Tom Perez
CNN  — 

Democrats charged with reworking the “superdelegate” system took a big step Wednesday to change the way candidates will win the party’s nomination for president.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee met by telephone and voted in principle on a measure that would severely limit the influence superdelegates have on the nominating process, ensuring candidates earn the nomination through delegates won through primaries and caucuses.

Under the proposal, superdelegates, who are typically party leaders and officials, would not be able to vote on the first ballot for the presidential nominee at the DNC’s convention unless a candidate has already earned enough pledged delegates to win the nod outright without superdelegates. The measure prevents superdelegates from delivering a victory to a candidate on the first ballot who hasn’t won enough delegates during the primary process.

The DNC secretary would certify the primary and caucus results after the final state contests to determine if superdelegates would be eligible for a first ballot vote.

The changes stem from the deep lack of trust Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters had for superdelegates during his 2016 run for president against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The early support of superdelegates was viewed by Sanders’ supporters as having tipped the scale for Clinton.

“We have to make sure that we work to rebuild the trust among many who feel frankly alienated from our party,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said during the call supporting the proposal. “No automatic delegate will cast a first-ballot vote unless the nomination has already been decided.”

Sanders, who has not announced his plans for 2020, applauded the decision.

“This decision will ensure that delegates elected by voters in primaries and caucuses will have the primary role in selecting the Democratic Party’s nominee at the 2020 convention,” he said in a statement through his Senate campaign. “This is a major step forward in making the Democratic Party more open and transparent, and I applaud their action. ”


SCENARIO ONE: A candidate earns a majority of ALL delegates – pledged, super, etc.

OUTCOME: All delegates can vote on the first ballot for president.

SCENARIO TWO: A candidate earns a majority of PLEDGED delegates only.

OUTCOME: Only pledged delegates vote on the first ballot for president. The candidate with a majority of pledged delegates would then become the Party’s nominee.

SCENARIO THREE: No candidate earns a majority of either pledged or all delegates (for example, if three candidates win delegates and stay in until the convention).

OUTCOME: Only pledged delegates vote on the first ballot.

Pledged delegates could still change their votes to avoid a second ballot if their candidate drops out and “releases” them, in which case they could vote for their personal preference.

If no candidate wins on the first ballot in scenario two or three, superdelegates would be eligible to vote on all ballots proceeding. All delegates become unpledged after the first vote. The last Democratic convention to go beyond the first ballot was 1952.

The committee was nearly unanimous in its decision to support the proposal, with 27 of its 29 members supporting it, with one abstention and one against.

Don Fowler, the former DNC chair who has been with the DNC when superdelegates were created after the 1980 election, firmly opposed the decision.

“I find it a little ludicrous to take seriously the notion that if the majority is attained on first ballot, then the automatic delegates will get a chance to vote for something that will be truly meaningless,” he said. “If you take the vote away from members of the DNC, state chairs and vice chairs and other members, you will find that the quality of the DNC members and the state chairs and vice chairs over a period of time will decrease because there won’t be as much value in spending time with the party on behalf of the party.”

Some members said on the call they were supporting the proposal, even though they think the superdelegates haven’t changed the outcome of a Democratic nomination process in the past but recognize the public distrust they have caused.

The committee will officially certify this proposal next month, which will then be put to the entire DNC in August to implement the change beginning with the 2020 election.

Some members of Congress, who are superdelegates by virtue of their role in Congress, have met with Perez previously to protest the changes proposed that led to Wednesday’s vote.

“We all agree that there needs to be reform, but I’m disappointed with this too-complicated plan,” North Carolina Rep. David Price said in a statement to CNN. Price was executive director of the Hunt commission that led to the creation of superdelegates after the 1980 election.

“There are ways to reduce the number of unpledged delegates significantly, without denying any delegate their vote,” he said. “I regret that the Rules and Bylaws Committee chose otherwise.”

CNN’s Dan Merica contributed to this report.