DNC Changes Rules to “Strip” Entrenched Insider Superdelegate Powers

2016 DNC Photo by JefParker.

On Saturday at a Democratic National Committee meeting in Chicago, party officials voted on a measure to “strip superdelegates of much of their power in the presidential nominating process, infuriating many traditionalists while handing a victory to the party’s left flank,” Politico reported.

For newly elected DNC Chair Tom Perez, who was an Assistant AG for Civil Rights during the Obama administration from October 2009-July 2013, then served as Barack Obama’s Secretary of Labor from July 2013-January 2017, it was seen as “a big victory for the base of the party” under Perez’s leadership.

Former governor of Vermont and a former DNC chair Howard Dean said the measure was “an urgent response to the will of grassroots voters.”

“Under the new rule, superdelegates…will not be allowed to vote on the first ballot at a contested national convention. The change could dramatically re-shape the calculus of future presidential campaigns, rendering candidates’ connections to superdelegates less significant,” Politico reports.

The superdelegates are now only allowed to vote in the first round if the candidate earned enough pledged delegates from their states’ primaries and caucuses.

According to a CNN report, “candidates will no longer be able to count superdelegates if they want to win the party’s nominations on the first ballot of voting at the convention.”

However, what didn’t change, though not from lack of trying, is superdelegates will still be “free to campaign and endorse the candidate of their choice during the primary process,” they will have “complete floor access” during the convention, and will remain ‘eligible to serve on rules, platform, and credential committees.”

“Today is a [sic] historic day for our party,” Perez said in a statement, “We passed major reforms that will not only put our next presidential nominee in the strongest position possible, but will help us elect Democrats up and down the ballot … will help grow our party, unite Democrats, and restore voters’ trust…”

The measure is being seen as a conclusion of what has been a ‘tense summer meeting’ as DNC party insiders continued to clash with activists over their 2016 National Convention where “superdelegates that year largely sided with Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, enraging Sanders’ supporters.”

The primaries and caucuses and the run up to the July 2016 DNC convention to nominate their party’s presidential hopeful was a contentious battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters along with major confusion among many of Sanders’ grassroot and activist supporters about who and what superdelegates represented exasperating an already heated fight.

Democrat Party superdelegates, what are also referred to as ‘unpledged delegates’, can support and vote for whoever they want as opposed to ‘pledged delegates’ who are democratically elected officials throughout states’ party’s primaries and caucuses who represent the will of those voters.

(For a reminder of what delegates are and how our framers set up our constitutional system to elect our president can be found here in TNB’s Steve Wood’s ‘The People are Sovereign” Essay Series; Essay 16 – The Electoral College.)

According to an article by Ben Jacobs writing for The Guardian in July 2016, titled, “Who are the Democratic superdelegates and where did they come from?” the DNC created superdelegates in the 1980’s after a “bitter battle” ensued over their nomination between incumbent Jimmy Carter and Senator Ted Kennedy. At that time it was seen as a reaction to what was seen as ‘dramatic’ rule changes that bore out of the infamous Chicago DNC National Convention of 1968.

Some Democratic Party superdelegates are automatically seated, Jacobs writes, and some are seated for life, such as those who are former DNC presidents, vice presidents, DNC chair or who have been selected in either chamber of Congress as the Democratic leader. Others include those who are elected as a Democratic governor, senator, or congressman, or ones who are part of the 438 members of the DNC known as a “party loyalists or powerbrokers,” – none of which are elected in Democratic primaries or caucuses 

At that time, many insiders within the party took to the airwaves or newsprints in attempts try to help explain to Democrat party voters how their nominating process worked. One such example was from ousted DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz who went on CNN with Jake Tapper – after Clinton lost in New Hampshire to Sanders by 22% and it became apparent to Sanders’ voters Clinton would receive ‘superdelegate’ votes which would basically usurp Sanders’ win there – to ‘clarify’ why superdelegates exist.

“Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists… and to give every opportunity to grassroots activists and diverse committed Democrats to be able to participate, attend, and be a delegate at the convention and so we separate out those unpledged delegates to make sure there isn’t competition between them.”

Tapper responds, “I’m not sure that would, that answer would, satisfy the anxious young voter.”

In an ‘old guard vs new guard’ sentiment, Politico goes on to say of Saturday’s meeting, fierce opposition to the measure came from superdelgate insides who see their powers being striped as them now being the ones disenfranchised after years of being party loyalists ‘who earned privileges,’ like DNC’s vice chair Karen Carter Peterson who is also her party’s state chair in Louisiana.

“Are you telling me that I’m going to go to a convention, after my 30 years of blood, sweat, and tears for this party, that you’re going to take away my right?” she said, raising her voice. “Are you so worried about building and gaining the trust of one group at the expense of losing the trust of another? Did you hear me? Losing the trust of another.”

Donna Brazile, who took over as DNC chair after Wasserman-Schultz’s ouster, said, “This vote to strip superdelegates, unpledged delegates, automatic delegates, whatever you want to call us of our voice on the first ballot is inconsistent with our charter.” While waiting on vote results, Politico reports, “she [Brazile] strolled past media tables, saying, ‘I’m going to see how they’re counting the votes. I’m gonna make sure it isn’t Chicago style.”

For other rules changes such as: Declaring yourself Democrat; Caucus Overhauls; Transparency; and Gender Inclusion and a brief description of each, along with a primer on “How to win the Democratic nomination for president,” go to CNN’s report and scroll down.

In the end, while appearing to appeal to the grassroot activists by presenting themselves as ‘less beholden’ to insider powerbrokers, CNN goes on to say, that between those for or against this measure an “overwhelming majority on both sides came together to show their determination to win back Congress and the White House…”


Fun Fact for the Day Side Note (Opinion)

Out of the chaos that erupted in Chicago in their 1968 presidential nomination convention, where grassroots and activists of that era known as the ‘Youth International Party,’ otherwise known as ‘Yippies,’ who were protesting their exclusion in the DNC convention outside, nominated for president of the United States Pegasus the Pig, a pun on the party and its leaders using the winged horse Pegasus from Greek mythology and the saying, ‘When pigs fly.’

Chaos ensued, people and pig were arrested, and to this day there are conflicting stories about what really happened to Pegasus the Pig, candidate for President of the United States.

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