Editor’s Note: Tom Perez is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Keith Ellison is the US representative for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District and the deputy chair of the DNC. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.
Trust holds families together, and our Democratic family is no exception. As we enter the final meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s Unity Reform Commission, where members will vote on proposals to reform the Democratic Party, we must focus on ensuring that voters across the nation trust our party.
As chair and deputy chair of the DNC, we are committed to ensuring that our party is inclusive, forward-looking and bold in prescribing an alternative to President Donald Trump’s destructive policies and his politics of divisiveness and deception. We know Democrats can win big in 2018 and 2020, just as we did this year in New Jersey, Virginia and across the country – but we know we can only do that by rebuilding trust with those who share our progressive vision for America and by addressing concerns many have raised in recent years.
Democrats can win big if we’re united, and we know that can only happen by healing divisions that still linger from last year’s bruising presidential nominating contest.
This has never been more important. This is one of the biggest stress tests our democracy has ever faced. Middle-class families and the working poor have not shared in the Wall Street boom. The Koch brothers and their band of ultra-conservative billionaire friends continue to assert an already outsize influence on our elections.
Republicans are leading a coordinated, nationwide effort of voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering, both of which threaten the right of the American people to exercise power over their government and hold their representatives accountable. And there is growing evidence that the Russian government and the Trump campaign may have conspired to interfere with the 2016 election.
We’ve made considerable progress over the past year, but there is no doubt that we have a long way to go. We believe Democrats can win everywhere if we organize and lead with our values. That’s why we’ve implemented our “Every ZIP Code Counts” strategy and changed the DNC’s mission so that we’re no longer just focused on electing the president, but on electing all Democrats from the school board to the Oval Office.
Rather than spending money on TV, we’ve focused our efforts on organizing and connecting directly with voters. In fact, through our Resistance Summer program, the new Democratic Party knocked on more than 1 million doors to invite Americans of all walks of life to join us. We made historic investments in Virginia, New Jersey, and in mayoral and legislative races that helped pay big dividends with our major victories last month.
The challenge that lies ahead is to build on the successes of 2017 and continue the progress we’re making to rebuild our party, organize, modernize and win. We have opportunities at every level in 2018. We can win back governorships and state legislatures. And we’re looking to 2020 to make sure the process is as fair and transparent as possible.
In addition to our commitment and in advance of the Unity Reform Commission’s report, we also want to express support for additional reforms that will help ensure the 2020 presidential primary is the most fair, transparent and successful in our history.
We will not win the future by re-litigating the past. But we do have to learn from our past mistakes. That’s why we hope DNC members and our Unity Reform Commission will vote to pass the following reforms:
Fair and transparent primary process
It’s critically important that the DNC doesn’t put its thumb on the scale – in perception or reality – or that any primary candidate has an unfair advantage. As chair and deputy chair we also believe that we must ensure:
• No party officer should be allowed to support, endorse or favor any candidate in the primary process.
• The debate schedule is decided in advance, instead of negotiating it after all our candidates have entered the race.
• Any and all joint fundraising agreements will be transparent and available to all official campaigns.
In addition, we need to give voters more opportunity to participate in our primaries. In too many states, deadlines to change one’s party affiliation are months before voter registration deadlines. This doesn’t make sense and only hurts voters by forcing them to choose their affiliation long before Election Day.
These reforms should be part of our broader efforts to make it easier for eligible people to vote. At the DNC, we’ve been hard at work challenging the Republican assault on voting rights across the country. But we must work with states to implement policies that make it easier to vote, including vote-by-mail laws, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, expanded access to the polls and more robust voter protection efforts.
Making caucuses more accessible
There are too many working people, members of the military, older Americans and students who are left out and not able to make their voices heard at their caucuses because of work, child care or other obligations. That’s unacceptable. We can and we must do better. That is why it’s critical that the Unity Reform Commission provide recommendations that acknowledge the grass-roots benefit of the caucus process while also finding ways for those who have been excluded on caucus nights to have their votes counted.
‘Super delegate’ reform
In 2016, unpledged delegates, or what some call “super delegates,” made up almost 15% of all delegates at the national convention. To create a fairer process for all candidates and empower grass-roots voters, it is critical that the Unity Reform Commission provide recommendations that uphold the mandate passed by the 2016 Democratic National Convention and provide for a significant reduction in the number of unpledged delegates. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders both agreed on this mandate.
Reforming our party
If we want Democrats to win and stay in power, we have to reform our party in ways that rebuild it from the ground up. A unified Democratic Party is a party that understands that every ZIP code counts and there’s no such thing as an off-year. We’ve already begun making new investments in our state parties and down-ballot races, and our efforts have helped Democrats secure critical victories – from Virginia and New Jersey to Oklahoma and New Hampshire.
In addition, we must continue to empower diverse grass-roots Democrats at the leadership table. We will build on our recent successes with small-dollar fundraising. And we changed our rules in October to ban corporate donations from political action committees whose goals conflict with our platform. We look forward to finding new ways to make sure we are supporting candidates and state parties across the country in order to succeed in 2017, 2018, and beyond.
The DNC has come a long way since the 2016 election, but we know we have much further to go to earn the trust of voters and bring more people into the electoral process. We have our values and the support of the vast majority of the American people by our side. And when we lead with those values, we win.
The Unity Reform Commission is making our nomination process fairer for all. This work is critical to empowering voters, strengthening our party, and ensuring that Democrats are successful in 2018, 2020 and beyond.