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Sanders Delegates Push DNC To Create Commission To Reform Anti-Democratic Superdelegates And Caucus Process

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Sanders Delegates Push DNC To Create Commission To Reform Anti-Democratic Superdelegates And Caucus Process

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U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks about his attempts to influence the Democratic party's platform in Albany, New York, U.S. June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Published with permission from Alternet.

After a contentious afternoon in which the Democratic National Convention’s Rules Committee voted down a series of proposals from the Sanders delegation to reform the most glaring anti-democratic features of the party’s primary and caucus process, negotiators met in secret for several hours and forged an agreement to create a reform commission to change those rules for future elections.

“Let me call us America’s party,” said Texas Congresswomen Sheila Jackson, who rose to support the proposal after opposing the Sanders camp’s amendments only hours before. “And America’s party, the Democratic Party, links arms with our brothers and sisters from Senator Sanders, and the journey that they made and their supporters, and the journey that was made by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s supporters.

“But most of all what I want to say is that divide is no more,” she continued. “That we will climb this journey of victory together. That our arms will be linked and we will go to the floor of this great convention. And I am here to say thank you for being who you are. For I see that mountain that we have been challenged to cover, and I am going to say, we shall overcome and elect the next president of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, together… together… together.”

The reform commission, which was then approved with 158 yeses, 6 nos and 1 abstention, will look at the main grievances raised by Sanders during the 2016 nominating season: that state party-run caucuses were non-democratic in their counting and allocation of delegates to the next stages in the process, and will, according to Sanders delegates who negotiated, shrink by two-thirds the number of so-called superdelegates, or the party insiders who comprise one-sixth of the 2016 national convention delegates.

“I rise in support of this measure because this is the result of reasoned discussions by many leaders within both campaigns, but it is truly driven by an activism, an activism within the Democratic Party that has been embraced, that has been engaged, and that we should continue to promote,” said Paul Feeney, a Sanders delegate who headed his campaign in Massachusetts and Connecticut. “It’s no coincidence that so many amendments have been filed today about superdelegates. The supporters of Bernie Sanders have risen up across this country. Acted up. Not to demand a new party, but to make the Democratic Party even better. That’s what we’re doing with this amendment. That’s what we are doing with this revolution that is also an evolution.”

The turnaround came after a frustrating afternoon for Sanders delegates, when it seemed the convention’s rules committee was parting ways from the party’s platform committee by thwarting their call for democratic reforms. The Sanders campaign won 13 million votes, 1,900 delegates and broke the party’s fundraising records for the number of small donors, the delegates told the room, in part to push for concessions on the reforms they sought.

But before panel chair Barney Frank called a recess after 4pm, the convention Rules Committee repeatedly rejected a series of reforms to their “superdelegate” system, despite the pleas of Sanders delegates who urged the 165-member body to accommodate millions of voters who want a more open and less rigged presidential nominating process.

Superdelegates are top elected federal and state officials, state party leaders and key allies like labor union executives who can cast a vote for the presidential nominee and also sit on a range of convention committees, from drafting the platform to rules. For months, Sanders and his supporters have complained that the system gave Clinton an unfair lead as hundreds of party officials sided with her before states even started voting, which tilted the media coverage despite Sanders rallies drawing many thousands.

His delegates were hoping to convince the party to change that system, as well as reform the caucus process and adopt more open primaries, in which any voter, not just registered Democrats could participate. But several hours into hearings on Saturday seemed to signal that a majority of the rules panel were not willing to shake up the party’s status quo.

Before they broke to negotiate and propose the commission, the panel heard short debate and then voted down a handful of reforms, from eliminating the system of superdelegates in its entirety to reducing their numbers and limiting their voting.

“I am asking those of you from the Clinton camp to take heed,” said Julie Hurwitz, a Sanders delegate from Detroit, speaking in favor of a compromise that would have let superdelegates vote if there was no clear nominee on the first convention ballot. “I would ask you to not just blindly vote no, no, no… The stakes are so high that I plead for you to take this issue seriously.”

“We have had these rules in place for 30 or 40 years,” said George Albro, a Sanders delegate from New York, responding to those who said now was not the time to act. “We’ve had a lot of time to study it. We don’t have a lot of time to change it. If we walk out of this room with our heads hanging low… The only standard that we are holding the DNC to is the standard of democracy.”

But a series of amendments were repeatedly rejected by two-to-one margins, especially after longtime officeholders said the superdelegate system never swayed a presidential nomination by ignoring the popular vote.

“This is more non-democratic,” said Jackson Lee in response to a proposal cutting the number of superdelegates. “The [origin of] superdelegates was a healing process, when the party was fractured… It was not to divide us, it was not to be an elite process.”

She argued that superdelegates allowed the party to elevate many people of color and those from rural areas. However, that explanation, while swaying a majority of Rules Committee members, was not persuasive to Sanders delegates. They told the room the party must send a signal to the millions drawn to their campaign that their call for a more open process was heard.

“This is the correct forum to have this discussion,” said North Carolina’s Chris O’Hara. “With all due respect… if superdelegates were put in place to heal a divided party, we are a divided party… I beseech you to actually listen.”

“The Republicans have basically nominated a fascist. It’s close. Please take a critical look at this,” said Delaware’s Rebecca Powers.

“I think this is the time for this,” said Miami’s Bruce Jacobs. “You are sending a message to all the people coming into the party.”

The Rules Committee compromise came after heavy pressure from Democratic-leaning organizations, which gathered more than 750,000 signatures calling for change, flew a plane over Philadelphia Friday calling for an end to superdelegates, and sent thousands of tweets to rules committee members. There was high interest in the votes, and shouts of “shame, shame, shame” from outside the committee room could be heard on a live Youtube stream of the meeting.

