As this year’s race for the White House nears what’s sure to be a photo finish, the election process — which will ultimately determine whose nose crossed the finish line first — is a major topic of conversation and the object of much scrutiny.

Lately, “super-delegates” have been taking the heat. They are being criticized for being undemocratic and not the best method of selecting the presidential candidate for the upcoming election months.

We could not agree more.

Unlike delegates, who have party affiliations, “super-delegates” refer to delegates within the Democratic Party who participate in the Democratic National Convention not based on party primaries or state caucuses but solely because of they hold, or have once held, a position in public office.

Some of the current “super-delegates” include former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore. Each “super-delegate” is able to vote for any party’s nominee, even if he or she does not belong to the same political party.

The current estimate for the number of super-delegates participating in the 2008 Democratic National Convention is around 796. In order to secure the Democratic nomination, a candidate will need to win at least 2025 delegate votes. (Basically they will make-up one-fifth of the total number of delegates.)

The “super-delegates” are particularly vital for the close vote race between the current leading candidates, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

However, voters are concerned that presidential candidates may be able to acquire the support of “super-delegates” before the actual primaries, which stirred controversy for former candidate Howard Dean at the 2004 Democratic convention.

Dean had acquired the most “super-delegates” before the Iowa caucus of that year, only to have his supporters withdraw their endorsements after his poor performance: he lost 36 of his 132 supporters, while Kerry’s supporters increased from 74 to 102.

The history of the “super-delegates” stems back to 1968, when, during the Democratic Convention, the McGovern-Fraser Commission was created. Selected by former Sens. Fred R. Harris and George McGovern, the commission was meant to examine the rules and processes by which delegates were selected. It sought to establish a way of providing party leaders with more power and more say as part of the election process. While equality and diversity was the objective, in the 1984 elections, “super-delegates” were added as a subcategory to give certain members of the political party a stronger voice in the nomination process.

Even though the creation of “super-delegates” was intended to assign more power to politicians, controversy continues to surround the power that is distributed amongst “super-delegates” versus delegates. The fact that the “super-delegate” votes do not represent the popular vote makes the election process of Democratic presidential candidates undemocratic.

Why should more power of vote be allocated to one person? And why should more power be given to the “super-delegates” than to regular delegates? While these and other questions continue to circulate around the outcome of the 2008 election, it may just be that the “super-delegate” votes will determine our next president.

Though the Republican party also has super-delegates, referred to as “unpledged delegates,” the lack of a close race makes this issue less relevant than in the Democratic primary.

While many “super-delegates” have cast their early support on a specific candidate for 2008, they can change their minds in the months leading up to the election. Therefore, time and money will be spent on securing the final votes of the “super-delegates.”

As candidates sprint to the finish, they’ll leave democracy in the dust, all for a group powerful individuals who are just there to call the shots.