For the past three decades, state by state and county by county, the Democratic Party has been involved in almost perpetual litigation against Republican efforts to create barriers to voting—including identification requirements, reduced numbers of polling stations, and restrictions to early and no-fault absentee voting. The Democrats have consistently argued that voting is a fundamental right and any barriers should be eliminated. If only the Party would apply the same principles to our own primary process.
We in the Democratic Party lose our moral standing when, on one hand, we reduce barriers to voting in general elections, and then, during the primaries — when we are in complete control of the rules — make it more difficult and less equal for people to choose our party’s nominees. Here a couple of suggested reforms to bring our primary system in line with our values:
As an increasing number of state parties have made clear, the use of unpledged delegates or superdelegates in the Democratic primaries is fundamentally undemocratic. These delegates, who make up roughly one fifth of the total number of delegates, can vote for any candidate regardless of who won the popular vote. In my eyes, these delegates need either to be dissolved or required to vote for whichever candidate has the most total popular votes going into the convention. This would not have changed the outcome for this presidential primary, but may have removed some of unnecessary frustration and animus in the campaign between Clinton and Sanders.
Less talked about, but also problematic is the caucus system. Although seemingly democratic, it also creates unnecessary barriers to voters who have children or rigid work and school schedules, and can’t make time to physically go to the local school gymnasium midday and wait in line for hours — thus disenfranchising the working poor and people with disabilities — the exact population we blame Republicans for targeting with their restrictions on voting. Caucuses also entail an atmosphere of peer pressure, as the votes cast there are not anonymous, which is antithetical to international standards for a free and fair election. If the Republicans proposed caucuses for a general election, the Democratic Party would most certainly vociferously complain and sue to have it stopped.
Finally, approximately 40 percent of the U.S. electorate are Independents or decline to state, and in my home state of California, they are the fastest growing political affiliation. By not allowing these voters to participate in the closed Democratic primaries, we risk alienating the general election voters we need to win, and reducing the relevance of our candidates. It’s not long before an independent candidate capitalizes on this trend with the simple argument that if the Democratic Party doesn’t care enough about you to let you vote, why should you care about their nominees?
If we were to eliminate these three components: superdelegates, the caucus system, and closed primaries, we’d end up with a candidate with broader support going into the general election, and most of all, ensure that the Democratic Party stands consistently for democracy.
Now is the time to act. The political self-interest of the candidates and their supporters is as reduced as it can be. It may be the only way to unite Sanders and Clinton delegates in Philadelphia, and create a process that reflects the highest ideals of democracy.