The groups that urged the DNC to end superdelegates include Courage Campaign, Credo, Daily Kos, Demand Progress/Rootstrikers, Democracy for America, Center for Popular, Democracy, MoveOn, National Nurses United, New Democrat Network, the Other 98%, Presente, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Progressive Democrats of America, Progressive Kick, Reform the DNC, and Social Security Works.

Editor’s note: Another reform proposal, to push the party to open its primaries to all registered voters, not just Democrats, was rejected on Saturday evening. Today Open Primaries, a non-profit electoral reform organization, brought 40,000 signed petitions to the meeting, a release noted. “It was an honor to stand up for the 26.3 million registered voters who couldn’t vote in this presidential election,” Maggie Wunderly, a Rules Committee member from Illinois said in the release.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks about his attempts to influence the Democratic party’s platform in Albany, New York, U.S. June 24, 2016.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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16 Comments

  1. Elian Gonzales July 25, 2016

    I suppose people want a return to the good ole days of George McGovern, under the guise of “this is about democracy!” whilst oblivious to the factors of why super delegates were ever created in the first place. Not to mention that there has been ZERO conventions since their inception that deliberately went agains the wishes and outcomes of Democratic voters prior to the convention.

    Be sure to have doctor look at that broken arm you have from patting yourself on the back.

    Reply
    1. Brendamnewman1 July 25, 2016

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    2. charleo1 July 25, 2016

      Agree with your sentiments, except the ones I think I hear behind your last line. We must keep in mind, these Sanders supporters calling for reform won their credibility the old fashioned way, the small “d,” democratic way. By the power, and resonance of the message put forth by their candidate. They deserve both respect, and a hearing out of their complaints. And a smart, fair-minded, Democratic Establishment in control of the rules committee, should keep that uppermost in their minds in their dealings with them.
      As demonstrated by their numbers, the volume of their individual donations, as well as their average age. All should recognize, we could very well be seeing the future of the Party. And we disrespect, and dismiss them at the peril of not only this imminent election, no small mistake. But the future of the Democratic Party itself, going forward. (As a fellow Democrat, my opinions.) Your thoughts?

      1. moiraeve1 July 25, 2016

        I have had that very thing said to me, when I expressed support of Sanders. “Didn’t we learn our lesson with McGovern?” Here’s a thought. Maybe, if you pay attention to the needs of your voters beyond just around election day, you’ll have a stronger party with more loyalty. And if you support good candidates on the down ballot, educating voters about the choices, and you don’t dismiss the millennials out of hand, you’ll have a more educated voter who isn’t just waking up to the reality of superdelegates and caucus process, because they finally got excited about a candidate who spoke to them.

        1. charleo1 July 25, 2016

          I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact I have no doubt we would be a better Country today had McGovern served as President. That said, I have to constantly remind myself the Country is not as liberal as I am. Not yet anyway. Yet we must move forward.

      2. plc97477 July 26, 2016

        My problem with the berniebots is the idea that the election was somehow stolen or we cheated. Didn’t happen. I do not like the idea of making the primaries open. Leaves the door open for the repugs to vote in our elections. I’m sorry I do not trust the gotp any farther than I can throw it. I see no problem with thanking the people who put in the work to keep the party going by making them super delegates. And the primaries would have ended the same way without them, so everyone stop whining about it.

  2. Theodora30 July 25, 2016

    I was hoping they wanted to get rid of the very anti-democratic caucuses. Of course this really is a state’s decision but the DNC should really push for primaries not caucuses.

    Reply
    1. johninPCFL July 25, 2016

      Caucuses are far cheaper to run than primary elections.

      1. Theodora30 July 25, 2016

        That is no reason to make it hard for people to participate. The DNC should be willing to help states that have a legitimate problem with cost. Democracy is worth the price.

        1. johninPCFL July 25, 2016

          I guess they are more difficult in that they’re not statewide. The typical answer is that only party stalwarts vote in primaries, so the drive to caucus is no big deal. But you’re right. Statewide primaries should be the rule in all 50 states.
          Now the only question is whether they’re open or closed. Open primaries make for Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos”, and it appears that it happened in a few states this year.

          1. Theodora30 July 25, 2016

            it isn’t just the drive, it is the timing. But my biggest issue is the lack of a secret ballot. In smaller communities this is a big problem. Imagine going against your boss, neighbors, or family members. That discourages a lot of people.

  3. Jinmichigan July 25, 2016

    If the Superdelegates are eliminated or changed significantly, I think the primaries should only allow registered Democrats. There is no reason to let people not willing to register in the party attempt to screw with the results. Like what happened in WV this year where 1/3 of the voters were for trump and potentially were voting in the open Dem race just to mess with the results.

    Reply
    1. plc97477 July 26, 2016

      Especially since it is very easy to register in the party you want to vote.

  4. CrankyToo July 25, 2016

    The GOP has become virtually bankrupt of morality, and almost universally feared, distrusted and despised. Into the bargain, it has nominated a deranged buffoon for the most important job in the world. And yet, the results of the coming election are still in doubt. How’s that possible?

    This is a pivotal moment in American history, and our people (by and large) are looking for the Democrat Party to step up and show the country and the world that it’s a good choice – and NOT the lesser of two evils. It can do that by confronting and eliminating the corruption and ineptitude that seems always to attend it. And if they act now, they can take over our Government (the way the Constitution intended) and control it for generations to come.

    Pull your collective head out, Democrats. And seize the moment, would you?

    Reply
  5. yabbed July 25, 2016

    It is disappointing to think that the Democratic Party would allow a man who is not now and has never been a Democrat to change DNC rules for elections. Sanders has already registered as an Independent to run for his VT Senate seat. It’s ludicrous that anyone pay any attention to what that old fool demands. He can’t even control his own “supporters”.

    Reply
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