WikiLeaks' DNC Data-Dump Should Spell An Immediate End To Superdelegates

WikiLeaks' DNC Data-Dump Should Spell An Immediate End to Superdelegates
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[UPDATE 7/24/16 at 6:03 PM: In an astounding turn of events, Hillary Clinton has just announced that her campaign has hired Wasserman Schultz to be head of its fifty-state outreach program. To so publicly endorse and reward a person now at the epicenter of a national scandal ― one that threatens the reputation of the Democratic Party and its primary process ― and to do so on the eve of the most critical Party-unity pageant of this century, may be one of the worst political judgments of the last few election cycles. When else has a major-party nominee so repeatedly poked 43% of her own party ― i.e., her primary opponent's supporters ― in the eye?]

By the time you read this, Debbie Wasserman Schultz may already have resigned or been fired as head of the Democratic National Committee.

But that’s an insufficient response to WikiLeaks’ recent release of more than 20,000 DNC emails ― emails which confirm that certain aspects of the 2016 Democratic primary were in fact rigged against Bernie Sanders.

It appears that Sanders spending the last quarter-century caucusing and voting with Democrats ― and at several points ensuring their majority in the U.S. Senate ― wasn’t enough for the Democratic Party. Apparently, the fact that Sanders was until recently a political independent, and therefore didn’t raise as much money for the Democrats as he might have, was enough of a concern at the DNC that officials there did all they could to ensure his defeat in the party’s primary.

Wasserman Schultz herself sent profanity-laced emails angrily dismissing Sanders campaign manager; another DNC official conspired to raise Sanders’ religious beliefs ― the Senator is Jewish, but non-practicing ― as a means of suppressing support for him among practicing Christians in West Virginia and Kentucky. DNC staffers discussed how best to leak anti-Sanders articles in ways untraceable to the Committee. And that was just the tip of the iceberg, as a deeper dive into the WikiLeaks emails reveals.

Given the tenor of the leaked emails, no one can now doubt that the reason for Wasserman Schultz’s artificially truncated debate schedule, and for the DNC’s unwillingness to stop the premature counting of superdelegates by the media, was, at least in part, animus toward Sanders and his campaign.

And Hillary Clinton herself knew this ― whether explicitly or implicitly ― when she asked Wasserman Schultz to introduce her and her vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, in Miami yesterday. Clinton chose to feature Wasserman Schultz in this way well after the extent of the latter’s bias against Sanders had been made public by WikiLeaks. And of course, that bias was on display many months before the leak ― for instance, in Wasserman Schultz’s unconscionable suggestion that the Sanders campaign had condoned violence and threats against Clinton supporters during the primary season ― so Schultz’s continued position as the head of the Democratic Party has in fact been a slap in the face of Sanders and his supporters for many months now.

The most recent slights ― that is, those revealed in the WikiLeaks emails ― may well end with Schultz’s resignation or firing, but the entire situation underscores that the time for the Democratic Party to begin respecting its voters isn’t in four or eight years (when the Democrats may find themselves in the midst of a civil war every bit as destructive as the GOP one already initiated by the Tea Party) but right now.

Respecting voters begins with a Democratic Party organization that is truly neutral, and the best way to ensure this neutrality is to insist that DNC officials not be granted “super-voter” status ― and, with that status, permitted to have their votes count 10,000 times more than the average voter’s.

Yes, you read that right.

“Superdelegates” make up almost one out of every six Democratic delegates, and each superdelegate’s vote counts the same as 10,000 workaday voters.

That’s unacceptable.

It’s unacceptable not just for the obvious reason ― the opinion of Democratic party bosses shouldn’t be 10,000 times more powerful than that of rank-and-file Democrats when a fundamental constitutional right, the right to vote, is at issue ― but also because dozens of Democratic superdelegates are lobbyists, scores are unelected officials, and those who are elected officials already have a much bigger voice in the process than anyone else. Why? Because they can make influential public endorsements, marshal their official and unofficial political networks for fundraising campaigns, amend or lobby for the amendment of state and federal voting procedures, receive widespread local and national media coverage for their opinions, and do much else besides to secure an out-sized voice in our nation’s electoral system. They certainly don’t need, on top of this, what amounts to a massive veto over the wishes of the everyday Americans who make the Democratic Party possible in the first instance.

