Friday, December 15, 2017

Unity Reform Commission: Caucuses Recommendations

The following is part two in a series of posts on the recommendations passed by the DNC Unity Reform Commission during the group's final public meeting on December 8-9. While the text below matches the language presented at that meeting, there may be some subtle differences between the language here and the final report the URC will deliver to the Rules and Bylaws Committee by January 1, 2018. Those changes, if any, are unlikely to affect the intent of the substance below. Instead, the aim would be to tighten the language.

Below are the six URC recommendations for caucuses. Any emphasis added -- bold and/or italicized language -- is FHQ's and is mainly focused in this section on any action verbs; an attempt to capture the commission's emphasis on particular goals. The vote of the commission on a given measure follows bolded in brackets. Further notes are added below each recommendation, indicating any amendments and whether/to what extent those amendments were adopted.

Part one: Primaries recommendations
Part three: Superdelegates recommendations

Caucuses Recommendations
The commission makes the following recommendations:
1. A caucus state delegate selection plan for presidential nominating caucus shall only be approved if it...
A. requires absentee voting.
B. demonstrates that the submitting state party has the financial and technical ability to successfully run the caucus.
C. requires same day voter registration and party affiliation changes at the caucus location.
D. requires the public reporting of the total statewide vote count for each candidate based on the first round of voting [expression of preference by caucus participants].
NOTE: Weaver amendment (to 1.D.):
This made the technical change from "round of voting" to "expression of preference by caucus participants". The latter appears in brackets above and is the adopted language of the recommendation.
E. requires votes for the presidential nominating process to be cast in writing in a method to be determined in each plan to ensure an accurate recount or re-canvas is available. One model option could be the adoption of the firehouse caucus.
F. includes the standard and procedure by which a recount or re-canvas can be requested by a presidential candidate and carried out in a timely manner.
G. locks allocation of all national delegates based on the initial round of voting.1
NOTE: Voted on as a block
[unanimous with one abstention]

2. A state delegate selection plan for presidential nominating caucus must include a narrative of the specific actions the state party is taking to limit the impact of any voter suppression or disenfranchisement being imposed on the electoral process by the state. 
[unanimous with one abstention]

3. In states with five or more congressional districts that hold a state-run Democratic presidential primary, there should be presumption that the state's delegate selection plan use the outcome of primaries to allocate delegates for the respective presidential candidates rather than a caucus.
[tabled during amendment discussion and not returned to during public reconsideration of tabled items]
NOTE: Huynh amendment (to 3):The change would remove "in states with five or more congressional districts that hold a state-run Democratic presidential primary," thus removing the exception carving out for Nebraska the ability to use a caucus format when there is also a state-funded primary option in the Cornhusker state.  
[tabled and not reconsidered; not ultimately in the URC report] 
Motion to table the Huynh amendment came to 9-9 tie, but the chair and vice chair both sided with the "to table" side, thus tabling the amendment.
[11-9 to table]
4. The commission further recommends that the DNC institute a national training program and convening that provides best practices guidance on selecting accessible locations, ideas on making caucuses a positive and inclusive experience for voters and outlines rules the DNC has provided to ensure that caucuses are open and transparent. 
[unanimous with one abstention]

5. The commission recommends that the DNC work with state parties to create consistent standards and guidelines across all caucuses that allows for the implementation of best practices for information dissemination and reporting of votes. The DNC should also explore technology resources available to support state parties in creating a tracking and reporting system that candidates can use to streamline the registration and reporting process. 
[unanimous with one abstention]

6. Finally, the commission recommends that the appropriate steps be taken to ensure caucus voters like those in primary states have a right to participate in the caucus process. These steps should include any required rule changes and the proper education and outreach to ensure the right to caucus is enshrined in our process at every level. 
[unanimous with one abstention]

