Democrats charged with deciding the fate of “superdelegates,” the automatic unpledged delegates criticized for their outsized influence on the party’s primary process, are closer to a final agreement on reducing their role in electing Democratic presidential nominees.
During an impassioned meeting of the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee on Friday, members argued over multiple proposals considering how, or if, superdelegates should fit into the primary process.
After more than three hours of debate, most committee members seemed satisfied with a “third way plus” plan that would only let superdelegates vote on the first ballot for president if the outcome is already predetermined by the pledged delegates.
The proposal is based on the “third way” option introduced by committee member and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Supported by Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, it originally would have only given superdelegates voting rights if there was no nominee after the first ballot, something which hasn’t occurred since 1924.
“It’s a paradigm shift to say that the unpledged delegates on that first ballot are in a different position, that the will of the nominee is going to be chosen, if chosen on the first ballot, by what the primary and caucus process produced,” Weingarten told CNN.
The “plus” part, an idea floated by Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chair Ken Martin, included finding a way for superdelegates to vote on the first ballot so long as they don’t change the outcome of the pledged delegate vote. The details are still to be finalized.
Under both plans, superdelegates would still retain regular convention responsibilities and rights, such as serving on standing committees and participating in other floor votes.
Martin suggested the idea while members representing different minorities argued passionately that taking away the superdelegates vote on the first ballot was undemocratic.
“As a black woman I will never vote to disenfranchise any member,” former interim DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile said.
Artie Blanco from Nevada recounted her father’s work on behalf of labor that inspired her own work in the party. The personal plea to preserve superdelegates’ right to vote drew a standing ovation from members, including Weingarten who originally planned to leave them out of the first ballot vote all together.
Not all members were satisfied with this proposed compromise.
Former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, a current committee member who was with the DNC when superdelegates were introduced in 1982, said he found “logical flaws” in the outline.
“Obviously there’s some confusion about the mathematics, so we’ll wait and see how that turns out,” he told CNN. “We don’t want to render any final conclusions about it until we take the vote and see how it turns out.”
The proposed changes come in response to intense criticism superdelegates received in 2016. Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders charged that Hillary Clinton’s early superdelegate support bolstered her position during the primaries, in which she beat the Vermont senator for the Democratic nomination.
There were 712 superdelegates allotted in 2016, making up about 15% of the entire delegate selection. They included Democratic members of Congress, governors and party leaders.
Though Clinton earned enough pledged delegates through the primary process to win the nomination outright, Sanders’ backers believe the sway these leaders had influenced voters to support the former secretary of state.
The contentious primary battle led to the formation of the “Unity Reform Commission” by the DNC to recommend ways to reform the nomination process.
Their report included reducing superdelegates by about 60%, which didn’t go far enough for many Sanders supporters.
Committee members also voted on language aimed at Sanders’ role in 2016. New proposed language requires presidential candidates to affirm in writing that they are members of the Democratic Party when they announce their candidacy, a proposal aimed squarely at Sanders, who has spent decades in Congress officially as an independent who caucused with Democrats.
The final recommendation of the committee is due June 30 in order to submit it to the full DNC for their August meeting in Chicago.