POLITICS

Top Democrats Hope To Extend Superdelegate Reforms Through 2024 Primary

Changes demanded by Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters now have broader backing.

A coalition of Democratic officials is pushing for a rule change that would lock in the presidential nominating process reforms the party adopted in 2018 to extend them through the 2024 election cycle.

If they succeed, the Democrats’ effort would ensure that, among other things, the elected officials and party insiders known as superdelegates would remain bound by the preference of their state’s primary voters or caucus-goers until the second ballot at the party’s national convention.

The resolution to extend those reforms, which the Democratic National Convention’s rules committee is set to consider Thursday, would also require the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee to formally review the effectiveness of the 2018 reforms. The resolution’s co-sponsors hope that such a review process clears the way for permanent adoption of those reforms.

Larry Cohen, a rules committee member and former union leader who supported the presidential runs of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), formally introduced the resolution Monday.

But the resolution also has the support of at least four state party chairs from a range of political and ideological backgrounds: Washington state’s Tina Podlodowski, Minnesota’s Ken Martin, Nebraska’s Jane Kleeb and South Carolina’s Trav Robertson. (Martin is also chair of the Association of State Democratic Committees, the umbrella group for state parties.)

“My hope is that virtually everybody on the committee will vote for the resolution because this is really about continuing to build faith with Democratic voters, particularly younger voters,” Cohen said. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign declined to comment on a proposed extension of reforms to the preside
Former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign declined to comment on a proposed extension of reforms to the presidential nominating process that the party adopted in 2018.

Cohen argued that passage of the rule change would be a promising start to former Vice President Joe Biden’s tenure as the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer.

“This sets an important tone for Vice President Biden in this election and for his presidency ― that democratizing the rules inside and outside the party in order to achieve change in this country is part of his agenda,” Cohen said.

If a majority of the 180 members of the rules committee approves the resolution, it goes to a vote among the broader pool of 3,979 convention delegates.

If a minority of 25% or more of the committee’s members approves the resolution, it also proceeds to a vote on the convention floor, though presumably with a far lower chance of ratification.

HuffPost reached out to a number of rules committee members aligned with Biden but received few definitive responses about how they plan to vote. Former Rep. Joe Garcia of Florida said he was “leaning” toward voting for the resolution. 

The Biden campaign would not comment on how it was instructing its appointees to the committee to vote.

Jeff Weaver, a rules committee member and top Sanders adviser who has represented the senator in talks with the Biden campaign, said that discussions between the two campaigns on the question of locking in the 2018 reforms, in particular, have been “constructive.”

“I anticipate that there will be a positive resolution,” he said.

Although Sanders allies like Weaver and Cohen are eager to note that the nominating reforms are non-ideological and enjoy broad party buy-in, there is no disputing that were it not for Sanders’ 2016 presidential run, they would never have been adopted. 

After losing the presidential primary to Hillary Clinton, Sanders pressed forward with his case for diminishing the role of superdelegates, whose power had long been a sore point among his supporters. Though superdelegates never gave Clinton her margin over Sanders ― she won soundly among pledged delegates ― enjoying the endorsement of so many members of Congress and other party officials gave her an air of inevitability that hobbled Sanders, according to Sanders partisans. For example, news outlets consistently included superdelegate support in their official convention delegate counts for either candidate. 

As a compromise aimed at appeasing Sanders supporters before the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Clinton’s camp agreed to sanction the creation of an independent commission that would assess changes to the presidential nominating process after the election. 

More than two years and dozens of meetings later, the entire membership of the DNC approved sweeping, though temporary, changes to the party’s nominating process. The reforms, in effect through the 2020 presidential primary, included the elimination of superdelegate privileges on the first convention ballot and measures designed to open up primaries and caucuses to new voters.

The fact that Democrats more aligned with Sanders retain an influential say in whether those changes persist for a second election cycle attests to the lasting legacy of the Vermont senator’s White House runs, notwithstanding his far weaker showing in the 2020 race.

In recognition of the support Sanders enjoys within the party, Biden agreed in late April to strike a deal with Sanders enabling him to maintain representation proportional to his performance among convention delegates and on the convention’s standing committees. Ordinarily, losing presidential candidates forfeit about one-third of their convention delegates to the winning candidate.

Below is the complete text of the resolution.

   WHEREAS, following the 2016 election, the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”), under the leadership of Chair Tom Perez, took substantial steps to ensure a more accessible, transparent, and inclusive 2020 Democratic presidential nominating process;

   WHEREAS, these reforms, which encouraged many states to move from caucuses to more inclusive primaries, led to an unprecedented level of voter participation in presidential primary contests across the country, allowing more Democratic voters to make their voices heard and increasing voter confidence in our nominating system;

   WHEREAS, these reforms helped inspire the largest and most diverse field in our Party’s history to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for President;

   WHEREAS, the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the DNC (“RBC”) was instrumental in adopting and implementing the reforms that made the 2020 presidential nominating process the most dynamic and successful in our Party’s history;

   WHEREAS, the Democratic Party needs to continue to build off the successes of the 2020 primary reforms in creating the rules of the 2024 primary process and Democratic National Convention;

   THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the RBC must protect and continue the work started in 2017 to make improvements to the 2024 nominating process and Democratic National Convention and build on the successes achieved this cycle.  With the purpose and the goals of continuing to further accessibility, transparency, and inclusion in our Party, the RBC shall conduct a comprehensive and structured review of the presidential nominating reforms adopted by the DNC for the 2020 primaries to evaluate where even further reforms are needed, while maintaining the advances that have been made. This review should include considerations of the successes of each of the reforms adopted in 2018 in achieving the DNC’s goals, empowering rank and file Democrats, and strengthening and unifying the Democratic Party in the lead up to the general election. In conducting this review, the RBC should take steps to ensure public and stakeholder engagement in the process, including at least one public hearing and an opportunity to submit comments. This review and accounting should be completed by March 31, 2021.

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