara Mikulski insisted that delegate allocation must "fairly reflect the expressed preference" of voters. I agreed with her then -- even if Rep. Milkulski, a Kennedy delegate, does not agree with herself now.

I was a delegate in 1976 -- and I saw supporters of Sen. Jackson and other losing candidates try to deny Jimmy Carter the nomination in the name of an "open convention."

I was there when Ted Kennedy denounced that attempt, saying, "If a political part denies [the candidate with the most delegates] the nomination, I'd question how valuable the nomination would be. I think it would be a real distortion of the expressed will of the working members of the Democratic Party." I agreed with him then -- even if Sen. Kennedy does not agree with himself now.

I was a supporter of the Winograd Commission in 1977 and 1978 -- and I applauded their rule for binding delegates for primary and caucus winners. I was there when Morley Winograd called that rule "a brilliant piece of legislative draftsmanship." I agreed with him then -- even if Mr. Winograd, a Kennedy delegate, does not agree with himself now.

I'd be happy to let you, Mr. Bove, and any other members of this movement fly the "open convention" standard -- as long as you make it clear what the slogan really means: open to bossism, open to back-room bargaining, open to betrayal.

Either you believe in letting the people decide whom they want to nominate, or you believe in something else. Perhaps cliff-hangers make good drama. Perhaps rumor wildfires make good television. Perhaps smoke-filled rooms make good political columns. But they do not make good conventions, honest politics, or open parties.

If it is to be slogans that sway opinions in this debate, our side can rise to the challenge.For the 1980 battle of the buttons, why not this one: "Free the Democratic 20 Million."