The Superdelegate Decision
Updated: May 2, 2022
(Links to documents and articles are in underlined in blue)
The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee is tasked with the job of figuring out what to do with "superdelegates." Supers are DNC members and what they refer to as "distinguished party leaders", which are explained more in my recent blog, "Who, and What are Superdelegates". The reason they are called "super" is that each of them (about 700) basically has a "wild card" vote for president at the DNC Convention. Candidates running for president can woo and broker deals to get their vote. Journalists will contact the supers before the first primary or caucus and determine how the supers are going to vote and list those votes on the nightly news, even though the supers don't actually get to vote until the DNC convention. Supers can even completely undermine the will of the people, like they did in West Virginia in 2016, where Senator Bernie Sanders won all 55 counties. Clinton won WV with 36% of the vote even though she lost in every single county. That story titled, "West Virginia's Superdelegate Disaster" can be found here.
Most people understand the unfairness of this system since it allows party leaders to ignore the popular vote. While some DNC members think it is a great system, others recognize the unfairness or at least recognize the negative perception that the supers have. Then there are the DNC members who hate the current system and are actively working to end superdelegates and enact reforms to make the Democratic Party more democratic.
Out of the 2016 DNC Convention came a unanimous resolution to create the Unity Reform Commission (URC). The URC had several tasks, one of which was to reduce the supers to just "distinguished party leaders." Other DNC members would be "automatic" delegates to the convention, but they would have to vote proportionally to their state vote. After the URC created their recommendations, they handed off their report to the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee (RBC). The RBC will make a formal recommendation to the full DNC in August in Chicago. There are several options that they are discussing. Here are the options discussed at the DNC RBC meeting on June 8, 2018 in Providence, Rhode Island. You can listen to their discussion and debate which was livestreamed on my Facebook page. The debate starts at 1:29; it is about 2.5 hours long, but very interesting. I recommend it.
Here is my understanding of what options they are considering:
1. Do nothing and keep things the way they are currently.
2. The Unity Reform Commission recommendation - This would mean that DNC members (State Chairs, Vice Chairs, Committee Men and Women, and Dem Party organization leaders) would automatic delegates and get to go to the DNC convention, but they would have to pledge to a candidate based on how their state voted. So if candidate A won 75% of the vote and candidate B won 25% of the vote, the states pledged delegates, which would now include DNC members, would have to be divided up with 75% pledged to candidate A and 25% pledged to candidate B. All of the "distinguished party leaders" (Democratic members of Congress, Governors, Presidents and Vice-Presidents and former leaders, such as former Democratic Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Senate Majority and Minority leaders, House of Representative Majority and Minority Speakers, and lastly former Chairs of the DNC) would remain unpledged/super. Some DNC members did not like this option because they think that they may be forced to vote for someone they don't want. Some others are concerned that the supers are predominantly white males and they do not reflect the diversity of this country, and if anyone gets a "wild card" vote, it certainly shouldn't be a group of white males. Rev. Leah Daughtry spoke out about this in March 2016. She suggested that the only way that the URC option would work is if none of them (current supers) have a supervote.
3. Randi Weingarten eloquently offered the 3rd option around 1:40. Ms. Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers, stated the position of herself and Lee Saunders, President of AFSCME, who collectively represent over 3 million public employees. Ms. Weingarten proposed that the DNC and "distinguished party leaders" not vote on the first ballot, that the first vote be completely proportional to the outcome of the primaries and caucuses. In the event that this vote did not determine the nominee, there would be a second ballot and then the supers could vote. This option is refered to as the "third way."
"Why don't we have a position that NONE of the unpledged (super) delegates vote in the first ballot? That we really enable the first ballot to be what emerged from the primaries and caucuses... what emerged in this rallying nation we now have in our party... where we have so many more people who are so involved right now." ~Randi Weingarten
4. Don Fowler, previous DNC Chairman, offered a spin off of the URC recommendation. Chairman Fowler strongly feels that State Chairs are the heart of the party and suggested that in addition to the "distinguished party leaders" that Dem State Chairs and Vice Chairs be included in the unpledged/super status.
5. Chairman Fowler also offered that under the previous plan, to add 25% of the delegates to each state and that those extra delegates would be voted on by the super and pledged delegates. Apparently, this formula was used previously.
6. Barry Goodman, a DNC member from Michigan, offered the simplest (and dare I say best) option. "All delegates follow the wishes of their state. The perception (problem) is fixed. Fairness is restored."
7. 3rd way Plus - Ken Martin, Chair of the Democratic Committees Association, suggested abiding by the 3rd way option, but that IF the delegates enter the convention with a clear winner, that the automatic delegates (DNC members and distinguished party leaders) would be allowed to vote on the first ballot. This was offered after several Committee members expressed concern over not being able to vote on the first ballot. For instance, one African-American Committee woman expressed that if she was not able to vote for Barack Obama, she would have been heartbroken.
8. 3rd way Plus Plus - Maria Cardona suggested that the 3rd way Plus would not work because journalists would still contact the supers and count their vote in the banners on the nightly news, which would not fix the problem they are trying to fix, which is the perception that the supers control the outcome. FYI - all of the Committee members firmly believe that the supers have not and do not affect the outcome of the nomination. Leah Daughtry then offered a caveat that IF a candidate came to the convention with more pledged delegates than superdelegates (there are currently about 700), THEN the supers would be allowed to vote with the pledged delegates for the nominee.
After this, there was discussion about what the pool would be to determine the nominee. The nominee would need 50% + 1, but 50% of what? Just pledged delegates? Or all delegates, including the supers?
The RBC will have a public phone call on June 27, 2018 at 1PM (ET) where they will vote on the option they will recommend to the full DNC. This is a public phone call and people can RSVP at this link. A package of reforms will be presented and voted on by the full DNC on August 25, 2018 in Chicago. In the event that the RBC's recommendations do not meet the approval of the URC, the URC can object.
My opinion: My impression of the RBC is that they know they have to significantly reduce or eliminate supers. They know that the superdelegate issue is unpopular and viewed as unfair by the grassroots - both moderates and progressives. They also want to win in 2018 and 2020, and they need Bernie supporters and left-leaning Independents to vote with them. That will not happen to the degree that they need if the reform doesn't go far enough. The superdelegate issue is the most visible and controversial in the reform package. The stakes are incredibly high. They need to get this right. If we can't role model democracy, how can we lead a democracy?
Who and What are Superdelegates?:
West Virginia's Superdelegate Disaster