While I’ve spent considerable time here pondering how we might clean up and improve the GOP primary process to be more representative and transparent, the Democrats have more than their fair share of problems in the same area. Now, having all but lost the nomination on that side of the aisle, Bernie Sanders is considering some similar changes for his party. He reportedly wants to use the rules committee at their upcoming convention to remove some of the smoke and mirrors which prevent the voters from knowing how their delegates are allocated, reform (if not scrap entirely) the superdelegate system and open up the primary to non-party members. (Buzzfeed)
The proposals under consideration would take aim at the structure, administration, and transparency of caucuses in key nominating states like Iowa and Nevada, according to senior advisers to the Sanders campaign. Other options include motions to modify the controversial superdelegate system — which allows Democratic insiders to put their thumbs on the scale — as well as closed primaries and party matters such the setup of committees at the national convention.
Sanders himself has kept his focus trained on the primary’s final contests. But advisers also recognize that his path now leads to a symbolic but not insignificant fight in Philadelphia. What remains unclear inside the campaign is how and where Sanders would apply the strength of his “political revolution.” Some argue that the senator has a choice to make, as one senior adviser put it, between “feel-good changes to the platform and fundamental changes to the nominating process.”
The Democrats’ Rules and Bylaws committee doesn’t have absolute dictatorial power over the states, but they appear to wield considerably more leverage than their Republican counterparts. As a side note, that theory of operation is pretty much in line with the fundamental beliefs and values of the two parties. Democrats tend to like a top down, centralized power structure with the states being subservient to the national leaders while Republicans prefer a bottom up system where the states retain the majority of control. The issues Sanders is looking to tackle are thorny ones, however.
First of all, Sanders is looking to mess with the caucus system. You may recall back at the beginning of this race that when the votes were finally tallied in Iowa, nobody knew how many were cast for either Clinton or Sanders. Bernie’s campaign called for a release of the raw vote totals but they were informed by state party leaders that we never do that and the matter was dropped. Seriously… the caucus system is messed up enough in and of itself, but who doesn’t tell the voters what the final tallies were? That’s not just questionable… it’s insane. And yet that’s how the Democrats do business out there.
In addition to other reforms, Sanders is also looking at getting rid of the superdelegates. That’s a curious (and I suppose noble) position to take right now because it looks like the only way Bernie could theoretically win the Democratic nomination this summer is if he convinced all of them to abandon Hillary Clinton and switch over to his side. He’s making a good point when he brings this up, though. Back in February after Sanders dominated the New Hampshire Democratic primary we learned that his “victory” was short lived because Clinton had still gotten more delegates than he did. I ran the math at that time and concluded that each Clinton superdelegate had wiped out the voices of more than ten thousand Sanders voters.
Bernie also wants to open up all the primaries to independent voters. Here again we see something which is the opposite of conservative principles. The primary is not an election to pick someone who must represent all the people of the nation. It’s a process where we select the standard bearer for each party. They have no power over the nation until such time as they are actually elected and those not interested in being part of either party really have nothing to say about it. This looks like a rule change which is intended to help “the next Bernie” rather than improving the process for all of their members.
Will Sanders actually make any progress on this front? Don’t hold your breath. Much the same as with the GOP, this system has been working very much to the benefit of a handful of long time state and local party leaders for as long as anyone can remember. Getting them to change would require their relinquishing power and control which is not a hallmark of humanity over most of our history. The main question I have here isn’t about the Sanders campaign or the DNC, however. How is it that Democratic voters around the country remain complacent with these shady, clear as mud practices? Why are they not out in the streets demanding to know at least what the vote totals are in their elections? Why are they seemingly content with hundreds of party power brokers who are able to nullify the votes of hundreds of thousands of voters on a whim? We all really deserve better.