Democrats strip superdelegates of power in picking presidential nominee.
#Party officials voted at a meeting to strip the party insiders of much of their influence, a big win for the party's base.
CHICAGO – Democratic Party officials voted Saturday to strip superdelegates of much of their power in the presidential nominating process, infuriating many traditionalists while handing a victory to the party’s left flank.
The measure’s overwhelming approval – met by cheers in a hotel ballroom here – concluded a tense summer meeting of the Democratic National Committee, which had labored over the issue since 2016. Superdelegates that year largely sided with Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, enraging Sanders’ supporters.
Under the new rule, superdelegates – the members of Congress, DNC members and other top officials who made up about 15 percent of delegates that year – will not be allowed to vote on the first ballot at a contested national convention. The change could dramatically re-shape the calculous of future presidential campaigns, rendering candidates’ connections to superdelegates less significant.
“It’s a big victory for the base of the party,” said Jeff Cohen, co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org. “Tom Perez realizes that he’d rather lose 10 dead-enders in the DNC than a couple million activists,” he said of the party chairman.
While long a priority of Sanders and his supporters, the effort to reduce superdelegates’ clout was embraced more broadly in recent months by Democratic Party officials desperate to win over young voters skeptical of centralized party power.
Perez described the change as “historic,” and DNC organizers played a video message from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in which the former DNC chairman cast the measure it as an urgent response “to the will of grassroots voters.”
Many young voters, Dean said, “have lost faith in our party’s nominating process, and make no mistake, this is a perception that’s cost us at the ballot box.”
The rule change faced intense opposition from a band of longtime Democratic Party officials who said the measure would disenfranchise party insiders. Their efforts appeared to gain momentum when Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond publicly urged DNC members to oppose the overhaul.
“This vote to strip superdelegates, unpledged delegates, automatic delegates, whatever you want to call us of our voice on the first ballot is inconsistent with our charter,” former DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile said.
While awaiting results of a vote on a related issue, she strolled past media tables, saying, “I’m going to see how they’re counting the votes. I’m gonna make sure it isn’t Chicago style.”
But despite furious lobbying here, the defenders of superdelegates fell short in a procedural vote Saturday, then conceded before the overhaul was approved.
Superdelegates will now be allowed to vote on the first ballot at a national convention only if a candidate earned enough pledged delegates from state primaries and caucuses to win the nomination, anyway.
“What I witnessed was a political murder suicide,” said Bob Mulholland, a super-delegate and DNC member from California who helped organize opposition to the proposal. “What the DNC voted was to take away the votes of governors, Congress members, and take away their own votes, too. Absurd.”
Former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, a Mulholland ally, told committee members before the vote on Saturday that “this attempt to take voting rights away from people whose voting rights are ensured in the charter is not good government.”
He said, “It will be confusing, it will take the leadership out of the presidential nominating process which it has served very well for decades.”
But onlookers in the crowd shouted “Not true!” and “Lies!” when Fowler contended that stripping superdelegate powers would curb representation of African Americans, LGBT people and those with disabilities. And when Fowler stepped away from the lectern, he was treated to a small chorus of boos.
As in 2016, an old guard vs. new guard sentiment served as an undercurrent to the debate over superdelegate power Saturday. Karen Carter Peterson, a DNC vice chair and Louisiana state party chair, said she earned privileges as a superdelegate because of her decades of work for the party and suggested the party risked alienating tried and true Democrats.
“Are you telling me that I’m going to go to a convention, after my 30 years of blood sweat and tears for this party, that you’re going to take away my right?” she said, raising her voice. “Are you so worried about building and gaining the trust of one group at the expense of losing the trust of another? Did you hear me? Losing the trust of another.”
But appeals to present the party as less beholden to entrenched interests won over.
Pointing to young Democrats rallying around Beto O’Rourke, the Texas congressman running for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said, “Those same people don’t only want to do the work. They want to have a say in the decision-making process that this party engages in … And they really believe that the current system that we have doesn’t give them the equal voice that they should have.”
“If our party does not grow and get younger,” Hinojosa said, “we’re doomed.”