Top Democrats Vote To Extend Superdelegate Reforms Through 2024 Election

The party's left wing had pushed for the changes, which now have official approval.

A key Democratic Party panel voted unanimously on Thursday to extend reforms to the Democratic presidential nominating process through the 2024 election.

Those reforms, adopted in August 2018, bind the group of Democratic officials and insiders known as superdelegates to the primary voting preferences of rank-and-file Democrats in their states, and encourage changes designed to open up primaries and caucuses to new voters.

“These reforms helped inspire the largest and most diverse field in our Party’s history to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for President,” states the resolution the Democratic National Convention’s rules committee approved at a virtual meeting.

The resolution text, which also requires the Democratic National Committee to review the reforms with the goal of making them permanent, now heads to the convention floor for final approval. With the blessing of the rules committee, it is widely expected to earn the support of a majority of the convention’s 3,979 delegates.

Democratic officials said the reforms reflect the work the party has done since 2016 to heal the rift between the party establishment and a progressive wing, which is effectively led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“Our party has come a long way since 2016,” said Yvette Lewis, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party. “I ask that we take that same commitment, moving forward.”

You can read the full list of reform proposals considered by the Democratic National Convention’s rules committee here.

By the time the resolution renewing the 2018 superdelegate reforms arrived before the convention rules committee, it had evidently received the blessing of former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign. Lewis and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, both Biden appointees to the committee, co-sponsored the resolution alongside Sanders aide Jeff Weaver and Larry Cohen, a Sanders ally and former union leader.

“It is a hopeful sign for this party that there will be a place at the table for progressives.”

- Jeff Weaver, Bernie Sanders aide

The collaboration between “Bernie world” and Democratic Party leaders to make permanent party reforms that were initially promoted almost exclusively by staunch progressives attests to the lasting impact of Sanders’ two unsuccessful presidential runs.

The dramatic reduction of the privileges held by superdelegates emerged out of Sanders’ 2016 campaign, which sparked the creation of a commission that ended up recommending the near-abolition of a caste of convention delegates free to support candidates without regard to the wishes of their states’ voters. Sanders’ 2016 supporters argued that Hillary Clinton’s early accumulation of superdelegate endorsements put Sanders at an unfair disadvantage.

In his remarks before the vote, Weaver reflected on how the party had become more inclusive of its left-leaning members.

“It is a hopeful sign for this party that there will be a place at the table for progressives,” he said. “We will not always win, but we will be at the table in the discussion and have a fair shot to make our case.”

The rules committee also advanced proposals that would bring the Democratic parties of territories and other nonstate entities under the same financial umbrella as state parties, encourage “geographic and ideological diversity” among a key subset of DNC officials, and allow losing presidential candidates to keep all of their convention delegates.

Candidates that withdraw from the Democratic presidential primary currently retain the delegates they received based on their performance in each congressional district (a category that encompasses two-thirds of convention delegates). But those candidates forfeit the delegate spots allotted based on their statewide performance, as well as those delegate spots reserved for party leaders and elected officials who support the losing candidate’s bid. (Biden reached an agreement with Sanders allowing the senator statewide convention delegates proportional to his state-level performance.)

The committee’s statements backing those three reforms carry less weight than the resolution extending the life of the 2018 nominating changes, however. They essentially amount to a recommendation that the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee adopt the changes at a later date.

Allies of former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) both voted to extend presidential primary reforms, including the disempowerment of superdelegates.
Allies of former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) both voted to extend presidential primary reforms, including the disempowerment of superdelegates.
MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

In other ways, Thursday’s rules committee proceedings spoke to the limits of the activist left’s influence in a party that now has Biden as its standard-bearer.

The committee roundly rejected proposals from Sanders-aligned members to make the superdelegate changes permanent by amending the party charter; prohibit caucuses in favor of government-run primaries that would allow voters to cast ballots by mail; and institute ranked-choice voting for the party’s presidential nominee and the DNC’s officers.

Given the balance of power on the rules committee, progressive members did not protest when these reforms failed.

But the committee’s vote to defer consideration of a proposal to permanently prohibit the DNC from receiving corporate donations and seating corporate lobbyists elicited shock and anger. (The DNC already adopted a rule barring corporate PAC money that remains in effect through the end of the 2020 election cycle. Thursday’s proposal would make the rule permanent by amending the party’s charter.)

“Wow. That doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Brent Welder, the Kansas-based union attorney who introduced the amendment. “It just seems to me that that’s an absurd thing to do, to table it. We might as well vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on it.”

At the very end of the committee meeting, progressive members scrambled to introduce a motion to undo the measure tabling the corporate money proposal. They succeeded, and the committee voted on the idea — but it soundly defeated the proposal to permanently bar corporate money and corporate lobbyists.

“I’m deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to pass this proposal, especially given the critical time that we’re living in,” New York state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D) told HuffPost. “If we keep corporate money in the party, all we’re doing is perpetuating the things that have killed us ― corporate health care, water and air pollution, low-wage jobs.”

Steve Simeonidis, chairman of Florida’s Miami-Dade Democratic Party, echoed her sentiments.

“We are the people’s party, not the party of large corporations,” he told HuffPost.

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