The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, arguing that his 1984 supporters were "deprived of the full impact of their votes because of unfair party rules," urged a Democratic Party rules panel today to adopt a system to award 1988 convention delegates based on the proportion of each candidate's popular vote.
Jackson charged the 1984 rules were written to favor the "big shots over the long shots," and said he received 21 percent of the votes in primaries and caucuses last year but picked up only 11 percent of the delegates. (Other election analyses indicate he received about 18 percent to 19 percent of the votes.)
The disparity, Jackson told a regional hearing of the Democratic National Committee's Fairness Commission, came mainly from party requirements that a candidate receive at least 20 percent of the vote in a congressional district before any delegates could be awarded.
The commission got the opposite advice, however, from Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), who testified on behalf of the Democratic Leadership Council, a new group of moderate elected officals mainly from the South and West.
To "reward candidates who fashion campaigns with appeals to broad cross sections of the electorate," Frost urged the party to allow states to move to winner-take-all primaries at the congressional district level. Such a step, instead of eliminating thresholds, would effectively raise them to 51 percent.
"The nomination process should encourage the same kind of coalition-building necessary to win general elections," said Frost, who argued that, for the same reason, independents should be allowed to participate in party primaries.
The debate between winner-take-all and proportional representation is an old one within the party. The rules changes over the past 15 years have moved the party toward a system of proportional representation, modified by thresholds and by various bonus delegate and superdelegate add-on plans.
Fairness Commission Chairman Don Fowler of South Carolina said later that he expects the thresholds to be "very close in 1988 to what they were in 1984. If anything, they might come down a little bit."
Jackson and Frost also differed over the rules that reserved 566 delegate slots last year (14.4 percent of the total) to "superdelegates" -- party leaders and elected officials, most of whom were permitted to attend the convention unpledged.
"The last time, the unpledged delegates were quite pledged," Jackson said, noting that former vice president Walter F. Mondale was able to line up commitments from most of them early. "We've got to move away from a system where some voters are superhuman and some are subhuman."
The commission, after completing regional hearings later this month, will hold several meetings in Washington this fall. It plans to make recommendations by December.