FHQ Thoughts:
  • Laundry list: The list of seven items in section one of the caucuses recommendations above is perhaps not as important as the clause prefacing those items. That line provides a hurdle over which caucus states must jump. In order to have their delegate selection plans approved by the Rules and Bylaws Committee in 2019, caucus states must hit each of those seven benchmarks if these recommendations are ultimately adopted and implemented.  In some ways this lends teeth to the provisions in a manner similar to the recommended changes to Rule 21(B) included in the primaries recommendations. Whereas primary states will now presumably have to demonstrate to the RBC that they have taken steps including pursuing litigation to alter state law in conflict with national party rules -- particularly on the converging of deadlines for party registration and switching -- caucus states will have to provide for absentee voting, for example, in order for the RBC to sign off on the plan. Of course, there is a difference between the two groups of states under these proposed changes. Primary state Democrats would have to demonstrate an/every effort has been made to make changes to state law (even in Republican-controlled states). However, caucus state Democrats would have no such potential partisan hurdle to clear. They would have to account for all seven items on the list or not have the delegate selection plan approved. 
  • Laundry list, part two: Looking over seven items in section one, the reality as recognized by the URC and intent are clear: Caucuses are inevitable under certain circumstances (red states with no state-funded primary option), but where that is the case, caucuses should, and in fact, would function as much like primaries as possible. Simply put, these provisions, if adopted, would fundamentally alter the way in which caucuses are conducted in the context of the Democratic presidential nomination process. Results may vary in terms of how and to what extent caucus states provide for absentee voting, for example, but no longer would the demands of participation have to include gathering, conversing and congregating in a room for potentially hours at a time while presidential preference (among other things) is gauged. Again, results will vary across states in terms of how and to what extent this is all implemented. A caucus state can have absentee voting in place but how far reaching is it? What is the ease of that process in terms of drop off and number of locations? That is something -- the kind of bare minimum standards and allowance for variation across caucus states -- that the RBC will have to flesh out on its end. On this matter, it should be noted that both sections two and six bolster this establishment of a baseline in the process.
  • Penalties: No, there are no penalties included or specified in this section, but the included RBC approval hurdle functions in that manner without specific penalties. The RBC may later add delegate reductions or bonuses, but the committee may also find that unnecessary and superfluous to the approval barrier. 
  • Unanimity: As was the case in the consideration of the primaries recommendations, those for caucuses were also unanimously supported by the members of the Unity Reform Commission. The exceptions similarly were on two fronts. First, the votes to abstain were all from RBC co-chair, Jim Roosevelt, who abstained so as to not prejudge any matter that will ultimately come before and be debated by the RBC. The second break in unanimity was again, as in the primaries section, on amendments consideration. And the signal from that is clear. Essentially it amounts to the commission having agreed to certain language, but that it would entertain additional changes. The more controversial the change -- as in David Huynh's amendment to section three -- the less likely it was to be adopted. 
  • Caucus confinement: Speaking of section three and Huynh's proposed amendment to it, there are a couple of important factors to highlight; one indicative of how the DNC views caucuses and the other procedural in nature. Indicative: In an overarching sense, section three would further define the DNC's evolution on caucuses if adopted and implemented by the RBC. This section builds on the RBC quietly ending the two-step primary-caucus in Texas in 2015. Prohibiting that practice and augmenting it with this section makes clear the end goal: to confine the overlap of caucusing and delegate allocation to smaller states where they are better (though perhaps not ideally) suited and only in larger states if no primary option exists. With Colorado, Maine and Minnesota voluntarily joining the ranks of the primary states for 2020, Democratic caucusing is a western phenomenon in mainly smaller red states. The exception is Washington, and this provision would eliminate caucusing in the Evergreen state as a possibility since Washington has a state-funded primary option. If this recommendation is adopted and implemented, then the largest Democratic caucus states will be a handful of four congressional district states: Iowa, Nevada and Utah. Despite a state-funded option, Nebraska is exempt since it has fewer than five congressional districts (amendment to section three discussion not withstanding). Procedural: Now, it should be noted that the provisions of section three of these caucuses recommendations are presumptive. It is presumed that if a state provides a primary option, the state party will utilize that option. However, it is not required as some of the provisions of section one are. Neither is this included in section one. The provisions of section three -- the limitations on caucus usage -- are not preconditions for state delegate selection plan approval. There are, then, fewer teeth to this section. Yet, this is a matter on which the RBC will have some latitude in crafting rules. Not to deliver false hope to those hoping to see further curbs on caucuses, but the RBC could choose to elevate section three from presumption to requirement/precondition for plan approval. [NOTE: Since the amendment to Section 3 was tabled so, too, was the original language in Section 3. As such, Section 3 did not make it into the URC report recommendations.]
  • Training programs are the new best practices: The development of best practices in caucusing was a priority of the Democratic Change Commission, the Unity Reform Commission's 2009 predecessor. But that was an aspirational goal, and one that continues to linger for the most part eight years later in section five above. The inclusion of training programs for better conducting caucuses in section four is similarly aspirational. Both are mostly out of the rules-making capacity of the RBC and instead lie under the broader domain of the DNC and its ability to finance such programs. 
  • Election night data nerds and election practitioners rejoice: Requirements for caucus voting in writing (in order to provide for a recount/recanvas process) and a cataloging and public reporting of first presidential preferences in caucusing are wins for those who want more out of caucus night than state delegate equivalents on and after those caucuses. [Yes, that one is self-serving.] 

Part one: Primaries recommendations
Part three: Superdelegates recommendations

1 It is unclear whether the Weaver amendment above affects the last portion of 1.G. as well as 1.D. The section and its seven parts were voted on as a block. But the discussion of "round of voting" versus "expression of preference by caucus participants" was specific to 1.D and what would follow "first" in that subsection. For consistency purposes (and perhaps because the section was voted on together rather than piece by piece), the language may eventually be carried over to 1.G. as well.

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