Democrats will keep fighting over “superdelegates” – a leading symbol of the divisions left over from the 2016 presidential race – for at least five more months.
Democratic National Committee members voted Saturday to accept a recommendation to “revise the role and reduce the perceived influence” of superdelegates.
What that actually means, though, is a question the party is unlikely to resolve until this summer.
Bernie Sanders-aligned DNC members cast Saturday’s vote as progress, and said they ultimately want to effectively eliminate all superdelegates.
“We knew it wasn’t going to get resolved here,” said Larry Cohen, the chairman of Sanders’ political organization Our Revolution.
The generic recommendation came after the DNC’s Unity Reform Commission – a 21-member panel of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters created to ease the tensions lingering from the 2016 campaign – spent 2017 crafting a series of recommendations that included a 60% reduction in superdelegates. That proposal would allow elected officials and former presidents and vice presidents to retain their status – but the DNC’s 447 voting members would be “bound” to their state’s results.
In Washington for their annual winter meeting, the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee spent Thursday and Friday nights locked in a granular debate over the language of a report it would deliver to the full DNC on moving forward on the commission’s recommendations.
Those meetings revealed both major and minor differences on the role superdelegates should play in the 2020 nominating contest. On Thursday night, the rules committee spent 45 minutes on whether to refer to superdelegates’ “influence” or “perceived influence” on the nominating process. By Friday night, members had broken out bottles of wine.
It’s now up to the Rules and Bylaws Committee to hammer out the details by the end of June and present recommendations to the full DNC at its summer meeting in August.
On Saturday, Democratic leaders hailed the vote on language calling for fewer superdelegates as a milestone.
They cast Saturday’s vote as progress. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the Sanders-aligned DNC deputy chair, said the committee’s 447 members voted to “take some power that they have and spread it around and share it with others.”
Others argued that superdelegates – in many cases, loyal party activists for years – are being unfairly maligned.
“To somehow characterize us as some kind of secret elite has been a great disservice,” said Elaine Kamarck, a rules committee member.
Democrats supportive of superdelegates retaining some role argued that they ensure diversity within the delegate ranks.
“I think many folks got caught up in it because of 2016. They became the symbol of the many things that went wrong,” said Tina Podlodowski, the Washington state Democratic chairwoman.
The role of about 700 superdelegates became a flashpoint in the 2016 battle between Clinton — who had racked up many of their early endorsements — and Sanders, who argued those superdelegates’ presence thwarted the democratic process. Clinton still won the unpledged delegates she needed to clinch the nomination even without superdelegates. But Sanders’ supporters still argue that their endorsements created the perception that there was no way the Vermont senator could catch up with Clinton.
Clinton issued a statement after the DNC’s vote.
“I applaud the members of the Democratic National Committee for continuing the important work of the Unity Reform Commission to ensure a greater role of primaries in our nominating process; promote practices like same day registration to make it easier for people to join our party; and ensure that we continue to build strong Democratic Party structures to maximize the number of Democrats participating throughout the nation.”
Other recommendations included in the report are expanding the use of primaries rather than caucuses; implementing same-day voter registration and party switching; making caucuses more accessible; and pulling back the curtain on the party’s fundraising and finance agreements with candidates.