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Democrats scale back the power of superdelegates at the 2020 convention

Author: Washington Examiner - August 25, 2018 - Updated: September 13, 2018

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In this Nov. 3, 2016, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., appear on stage at a rally in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

By Laura Barrón-López, Washington Examiner

CHICAGO — Two years after the gruesome presidential primary season of 2016 left Democrats bitterly divided, the Democratic National Committee adopted major reforms Saturday to reduce the outsized influence of unpledged delegates, known as superdelegates.

In a majority vote, the DNC passed a measure to block superdelegates — elected officials and other party leaders — from casting a vote for any presidential candidate unless a second ballot is required at the 2020 national convention — something that hadn’t happened since since the 1970s, when the modern system of primaries and caucuses was established.

In 2016, superdelegates included Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and the state’s Democratic U.S. House members.

The change comes after supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., asserted that superdelegates gave rival Hillary Clinton an unfair advantage in 2016, creating a perception that she had the nomination sewn up before the primaries.

That’s despite the fact that Clinton got almost 4 million more primary and caucus votes than Sanders, giving her a clear lead in pledged delegates heading into the Philadelphia convention.

Still, many superdelegates had declared their loyalty early in the process — even before primary season began — allowing Clinton to claim the mantle of a prohibitive favorite.

The reforms codified Saturday, which dramatically change the way the party picks its presidential nominee, were backed by supporters of both Clinton and Sanders.

Other adopted changes include making caucuses more accessible to those with disabilities or unable to physically attend a caucus.

“We cannot repair the damage that has been done and we can’t restore the freedoms that have been taken away unless we can win elections,” said American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders, referring to the Trump administration. “That means we must have a nominating process that leads to victory in 2020 and beyond.”

“These aren’t radical or revolutionary reforms,” Saunders added. “But it will go a long way toward restoring trust in our party.”

At the 2016 Democratic convention, there were more than 700 superdelegates, just under 15 percent of all delegates, according to the Pew Research Center. Of those, 432 were DNC members, 193 were U.S. representatives, 47 were U.S. senators and 21 were governors, Pew estimated.

The changes didn’t come without drama, however. Cries for unity, claims that minority members were being disenfranchised, and accusations of secrecy circulated among members at the three-day gathering in Chicago.

The meeting, which included starstruck Democrats cooing over Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti as he worked the event for two days, culminated in a tense general session where the full committee voted on the proposed reforms.

As the full committee met to vote on a revised package that emerged from the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee after months of negotiations, opponents of the superdelegate reforms mounted a last-minute effort to tank the vote.

Preventing unpledged delegates from voting on the first ballot at a convention, former DNC chair Don Fowler charged, would disenfranchise 200 black, 100 Latino, and a dozen LGBTQ superdelegates.

“The Democratic Party has been the engine for conveying the vote to African-Americans, to women, to LGBTQ people and all other Americans,” said Fowler. “We have been the engine to spread democracy and now we’re going to turn around and take democracy away from these folks. It’s not right and it’s not fit for the Democratic party to do that.”

In an impassioned plea, Karen Carter Peterson, vice chair of civic engagement and voter participation with the DNC, accused the party of taking away a vote she worked decades to earn.

“You’re telling me that I’m going to go to a convention after 30 years of blood, sweat and tears for this party, (and) that you’re going to take away my right?” shouted Carter Peterson, who refused to step down when she went over her allotted time.

Wandering over to reporters seated at the back of a conference room in the underbelly of Chicago’s Hyatt Regency, interim chair of the DNC during the 2016 election Donna Brazile remarked, “Politics is supposed to about addition, not subtraction.”

“I support the reforms that will expand participation, that will ensure that our caucuses are more accessible, but I believe every delegate whether you’re pledged or unpledged, whether you are automatic or pledged should have the same rights,” Brazile said.

Despite efforts by opposition forces, which included Brazile and Fowler, to delay the vote by raising questions regarding the DNC’s charter and obscure rules, the measure to limit superdelegates passed.

“In recent years, many voters especially young people who fuel our party and share our values lost faith in our party’s nominating process, and make no mistake, this is a perception that’s cost us at the ballot box,” Howard Dean said in a video message. “If we want to grow our party and win, we need to look in the mirror.”

The Associated Press and Colorado Politics contributed.

Washington Examiner

Washington Examiner