DNC plan to keep some superdelegates doesn’t sit with Sanders supporters

  • New Hampshire Democratic Party held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the findings adopted by the Democratic National Committee’s Unity Reform Commission. By Paul Steinhauser—

For the Monitor
Friday, February 02, 2018

If there was any question whether supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign still distrust national Democratic Party leaders, look no further than the sharp disagreements over reforming the party’s superdelegate system that were on display at a recent state party gathering.

A proposal by the Democratic National Committee to dramatically reduce the number of superdelegates was met with skepticism by Sanders supporters in the Granite State who still feel the practice stacked the deck against their candidate.

“It doesn’t go far enough,” former state Sen. Burt Cohen, a leading Granite State supporter of Sanders’ 2016 White House bid, told the Monitor this week. “I’d like to see no superdelegates.”

The New Hampshire Democratic Party held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the findings adopted by the Democratic National Committee’s Unity Reform Commission.

Chris Liquori of Portsmouth, a Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic presidential nominating convention, agreed that he’d “like to see zero superdelegates.”

But Liquori added that “getting rid of 60% is a step in the right direction. That’s more than I thought we’d get.”

The gathering itself seemed to make news, as longtime chair Ray Buckley said the New Hampshire Democrats were the first state party to hold a meeting to inform officials and activists on the findings of the commission.

Democratic activistis in New Hampshire obviously don’t have a direct say on the commission’s recommendations, but their feelings will be taken into consideration by Buckley and the four other state party officials who do get to vote on the findings later in the process.

Buckley told the Monitor that the commission’s report to reduce the number of superdelegates “is a good start.”

But Buckley, who called for scrapping superdelegates as part of his platform when he unsuccessfully ran for DNC chair last year, added that “I was expecting something that was a little bit stronger.”

Superdelegates are Democratic governors and members of Congress, along with state party chairs and vice chairs and other top national party officials. They are given special status to vote for the candidate of their choice in the party’s presidential nomination process, regardless of which candidate their state backed in the primary and caucus calendar.

The superdelegate system was implemented in the 1980s, when the DNC boosted the influence of party insiders to try and avoid the crushing presidential election losses by the Democrats in the 1972 and 1980 elections.

While there have been calls to scrap the system in recent presidential cycles, the fight over superdelegates raged during the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination battle between eventual nominee Hillary Clinton and Sanders. Superdelegates overwhelmingly backed Clinton in the nomination race.

In New Hampshire, six of the state’s eight superdelegates backed Clinton even before the senator from Vermont convincingly defeated her by 22 percentage points in the state’s Feb. 2016 primary. All six stuck with Clinton after the primary.

Clinton’s strong support among superdelegates didn’t tip the nomination to her. She also won more pledged delegates than Sanders. But his supporters argued that the early support by superdelegates for Clinton gave the perception, even before the start of the primary calendar, that she would win the nomination. Many felt that the system was rigged against Sanders by national party leaders.

After the 2016 election, the DNC assembled the 21-member commission, to suggest solutions to reform the nomination process as well as other party reforms. The commission released its report last month. At the last state Democratic party meeting, held just before the commission’s report was released, activists voted for a special gathering to be held to discuss the commission’s proposals.

Unity Reform Commission member Nomiki Konst, a DNC official who was also a national surrogate for the Sanders presidential campaign, briefed the crowd of some 70 party officials and activists on the  findings.

The commission proposed reducing the number of superdelegates, also known as unpledged delegates, by 400, which would be cut of nearly 60 prcent. Remaining superdelegates would be divided into three categories. Democratic members of Congress, governors, and distinguished party leaders would remain unpledged delegates who could vote their choice for the party’s presidential nominee.

State party chairs, vice chairs, or committee members, would be bound on the first ballot at a presidential convention by the results of their state’s primary or caucus.

The votes of the final category of superdelegates, DNC officers and at-large members, would be proportionally allocated on the first ballot by the national results of the primaries and caucuses.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky agreed with other Sanders supporters. 

“I don’t think the superdelegate provision goes far enough,” he said.

Volinsky, a Sanders delegate at the presidential convention, took issue with the commission’s proposal to allow distinguished party leaders, who are former presidents and vice presidents, former House speakers, former Senate majority and minority leaders, former DNC chairs, and former party presidential nominees, to remain unpledged.

“The provision in the unity commission report that has a category of unpledged delegates voting in proportion to the national vote severely handicaps small states like New Hampshire.”

Konst told the crowd that the commission’s report is a starting point. “This is not in stone yet,” she said.

The commission’s report is now in the hands of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which has until the end of June to finish their work and vote on the findings. The report then would be voted on later in the year by the full DNC membership, which includes Buckley and the four other New Hampshire members.

One of those four is DNC committee member and former state party chair Kathy Sullivan.

“The party needs some change. You can’t stay the same forever,” Sullivan said. “Any party dies if they don’t change and the time is here to change.”