The Democratic party’s rules for nominating presidential candidates are deeply flawed. Unfortunately, cycle after cycle, the party has failed to make changes that would make the process more…er,…democratic. Now, with less than two years to go until the 2020 primary season, the Democratic party is looking at some alterations.
A recent article in the New York Times spells out the problem and some possible solutions:
The most significant, and divisive, step would involve reducing the role and power of superdelegates — the unpledged party insiders who are free to back any candidate regardless of how the public votes — ahead of the 2020 election. Their influence caused substantial tension two years ago when supporters of [Bernie] Sanders zeroed in on superdelegates as “undemocratic” and said they created an unfair and even rigged system favoring [Hillary] Clinton.
Now, party officials, including loyalists held over from both the Sanders and Clinton camps, are inching toward a compromise that would not only minimize the role of superdelegates but change the party’s operational structure as well.
The ideas on the table range from eliminating superdelegates altogether to reducing their numbers significantly — from more than 700 currently to about 280. Some officials said they preferred a proposal in which only elected government officials, and not party leaders, retain their superdelegate status.
…Several D.N.C. officials familiar with the negotiations said the Democrats most averse to change were state party officials and elected members of Congress who would stand to lose their coveted superdelegate status and the exclusive level of candidate access that often accompanies it.
The superdelegate structure has been in place since 1982, when some Democratic party leaders—mostly state and national elected officials—felt that they were being sidelined in the voting.
In “A Brief History of Superdelegates,” Daily Kos blogger Poblano explains that one of the original intents of having superdelegates was:
“..as a mechanism to “break glass in case of emergency”. Thus could run the gamut from providing some experienced, stabilizing voices in the event of a procedural fight on the convention floor, to potentially picking a different nominee in the event of an Eagleton-type crisis.
Party leaders will vote on the proposal to limit or eliminate superdelegates later this summer. [The Republican party does not have superdelegates.]
Other rule changes under consideration
Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic party, is also planning to work on additional changes. He is quoted in the New York Times as saying that:
“…he will set a presidential primary debate schedule much earlier in the nomination process to minimize the perception of bias. The change is another nod to the factions created by the 2016 election, when Sanders protested vehemently that the debate schedule disproportionately benefited Clinton.
The New York Times reports that Perez also plans to decide the debate schedule in advance, instead of negotiating it after all of the candidates have entered the race.
Perez has also encouraged the D.N.C. commissions that are drafting reforms to recommend changes that would streamline the process of registering to vote in primaries.
Of particular interest to Democratic leaders are state caucuses, which may now be required to accommodate absentee voting, incorporate paper ballots and publicly report statewide voter counts. States that use the traditional primary system may soon be forced to allow same-day registration for voters to register as Democrats.
All of these proposed changes will be presented at a series of party meetings over the summer. It’s sure to be an interesting and lively debate, and the outcome is far from certain. One thing is for sure, though: The 2016 presidential primary season was a debacle—for both parties—and something’s gotta give.
These changes could be a good start. Keep in mind, though, that every time the party tweaks the rules—which is not very often—there can be unintended consequences. Also, one thing that the Democratic party seems not to be addressing is the primary schedule itself—the whole Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina craziness and its disproportionate effect on the nominating process. But, alas, here we are, less than two years away from the next potential disaster, and not a peep from Democrats about this. Without a fundamental change in that schedule, we’re in for another out-of-whack primary season.