How did David Cobb become the Green Party presidential nominee against the overwhelming majority of the Green Party?
The answer is quite simple. The Green Party followed a policy that is fundamentally undemocratic and allowed the will of its members to be manipulated.
PRIMARIES: THE WILL OF THE VOTER
In five states, registered Green Party members, who are the rank and file of the party, had the opportunity to vote in a presidential primary. These five primaries represent the majority of registered Greens in the country.
The five primaries took place in California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Washington DC and Rhode Island. The total number of votes cast for a presidential candidate as recorded by Ballot Access News was 45,733.
The results from these primaries for the leading three candidates are as follows:
Camejo 33,255 72.7%
Cobb 5,569 12.2%
Salzman 4,953 10.8%
Others 1,956 4.2%
In the three largest States, California, Massachusetts and New Mexico David Cobb was defeated. In California he was beaten six to one by Camejo, and Lorna Salzman almost tied him for second place. In Massachusetts he was beaten by Lorna Salzman and in New Mexico by Carol Miller. Both Lorna Salzman and Carol Miller endorsed the Nader/Camejo campaign.
In DC Cobb received 37% of all votes cast. The total number of votes cast in the Washington DC primary, including write-in votes was 374. Cobb faced only one local opponent, yet received only 138 votes!
In the Rhode Island primary, the one state Cobb actually won more than 50% of the vote, only 89 votes were cast. The primary ballot only included Kent Mesplay and Cobb. It did not even include New York’s presidential nominee Lorna Salzman. The vote was 71 for Cobb and 18 for Mesplay.
Overall, the total primary vote for candidates who support Nader/Camejo was over 83% compared to Cobb’s 12.2%. Where Greens actually were able to vote, Cobb was roundly defeated.
NOMINATING MEETINGS: THE WILL OF THE FEW AND SELECTED
In all other states Green Party delegates were chosen at nominating meetings. These meetings varied in size but were overall quite small. The national Green Party web site never reported the number of votes cast at any of the state nominating meetings. This cover-up, whether intentional or not, hid from Greens the small number of voters that were determining how large numbers of delegate were proportioned between the candidates.
Nor did the web site explain the delegate formula or justify the size of each state’s delegation so that Greens could follow the process. In fact the formula completely ignores the number of Greens registered in each state as a determinate for the number of delegates. Most Greens assumed that delegates were proportioned according to a one-person one-vote system as any democratic organization would normally assume.
Only the Cobb campaign organized a turn out of their supporters for these nominating meetings. This enabled Cobb to appear to have a higher percentage of support than he would gain if local Green’s had an easier way of expressing their views, such as a primary.
In caucuses where the turnout was relatively large, Cobb often did poorly. But in some cases Cobb supporters were able to get around their low vote count by packing the delegation selection. For example in Maine, where Nader’s name was on the ballot, Nader defeated Cobb 52 to 42 (the remaining 65 votes went to 13 other candidates). In percentage, these votes represent 33% for Nader and 26% for Cobb. Yet during the vote at the convention in Milwaukee, 18 out of 19 Maine delegates voted for Cobb and 1 voted for Nader, or 95% for Cobb and 5% for Nader.
DEMOCRATIC VIOLATION OF "ONE-PERSON ONE-VOTE"
Even this one sided, basically one candidate campaign, could never have led to a Cobb victory at the convention without the help of a second undemocratic factor. The Green Party does not use a one-person one-vote system but instead has an electoral-college system that punishes states like California for its success in recruiting tens of thousands of Greens, while rewarding states that have only a small membership. Unlike the national electoral-college, the Green Party’s weighted voting gives some states 100’s of times more votes per Green member then other states.
For example in Iowa there is officially no Green Party. The state liquidated it after they failed to reach the 2% threshold for their gubernatorial candidate in 2002. However, Iowa had nine delegates to the Green Party Convention. There are 90 people registered as Greens in Iowa and over 150,000 registered Greens in California. Thus, in Iowa for every 10 registered Green Party members there was one delegate to the nominating convention. If the party were to weigh all its members equally, then California would have received over 16,500 delegates instead of 132. The 90 Greens in Iowa had as much power in the party as 11,363 members in California.
Imagine a party in which candidate A gets 11,300 votes and candidate B gets 90 votes, and candidate B is declared the winner. Unfortunately that parties name was the Green Party at the Milwaukee convention.
It is disturbing that while the Green Party platform opposes the electoral-college and favors one-person one-vote it does not practice what it preaches. Without the undemocratic voting process implemented by the national coordinating committee, Cobb had no chance of winning after the primary vote in California and the heavy opposition to his candidacy in other major states like New York and New Jersey.
DENYING CANDIDATES THE RIGHT TO APPOINT THEIR DELEGATES
But even taking into account this undemocratic ratio of representation that worked mightily for Cobb, he was still unable to win outright. He just didn’t have enough delegates. To win the nomination, his supporters were allowed to alter the decisions of the small state meetings and primaries. This last non-democratic step was achieved because Green Party rules do not allow a candidate chosen by its rank and file to appoint their delegates like all other parties have in American history. The only requirement for becoming a delegate is simply having the ability to attend the convention. Thus, whichever candidate can get their supporters to the convention can end up winning regardless of the votes of the primaries or caucuses, like in Maine.
In this manner Cobb was able to take delegate votes from other candidates. This was achieved simply by having his supporters show up and cast their votes for him after the first round of voting. Examples where this practice was highly evident include Maine, Missouri, California, and Texas.
In Maryland, two Cobb delegates attempted to become a Nader delegate and a Carol Miller delegate prior to the convention. They were only stopped because a Nader supporter prevented them from doing so by making it publicly clear that they were in fact Cobb supporters.
In California Cobb supporters were able to turn his 12% support in the primaries into a delegate vote of 26% by packing the delegation. Specifically 22 votes shifted to Cobb during the second round of voting. These votes are equal to the margin by which Cobb won the election.
In effect the Green Party picks its presidential candidate not based on the will of its members but by discriminating against Greens in some states, and in the end, by allowing anyone to become a delegate who can show up at the convention. Cobb’s support at most reflects but a small percentage of Greens. The overwhelming majority of the rank and file members opposed his candidacy.
Cobb’s amazing rise from 12% in the primaries against 83 % for pro-Nader candidates, to a majority at the convention was due to a well organized campaign to turn a minority view in the Green Party into what appeared as a "majority" decision at the convention.
Behind the Cobb phenomena is a very real political difference in the Green Party. As many articles have pointed out, the party is divided between those who want to oppose the two parties of money and those who support voting for the lesser of two evils to help prevent a Republican victory. Cobb represents a political capitulation away from our independence from the two corporate controlled parties.
The nomination of Cobb is a step backward, away from an uncompromising challenge to the two-party "duopoly" and away from the prominence that the Greens have achieved, thanks in good part to Nader’s 2000 campaign. It is time we take back the Green Party from those who want to capitulate to the Democratic Party!
Carol Miller, a public health administrator, first rose to prominence in the New Mexico Green Party by running for Congress in 1997. She was active in the Nader for President Campaign 2000 and sought the Green Party nomination for President in 2004. She has actively worked for health care reform by as a member of the White House Health Care Task Force, serving two terms as President of the New Mexico Public Health Association and six terms on the Governing Council of the American Public Health Association.
Forrest Hill has served on the Coordinating Committee for the Green Party of California, is a member of the State Finance Committee and the Campaign Support Fund Committee, and is a coordinator of the Campaigns & Candidates Working Group. He has a Ph.D. in Oceanography from MIT and has worked as an environmental consultant to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act and improve water quality in California Rivers.