Two weekends ago, an amendment that would have banned all caucuses from future Democratic nominating contests was rejected at a DNC platform committee meeting. Take it to the rules committee, backers of the amendment were told. Nothing if not dedicated, that is precisely what those activists -- most of whom were staunch backers of Sen. Hillary Clinton -- are planning to do.
As it happens, the rules committee's next meeting is set for this Saturday in Denver. Any amendments that are passed from that body -- or that gain enough votes to achieve "minority report" status -- will in turn be reported to the floor of the convention, representing perhaps one of the few legitimately unscripted possibilities of the entire extravaganza.
Bob Remer, a Clinton delegate from Illinois who drafted the failed platform amendment, has more modest goals this time around. Instead of killing off the caucus system altogether via an amendment at the rules committee, he simply hopes to propose the establishment of a "Nomination Voting Rights Commission" that can look into the system's shortcomings going forward. Unlike some anti-caucus activists who appear focused on undermining the legitimacy of Barack Obama's path to the nomination, Remer swears that he simply wants to add fairness and legitimacy to a system that was responsible for so much heartburn this time around.
"We need to win the White House, and increase our margins in Congress, that's on the front burner," Remer said. "But I want to see a firm commitment to addressing this issue, too. If the party can find a way to protect voting rights within the caucus system, God bless. I don't know how it could be done. And I understand there are costs involved when implementing a primary system [in all states]. But I want the party to commit itself to some basic principles. This isn't about picking on Iowa or Texas or Nevada. This is about respecting the rights of the individual voter."
In an email to anti-caucus activists that was also provided to the Huffington Post, Remer outlines a familiar litany of grievances against the caucus system. "Those of us who vote in primary states are accustomed and fortunate to have the secret ballot, early voting, absentee voting, supervised and protected nursing home absentee voting, absentee ballots for those in military service or overseas, lengthy hours so people who work all shifts can vote, ADA compliant polling places, legal protections against intimidation and coercion in or near the polling place, and many other civil rights and protections under law," Remer wrote. "Under the caucus nomination method these protections do not exist."
To that end, Remer has drafted a proposed amendment that currently reads:
Whereas the Democratic Party is dedicated to strong general election voting rights,
and Whereas the Democratic Party has a strong platform statement (as approved by the Platform Committee) in support of general election voting rights, including passage of the "Count Every Vote Act,"
and Whereas the Democratic party is always committed to, but not limited to, a) the secret ballot, b) ADA disability accessibility for all voters, c) maximizing voter participation in the Democratic Party nomination process, d) and protecting all other voters' rights in the nomination process that are protected in general elections,
Therefore, be it resolved that effective February 2009, the Democratic National Committee will appoint a Nomination Voting Rights Commission, with the charge to determine how the secret ballot and all other general election democratic voting rights can be applied to every state and territory for the Democratic Party presidential nomination process to be effective for all nomination activities in advance of the 2012 national convention and general election of 2012, and thereafter. The Commission shall report back to the Democratic National Committee no later than December 2009 with firm recommendations for implementing voters' rights in every state and territory. Under separate resolution the Convention Rules Committee shall promulgate procedures and suggested membership for such a Commission, taking into account representation from voters' rights advocates, caucus states, non caucus states, representatives of the major candidates in the immediate past nomination process, etc.
In his email to supporters, Remer revealed that he hopes to address the rules committee in person -- though if he is denied that opportunity, "we already have a couple of Rules members interested in sponsoring such a resolution. More would be better." According to Remer, of the 191 rules committee members, 87 are identified as committed to Obama, 76 are identified with Clinton, with one for Senator John Edwards and 27 others who hold no designation. "We would like supporters of all the candidates to sponsor this," he wrote, encouraging other anti-caucus activists to contact rules committee members directly in order to lobby for their support.
Since Remer calculates that he will only need the support of 37 committee members to merit a "minority report" that would then be passed on to the convention, he feels fairly confident that he and his allies can reach that threshold. Though he hasn't given up passing the amendment outright, either. "My resolution is not pro-Clinton or anti-Obama or whatever. And it may take a few years to work this out with all the states in terms of transitions. But I know that they [the rules committee] is eager to avoid floor fights [at the convention]."
While the platform committee meeting was organized to process a great number of amendments, the rules committee in Denver could turn out to be a more restricted affair. And while sources close to the DNC are acknowledge the fact that the caucus system needs a careful evaluation before 2012, it's not hard to see why they might seek to avoid kicking off that discussion two days before the start of the 2008 convention. But with some media watchdogs expressing skepticism regarding the news value of an over-scripted convention, the uncertainty of the caucus reform issue could add a welcome dose of suspense.
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