The Democratic National Convention’s Rules Committee agreed on Saturday evening to create a “unity commission” that will recommend reductions in the power of superdelegates and enable wider participation in party caucuses.
Although the commission’s recommendations would not be binding, activists who sought to eliminate superdelegates altogether are celebrating it as a significant victory given their lack of control of the Rules Committee and other key party organs.
The accord, reached after a marathon committee meeting and several rounds of voting, represents an attempt by the party to bridge the divide between supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. National progressive groups and an array of Sanders delegates, along with some Clinton supporters, were pushing for the removal of all superdelegates, who are elected officials and other party insiders.
Committee members voted by a wide margin to approve the creation of a 21-member commission charged specifically with recommending that superdelegates who are not governors, senators or members of the House would become pledged delegates, losing their power to vote independently of their state’s voters. By becoming pledged delegates, they would be required to represent the proportional results of the primary or caucus in their state. In effect, some two-thirds of the current total of superdelegates would lose their influence if the commission’s recommendations are adopted.
The Sanders and Clinton campaigns had been in talks on a compromise for several days, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
Sanders has long argued that superdelegates are a way for the Democratic Party to limit the influence of insurgent candidates. The Vermont progressive often noted that hundreds of superdelegates endorsed Clinton before he even announced his campaign. In that way, even in states where superdelegates did not change the math in Clinton’s favor, they contributed to a perception that Clinton’s nomination was inevitable, according to Sanders.
The unity commission’s mandate also includes some other nods to the respective concerns of Clinton and Sanders supporters. The commission would increase the number of eligible voters in caucuses, contests where Sanders did well. Clinton backers have argued that the small, hours-long meeting-style contests favor party activists.
The commission would also “encourage” the participation of previously unaffiliated voters by allowing for party registration on election day. Sanders has complained that strict registration rules kept out the independent and unaffiliated voters he was attracting to the polls.
The commission, to be convened within 60 days of the general election, would present its proposals to the Democratic National Committee for approval by Jan. 1, 2018. The DNC would then decide on whether to adopt the suggestions well ahead of the next presidential primaries in 2020.
The Sanders delegates and progressive groups pushing for superdelegates’ complete elimination hailed the compromise as a step in the right direction.
Opponents of superdelegates could not amend the party rules exactly as they wanted as they did not have enough votes on the Rules Committee. But since the amendment to eliminate superdelegates received over 25 percent support on the committee, its backers would be able to bring the proposal to a vote among all the delegates on the convention floor.
The dissenting delegates on the committee initially promised to do just that. But after the compromise to create the commission was reached, support for a floor vote evaporated.
Progressive activists acknowledged, however, that to even ensure the adoption of the new commission’s recommendations they would need to keep up the pressure on party officials. There is, after all, no requirement for the Democratic National Committee to accept the proposals.
David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, the group behind EndSuperDelegates.com, appeared to acknowledge as much in his statement on the compromise agreement.
“This is a partial victory — and we got this far only because of massive grassroots outcry about the superdelegates system,” Segal said in a statement on Saturday evening. “Demand Progress will keep up the pressure to make sure the recommendations are adopted by the DNC — and to fight for fair representation and against the influence of money in all realms of American politics.”