The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus blasted proposed changes to Democratic “superdelegate” rules that would limit their ability to vote on the first ballot for the party’s presidential nominees.
In a letter to Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez dated Monday, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond wrote on behalf of “many” of his colleagues in the caucus to urge him to withdraw support of the changes to be voted on at the party’s meeting at the end of the month.
“There should be enough room in the process to include the perspective of local party activists and officials, and Members of Congress. One group should not be harmed at the expense of the other,” Richmond wrote. “Passage of the reforms in their current form would disenfranchise elected officials for no substantive reason and would create unnecessary competition between those elected and their constituents.”
The proposed plan – known as the “third way plus” option – does not allow superdelegates to vote at the convention for the presidential nominee on the first ballot unless a candidate has been certified to have earned a majority of the entire convention through pledged delegates only. This ensures superdelegates could not change the outcome of the nomination process on the first ballot, which detractors of the plan point out has never happened since they were created in the 1980s.
During the 2016 nomination process, superdelegates – who made up about 15% of all delegates at the convention – came under intense criticism by supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders. They argued that Hillary Clinton’s early superdelegate support bolstered her position during the primaries, in which she beat the Vermont senator for the Democratic nomination.
The contentious primary battle led to the formation of the “Unity Reform Commission” by the DNC to recommend ways to reform the nomination process to the Rules and Bylaws Committee. Their report included reducing superdelegates by about 60%, which didn’t go far enough for many Sanders supporters, leaving committee members to find a stronger option that eventually became the current proposal.
Many committee members commented during these meetings that the frustration was mostly a perception problem, but they still looked for common ground among activists angered by the process to ensure they felt included by the new changes.
While the debate about the rules was strong and sometimes contentious, of the over two dozen members representing a diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds on the committee, the only votes to abstain from supporting the plan were from former party chairs Don Fowler and Donna Brazile. In the final vote, no member voted outright to oppose recommending the plan to the full DNC.
Richmond, who wrote the plan appears to be “a solution in search of a problem,” is one of a handful of members of Congress who have been lobbying Perez and other DNC members to oppose this, arguing that limiting the superdelegate role does not embolden activists.
“[W]e do not think the effort to empower local leaders in the nomination process is served well by diminishing the power of Members of Congress,” Richmond wrote. “Authors of the reforms have stated they seek to ensure that delegates elected by voters in primaries and caucuses have the primary role in selecting the Party’s nominees. This aim ignores the fact that voters elect Members of Congress every two and six years. There is no reason to honor one election and not the other.”
A group of DNC members, led by Fowler, have been in discussions with party members about the plan looking for other members who oppose the proposal.
Fowler, who was on the original commission that created the superdelegate system, lambasted the plan to CNN last month, saying, “It is regressive, it is not a reform. It’s regressive.”
He estimated hundreds of African-American, Latino, LGBTQ, and handicap superdelegates would be affected by the change.
“That doesn’t sound like reform to me,” Fowler said.
He’s also accused DNC members of not following proper legal procedure to alter their rules. The rules committee, along with DNC counsel Graham Wilson, agreed that the superdelegate changes would be a bylaws change which only requires a majority vote of DNC members.
Fowler argues the changes need to be included into the DNC’s charter, which would require a two-thirds vote at their upcoming meeting, which most members think would not be possible to attain.
He told CNN he would challenge this ruling on the DNC floor during the upcoming vote.
The full DNC meeting will take place in Chicago at the end of the month. Should the proposal fail, Democrats will either abide by the rules that governed the 2016 election or scramble for a new option to have a delegate process in place ahead of next year, when candidates for 2020 will start openly campaigning for president (and delegates).