Even before we had cause to believe ― or, rather, to know for certain ― that the DNC was in Clinton’s corner, it would have been entirely fair to say that the very nature of the Democratic nominating process was “rigged” against any candidate not favored by party bosses. Because superdelegates get to publicly announce their endorsements many months before any American has voted, and because the media (with the collusion of the DNC) erroneously reports these endorsements as actual delegate votes for a specific candidate, the candidate preferred by the party establishment is able to start out the primary process with what appears to be an insurmountable lead.

By the fall of 2015 ― four months before even a single vote had been cast in the Democratic primary ― Hillary Clinton had a 360-delegate lead on Bernie Sanders. This past spring, the Clinton campaign expressed its opinion that a delegate lead of more than 250 is insurmountable; this means that, according to Camp Clinton, there was actually no reason for a Democratic primary to be held this year. Certainly, the artificial “lead” granted to Clinton by party bosses and wrongly reported as a firm advantage by the media ensured that no one on the Democrats’ deep bench of political talent dared enter the race. Instead, Democratic voters got the Three Stooges: O’Malley, Webb, and Chafee.

When Bernie Sanders, an independent, entered the Democratic race, it was therefore a breath of fresh air. Those who bemoan Sanders’ ideological and temperamental stubbornness should realize that in doing so they’re ceding the point about the danger of superdelegates. Clearly, it took a man of uncommon orneriness and recalcitrant zeal to be willing to challenge Hillary Clinton after hundreds of premature superdelegate endorsements all but ensured that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee and that the entire primary season would be more or less window-dressing. That artificial lead left the impression that Hillary Clinton wasn’t answerable to average Americans ― an impression that Clinton’s evasion of FOIA requests through clandestine use of a basement email server only underscored.

In other words, all of the major scandals of the Democratic primary season ― Clinton’s email server; Wasserman Schultz’s slander of the Sanders campaign and her artificial limiting of public debates between Clinton and Sanders; Democratic party bosses’ decision to put their finger on the primary scale many, many months before any Americans had had a chance to vote; and state Democratic officials’ irresponsible elimination of voters from voter rolls and voting machines from certain voting districts ― were part and parcel of a party culture within which powerful Democrats were made unaccountable to Democratic and Democratic-leaning primary voters.

This year, we learned the consequences of a major political party becoming unaccountable to its constituents: in the narrow sense, a demagogue like Trump; in a broader one, a fissure within the contemporary GOP that may never heal.

Democrats can avoid this. We can hold elections that are open to Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents alike (critical, given that Millennials are increasingly likely to register as independents but vote Democratic); that feature party registration schedules explicitly and implicitly encouraging of widespread participation; and that have results which really matter ― not ones overshadowed by, or rendered seemingly irrelevant by, a parallel “superdelegate” voting process. We can create an internal party culture in which party officials being in the bag for one candidate or another is not just improbable but indeed counter to the very values of the party. To the extent that the continued use of superdelegates suggests that the views of party bosses should be 10,000 times more important than the views of party voters, what we get ― as we now know ― is DNC officials brazenly emailing one another about ways to ensure they get their preferred candidate. Make no mistake: a “superdelegate”-defined party culture is what led to the sort of emails Americans have now read en masse thanks to WikiLeaks.

The good news: WikiLeaks exists; we now know about what was going on at the DNC these past twelve months; and we can therefore act now ― before the Democratic National Convention is well under way ― to change the Democratic Party’s culture in a way that re-orients it toward the will of party voters.

Firing Wasserman Schultz or demanding her resignation is a start. Floor votes on eliminating superdelegates, closed primaries, and excessively onerous party registration guidelines is the next step. Failure to act now could have grave consequences not only in November ― sure to be a “base election” in which Democrats’ enthusiasm for their party and their candidate is key ― but also during the next two election cycles, which, if the Republicans’ present is the Democrats’ precedent, will determine the future of progressivism in America.

A public defender in New England from 2000 to 2007, Seth Abramson is now an Assistant Professor at University of New Hampshire and the Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University). He is also the author of six books, most recently DATA (BlazeVOX, 2016).

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