Democratic officials are considering a new proposal to effectively eliminate all superdelegates, a move that would go beyond recommendations put forward late last year by the commission tasked with making the party's presidential nominating process more fair.
Under the current system for choosing a Democratic nominee, around 700 people called “superdelegates” are entitled to their own delegate to award to the candidate of their choosing, regardless of votes cast — making up about 30% of the 2,382 delegates needed to clinch the party’s nomination. These superdelegates include members of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic elected officials, and "distinguished" party leaders like former presidents and vice presidents. Superdelegates were a major point of contention during the 2016 primary — with many supporters of Bernie Sanders arguing the system unfairly favored Hillary Clinton.
The Unity Reform Commission, formed by Sanders and Clinton to review the party’s nominating process, has since proposed a new system to effectively reduce superdelegates by about 60%: Elected officials and distinguished party leaders would remain “unpledged” superdelegates, able to cast their vote for any candidate. The remaining superdelegates, namely the 447 members of the DNC, would have their delegates “bound” to the their state’s primary or caucus vote. (In the case of a second round of voting at a Democratic convention — historically a rare occurrence in the party’s presidential nominating process — all superdelegates would be unbound.)
The 21 members of the Unity Reform Commission agreed upon the superdelegates proposal at a meeting in early December, following four lengthy gatherings over the course of seven months. Those recommendations then moved to the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee, where members were given a period of six months to put forward a set of final proposals.
In the weeks since the final Unity Reform Commission meeting, Democrats have considered going a step further — eliminating superdelegates altogether in the main convention vote.
The idea became a subject of debate here this week at a DNC meeting, where members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee engaged in a lengthy, granular back-and-forth on Thursday over language to either "reduce," "substantially reduce," or "eliminate" superdelegates.
"'Reduce' covers 'elimination,'" said Leah Daughtry, one member of the committee. "It would give us enough elbow room, enough latitude, to get to zero — if that's what we want to get to."
"I think we're leaving it open. We're saying 'reduce or eliminate,'" said committee cochair James Roosevelt III. "We're gonna reduce, but we just don't know how far we're going.”
At a youth council meeting at the DNC meeting, members pushed the idea of cutting out elected officials as superdelegates altogether. Other members expressed concern about the idea. "I'm worried that we're just going way too far on this before we decide what in fact we're going to do,” said Harold Ickes, a longtime DNC member who sits on the Rules and Bylaws Committee.
One DNC member from California, Bob Mulholland, circulated a memo late Wednesday night ahead of the meeting outlining his opposition to the idea. “I understand that one proposal before the DNC Rules Committee is to deny uncommitted Delegates (Members of Congress, DNC Members, Governors, former Presidents and DNC Chairs) the RIGHT TO VOTE in our presidential nominations at our National Conventions, on the first vote,” the memo begins. “In other words, Presidents Obama, Clinton, and Carter would be told they cannot vote for our next President and they would be escorted to the nosebleed section of the arena.”
Mulholland, a DNC member since 1992, sent the document to DNC chair Tom Perez, DNC deputy chair Keith Ellison, and members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee. In the memo, he noted that the Democratic nominating process hasn’t required a second ballot since 1952.
“Thus, the proponents of this absurd and undemocratic idea are deliberately trying to mislead people,” Mulholland writes. “This proposal means that every Democrat, whether a member of Congress or a DNC member or a governor, would be physically blocked from voting for a presidential nominee.”
Reached by phone on Thursday, Mulholland said he has not heard back from Perez or Ellison.
Members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee expect to agree on a proposal ahead of the next Democratic Party meeting this summer or fall for a final vote.
To pass, the changes need two-thirds support among all 447 DNC members.
“We anticipate that the majority of the resolutions will be adopted, but this summer is when things will actually get amended,” said Rules and Bylaws Committee cochair Lorraine Miller.
Ruby Cramer is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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Ryan C. Brooks is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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