It’s far too soon for anyone to get their hopes up, but the autopsy of the Democrats’ 2016 election disaster just may lead to one badly needed improvement. Politico reports that a commission tasked with cleaning up the process has unanimously endorsed a proposal to remove a majority (though not all) of the so-called superdelegates from the primary circus. While both parties engage in this infuriating tradition, the elite party elders who are allowed to cast votes for the eventual nominee while not representing a single primary or caucus voter are a particularly odious problem for the party of the donkey. That may be about to undergo some serious reform.
A commission set up to help reform the Democratic presidential nominating process has voted to restrict the number of superdelegates as part of a slew of changes.
The Democratic Party’s Unity Reform Commission is recommending cutting the number of superdelegates by about 400, equal to a 60 percent reduction. Many of the remaining superdelegates would see their vote tied to the results in their state.
The commission is also suggesting that absentee voting be required as an option for presidential caucus participants. It is calling for automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration. And it wants to mandate public reporting of raw vote totals from caucus states.
How big of a problem are the superdelegates for the Democrats? I took a look at some of the numbers back during the 2016 primary and the figures don’t lie. In the hotly contested state of New Hampshire, each of Hillary Clinton’s superdelegates completely negated the votes of ten thousand Granite State primary voters. Sanders had scored a clear and convincing victory, but wound up walking away with what was basically a tie in the only count which mattered… the number of delegates secured.
There were a total of 151,584 votes cast for Bernie Sanders, giving him 15 delegates. That means that 10,105 people had to drag themselves out in the snow for each delegate he received. Why should voters have any faith in a system where one person appointed by the party leadership can cancel out the votes of more than ten thousand people who chose the other candidate?
Under this plan, 40% of the superdelegates would remain, but most of them would be lashed to the outcome of the vote in their state. It’s not an ideal solution since it drives a proportional process more in the direction of winner-takes-all in some cases, but it eliminates much of what they saw in New Hampshire last time.
So… problem solved, right? Not really. This is just a recommendation from the committee. It still has to make it through the DNC rules and bylaws committee and then, assuming it somehow survives, get through a vote of the full DNC. And you won’t be shocked to learn that a significant majority of the people on the DNC wind up being superdelegates every cycle, so you’re asking them to abandon their own perks and privileges in the interest of giving the voters a fair shake. How do you suppose that will work out?
One last side note about the proposed revisions. The Democrats are pushing for even more registration changes, including motor-voter and same-day signups. This should be yet another reminder of the difference between primaries and actual elections, as well as the complications we run into by conflating the two. General elections are open to all eligible citizens and need to hold to the constitutional rules of the road. Primaries are actually run by what amount to private clubs who can set their own rules, not all that different from the local Moose Lodge electing a new Grand Poobah. If we wanted real reform, we’d separate the primary registration process out into its own system, and that could apply to states with open primaries as well.