The Democrats, a party chronically short on good ideas, seem to have finally stumbled across one: getting rid of superdelegates altogether.
BuzzFeed reported Thursday night about a proposal circulating within the party that would go beyond what the Unity Reform Commission, formed by Clinton and Bernie Sanders to review the party’s nomination process, had recommended. That group had proposed cutting the number of superdelegates by about 60%, with party elites remaining “unpledged”—or able to vote for whoever they want at the convention—and the other roughly 450 superdelegates bound to vote based on the will of the voters.
But now some Democrats are saying that’s not enough. From BuzzFeed:
In the weeks since the final Unity Reform Commission meeting, Democrats have considered going a step further — eliminating superdelegates altogether in the main convention vote.
The idea became a subject of debate here this week at a DNC meeting, where members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee engaged in a lengthy, granular back-and-forth on Thursday over language to either “reduce,” “substantially reduce,” or “eliminate” superdelegates.
“‘Reduce’ covers ‘elimination,’” said Leah Daughtry, one member of the committee. “It would give us enough elbow room, enough latitude, to get to zero — if that’s what we want to get to.”
This proposal is being taken up by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, where its fate remains unclear. As BuzzFeed reported, one DNC member from California, Bob Mulholland, circulated a memo calling the idea “absurd and undemocratic.”
Exactly like the party’s current superdelegate system!
The scourge of superdelegates is a uniquely Democratic problem. Republicans only allow three superdelegates from each state, whereas the Democrats had more than 700 of them in 2016. These superdelegates are not bound to the voters’ will and can choose whichever candidate they want come convention time.
During the primary, plenty of Sanders supporters and left-wing members of the party argued that superdelegates handed the nomination to Clinton, an argument that, while not totally wrong, doesn’t tell the whole story. But superdelegates are still a deft instrument for the party’s establishment to wield huge influence over the selection of the party’s nominee. They operate as a kind of failsafe for preventing the will of Democratic voters from mattering too much, giving the establishment enormous leeway to, say, steer the race back toward their preferred candidate after the primaries end.
It’s worth noting that Sanders was behind in pledged delegates by the time the convention rolled around, meaning that at the ballot box, voters were picking Clinton instead. But to win the nomination at the convention, Clinton or Sanders needed a simple majority of 2,383 delegates. That includes 712 superdelegates—nearly one-third of the votes needed to win. The majority of them backed Clinton before voting ever began.
The process took on an even more unsavory flavor in 2016, when superdelegates anonymously declared Clinton the party’s nominee through the media ahead of the convention, before California’s voters had had their say.
Any move the Democrats can make to cut party elites, corporate influencers, and actual lobbyists out of the nominating process would be a step in the right direction, period. Getting rid of superdelegates entirely would do just that, while offering an olive branch to left-wing members of the party still feeling rightfully burned by the other ways the primary process was tilted against their preferred candidate.
Of course, since this is such a no-brainer, the smart money is on the Democrats not going through with it.