The End of Superdelegates? The Beginning of Unity? We will see.
Updated: May 2, 2022
I've been waiting for something to happen for a really long time, and it took a big step forward recently.
The Democratic Party has some really bad rules; some good ones, too, but they have some really, really bad rules. The worst of the bad rules is "superdelegates." If you don't know what a superdelegate is, you can read about Who, and What Are Superdelegates? here, and about West Virginia's Superdelegate Disaster here. Basically, superdelegates have enormous power that they can yield to overturn the will of voters and use their vote to gain political favor and position. The concept is very UNdemocratic and the irony is rich in a party labeled the Democratic Party.
To be fair, the Democratic Party leaders know they have a serious problem. Without knowing the specifics, I feel very confident that they have polled the superdelegate issue extensively and realized that they cannot ignore the vehement call to end superdelegates, at least not if they want to win a presidential election again. That might not be the best reason to change course, but they want to change, and I support that wholeheartedly.
So, what happened recently? On June 27, 2018 the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) passed a recommendation that will be presented to the full DNC for consideration on August 25, 2018. They recommend that superdelegates play no part in the presidential nominee selection unless the primaries and caucuses don't yield a clear winner. Here are the details as I understand them:
1. There would be 2 classes of delegates: "Pledged" delegates from the states and territories and "automatic" (formerly superdelegates) delegates who are DNC members and Democratic members of Congress, Governors, ex-Presidents, etc.
2. Only pledged delegates will determine the outcome of the nomination as long as they have 50%+1 of the pledged delegate vote. So, from an imaginary pool of 1000 pledged delegates, Candidate A would need to have 501 pledged delegates. They win. At the DNC convention, only the pledged delegates vote, unless....
3. In the event that Candidate A has so many pledged delegates that even if all the automatic delegates voted, they could not change the outcome of the vote, only then would the automatic delegates be allowed to vote on the first ballot. The reasoning is that they really want to vote for the nominee that they support, but don't want the impression that they can sway an election. In our previous imaginary example, say there are 1000 pledged delegates and 200 automatic delegates, for a total of 1200 delegates. For the automatics to be eligible to vote, the lead candidate must have 601 delegates, which is 50% of 1200 + 1. So, if the lead candidate had 501 to 600 pledged delegates, the automatic delegates would not vote. If the lead candidate had 601 or more, the automatic delegates would be able to vote because their vote couldn't change the outcome.
4. What if there are 3 or more candidates and no one gets to 501? Here's the problem. If the lead candidate A has 499 delegates, candidate B has 300 candidates and candidate C has 201 delegates, then no one would come to the convention with a win. At that time, the automatic delegates would be able to vote on the first ballot and could decide the nomination. While the likelihood of this option happening may be slim, the rules do allow for this to happen.
5. Automatic delegates retain the right to participate in all the convention activities such as convention floor access, voting on platform, rules, credentials and resolutions.
Under the recommendation that long-time DNC member, Elaine Kamarck, made, there would be much less likelihood of automatic delegates stacking the delegate count before the primary season begins, like what happened in 2008 and 2016. This won't limit the automatic delegates from endorsing candidates, but hopefully it will keep the nightly news from listing not-yet-cast-votes on the delegate count ticker, since the new rule doesn't allow them to override the results of the primaries and caucuses (fingers crossed on this point).
Personally, I think this is a huge win for anyone who felt cheated by the superdelegates in the past. It's important to note that the 30 people on the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee were all hand-picked by Chairman Tom Perez, after removing all of the people that supported Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016. I imagined the RBC would create a blood bath of democracy when I first learned of their appointments. However, they have surprised me. I feel certain they spent an enormous amount of money on polling the grassroots on this subject to arrive at this conclusion, but at least they got there. The RBC will convene in July to see how the wording fits into some of their official documents and then present their list of reform recommendations to the full DNC in Chicago on August 25, 2018.
What do we do now? We contact our DNC members and tell them that we want them to vote in support of the Rules and Bylaws reform recommendations. Elaine Kamarck, who was on the Hunt Commission, which created superdelegates in 1981, worked as a senior advisor to President Bill Clinton, and initially supported no changes to superdelegates, was the person that made the motion that passed to basically eliminate superdelegates. If she can come 180 degrees, anyone can. Kamarck came to this decision by understanding that "the grassroots" (both moderate and progressive) hate the idea of superdelegates and view them as unfair, and she wants to build party unity for the 2018 and 2020 elections, which are critically important.
If you belong to a Democratic organization like Young Dems, Federation of Democratic Women, or your local county Democratic Executive Committee, write and pass a resolution calling for your DNC members to vote to support the Rules and Bylaws recommendations. In the event that these recommendations don't go far enough for you, we have one really great option. We #BecomeTheDNC and make the changes that we want. I will not pretend this is a perfect situation; it's not. However, because we paid attention and we expressed our concern about the unfair and undemocratic actions of the Democratic Party, now the situation is changing. We made that happen. Never forget that. Will they try to put the superdelegates back in place later? Yes, I think they will if we aren't paying attention. Elaine Kamarck said, "I believe this is the best thing for the party right now." I take that to mean she thinks the supers, or something similar, may be appropriate at a later time. That means we have to keep paying attention. We #BecomeTheDNC
UPDATE: On July 11, 2018 the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee voted to allow automatic delegates to run as pledged delegates if they choose. However, by running they lose their automatic delegate status. What that means is that if an automatic delegate runs as a pledged delegate and loses, they will not be a delegate to the convention. If they win, they will be pledged to their candidate on the first ballot.