Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The DNC Won’t Allow States to Abolish Superdelegates. Here’s Why.

The DNC will not recognize amendments passed by four state delegations that would curb the influence of superdelegates at the national convention.
Jim Roosevelt, co-chair of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee (and the paternal grandson of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt), told US Uncut in a phone interview that any resolution forcing superdelegate votes to be cast in accordance with a state’s pledged delegates is in violation of rules that have been on the DNC books for over 50 years. Roosevelt cited Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention that abolished the so-called “unit rule.”
Essentially, the unit rule established a winner-take-all system for the person who took the majority of votes in a state, similar to the Republican primary system in certain states. However, an unintended consequence of the rule is that white supremacists in the South ended up representing black constituencies after winning small majorities of votes in hotly contested races.
“Fannie Lou Hamer and the Freedom Democratic Party fought against white supremacists in the Mississippi Democratic Party for equal voting representation at the convention. The unit rule was abolished after that,” said Roosevelt.
In at least four states — Maine, Alaska, Vermont, and Colorado — Democrats have voted to reform the superdelegate system, in which 712 Democratic elected officials and party bosses are allowed to cast votes at the national convention for any candidate they please, even if that vote goes against the will of their state’s voters. In the 2016 cycle, superdelegates make up approximately 15 percent of the total delegate votes at the national convention, and the vast majority of them are supporting Hillary Clinton.
Maine’s superdelegate resolution, drafted by State Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), would allocate all of Maine’s democratic delegates in proportion to the votes each candidate received in the Maine caucus. The resolution, which passed overwhelmingly at Maine’s Democratic convention, is nonbinding for 2016, but is intended to take effect in 2020. Russell told US Uncut that while she acknowledges current rules don’t recognize her resolution, she hopes to have them changed by 2020.
“We all voted to do this, and we have 4 years to figure out how to do it,” Russell said. “It’s impossible to change the rules this year.”
However, Russell expressed frustration with the DNC for its “complicated” rules that prevent Democratic conventions from reforming the delegate rules in their own state. If the motion in Maine was expanded to include the current election, the state would risk losing all their delegates.
“I’m not the chair of the DNC’s Rules Committee. I’m just a local state representative from a small corner of the country who wants to see a change in the system,” Russell said in a phone interview. “If the DNC wants a united party in November, then they need to stop shutting the door on millions of Democrats who are fighting for what they believe in, and fix the damn system.”
Despite this setback to the superdelegate reform movement, one resolution floated in Washington State may still pass legal muster. Andrew Williams, an attorney from Gig Harbor, Washington, will be introducing a resolution at his state’s Democratic convention in June that would strip state party funding from elected officials who cast their superdelegate vote against the will of Washington voters. While Democrats overwhelmingly supported Bernie Sanders in the Washington caucus, nine of the state’s seventeen superdelegates are supporting Hillary Clinton, while none are supporting Sanders.
“State party funding is a matter of state party discretion. The unit rule prohibition applies only to voting at the national convention itself,” Roosevelt told US Uncut in response to a question about the Washington resolution. “I could imagine, however, a state delegation being challenged in its entirety if the unit rule was enforced by some sort of a penalty.”
Roosevelt said that activists are capable of changing the rules for the 2020 Democratic primary by presenting arguments to the Rules and Bylaws Committee during its public hearings in 2018, when it will meet to set delegate selection rules for the next presidential election. He adds that while he’ll keep an open mind and listen to all arguments, in his view, the superdelegate system is necessary to “avoid having a disaster like the Republicans currently have with Donald Trump.”
“I believe unpledged delegates serve a very strong purpose. They were put in after the McGovern experience in 1972,” Roosevelt told US Uncut. “At the convention, he had a huge majority of elected delegates, but he only won my home state of Massachusetts and Washington D.C. At that point, members of congress said, ‘we could have told you he wouldn’t win any of our states.'”
Currently, there are 781 pledged delegates still at stake in the remaining nine contests, with 475 of those delegates coming from California alone. Bernie Sanders trails Hillary Clinton by 272 pledged delegates. The Democratic nomination will ultimately come down to who wins the most superdelegate votes, where Clinton leads Sanders by 537-42.

Tom Cahill is a writer for US Uncut based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact him via email at


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