Showing posts with label Unity Reform Commission. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Unity Reform Commission. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Unity Reform Commission: If both sides are complaining, then you must be doing something right.

Recently, FHQ spent some time discussing Sanders-appointed Unity Reform Commission member, Nomiki Konst's charge that the URC has been or could end up being a "dog and pony show" in part because it is "stacked" with members who will vote against the reforms Sanders himself is promoting.

These sorts of accusations are not and have not been exclusive to the Sanders wing of the URC. Whichever name one settles on, the Clinton/establishment/anti-Sanders faction on the commission and its supporters have also made similar statements, whether calling the URC [potentially] "rigged" in Sanders' favor or that the URC will have been a "sham" if it does not accomplish this reform or shoot down that proposal. Both of those quoted charges above come from Armando over at Daily Kos. And, look, both pieces (see links) and any subsequent ones in the series are worth a read. But each suffers from a level of Sanders conspiracy theorizing that just does not jibe with reality of discussions on the commission.

Everything there centers on the same hypothetical proposal that FHQ discussed at length back in September (excerpted below) and has been a drum Armando has continued to beat in the time since:
While the spotlight is on caucuses, I want to take an opportunity to address a rather strange narrative on caucuses that has blossomed during the summer months. The idea, as proffered by Armando at Daily Kos and picked up by some in the national media, amounts to this: Sanders-affiliated members of the URC are aiming to propose "a rule that will call for the the Democratic Party Presidential nominating rules to require a state either hold open primaries or if the state refuses, and instead holds a closed primary, that a state party hold a caucus instead to select presidential nomination delegates." 
Now, on the one hand, this would create an expansion of the types of contests in which Sanders was most successful during the 2016 presidential primary calendar. That would be an understandable push for Sanders-appointed members on the Commission, and the behavior would not necessarily be that atypical. Proxies advancing the interests of their candidates in these settings is nothing new. What would be different is the Sanders folks attempting to include such a proposal among the recommendations the URC will make as 2017 comes to a close. 
I say that for a number of reasons. 
1) Nothing along these lines has come up at any of the three Unity Reform Commission meetings. 
NOTE: That was true again following the fourth meeting of the URC in Las Vegas. Nothing in the context of the caucuses discussion indicated that this open-primaries-or-else-caucuses proposal was among the Sanders faction's demands. Instead, the focus from the Sanders-affiliated "convener" of the caucuses subgroup was on training of those conducting caucuses, making that training uniform across precincts within state and across states, and on reporting first-tier results in a standardized system housed at the DNC (with an eye toward streamlining the challenges process).
2) It is not that the Sanders appointees cannot push a measure like this, but rather, that they would likely have a difficult time garnering the votes necessary -- a majority -- to make such a recommendation. Clinton-affiliated members outnumber those appointed by Sanders, and new party chair, Tom Perez, filled the remaining three slots on the URC. And even if the votes were there, the measure would still have to make it through the Rules and Bylaws Committee and the full Democratic National Committee to be enacted. 
3) That is even less likely given that the supposed proposal would face some of the same roadblocks as a rule eliminating caucuses, namely, funding. The Democratic National Committee would find it difficult to force a state/state party to have caucuses in lieu of a closed primary. First, the political landscape currently is not amenable to opening primaries as has been dealt with already. Republicans, at the moment, control too many of the state-level levers of power. That may change in 2018, but is unlikely to be reversed to an extent that newly-empowered Democrats could -- or even would -- open up primaries. And to force states in that category to hold caucuses would be unnecessarily and historically (in this context) punitive. State parties would have to give up a funded election and foot the bill for caucuses. Some states do that, but they are, as was pointed out above, very few in number. 
4) It would be odd to allow states constrained by state-level partisan factors to apply for a waiver from penalties on something like what Minnesota Democrats faced in 2012 because of their statutorily mandated caucuses scheduling and not on something like how opened a primary is to unaffiliated voters. There would be an inconsistency there. There are inconsistencies in the delegate selection rules to be sure, but they tend to be on matters much less consequential than penalties on violating states. 
5) The history of carrots and sticks offered by the DNC does not match this hypothetical proposal. Those have been used to combat issues where there was a widespread view that the matter was problematic. Frontloading is a great example. That increasingly more states were moving up their delegate selection events and clustering on earlier dates was seen -- regardless of which candidate one was rooting for on past rules commissions -- as a problem for the nominating system, not just a particular candidate. This proposal would mark a significant departure from that pattern of rule making. 
Until the evidence changes and such a proposal is put forth, this is not something that should be taken seriously. The reality is that this proposal and the weird narrative around it are an engineered vehicle for some within the broader Democratic Party coalition to vent about some of the more vocal Sanders appointees on the URC if not Sanders supporters more broadly. It just would not be a serious proposal even if all of the Sanders appointees on the URC were publicly in favor of it. Those folks are still in the minority on the Commission.  
In the end, it would still be more likely to see Sanders acolytes do what Ron Paul/Tea Party folks did after 2008. That is, attempt to fairly take over state parties and opt for closed caucuses over wider turnout primaries. The Tea Party era attempts failed in that bottom line, and it is still a likelier end point for Sanders folks than this unserious "proposal".
Continuing to fear monger about something that there is little, if any, evidence is actually on the table and just simply is unlikely to pass muster with the URC (even if it was on the table) is misguided. And it is not as if Sanders' points do not have their flaws. They do. The bulk of them face structural issues (pardon the "storifying" of these):



And Armando, to his credit, fits some discussion of those limitations into his pieces. However, there are a few additional spots in the first piece where he overstates just how clear the mandate is on the URC and how we should handicap what is likely to emerge in terms of recommendations.

First, on the caucuses and primaries, he states:
"The bare minimum the DNC can do to “encourage the expanded use of primary elections” is to prohibit state parties from using caucus results when their state governments hold primaries. If the URC fails to propose this reform, you will know this process was a sham. The DNC can also encourage the use of primaries by favoring states using  them with an award of more delegates than states that use caucuses."
This "bare minimum", it could be argued, aims quite a bit higher than what is in reality the true bare minimum the URC could offer in this area. The eighth tweet in the thread above on open primaries presents a clear example of this. Want to encourage the use of primaries over caucuses? Encourage primaries over caucuses. Just insert that language with the necessary caveats that acknowledge the structural roadblocks that stand in the way. That is what the DNC has done on the inclusivity of unaffiliated voters for cycles now. 

The same type of caveats apply to caucuses in states where there is a primary on the books. Yes, those states tend to have open primaries as Armando notes. But they also have tended to be primaries that occur later in the calendar. That was true for both Nebraska and Washington. In fact, the primary-to-caucus switch in Nebraska in 2007 was calendar-based. Washington has always been a bit complicated. But, then again, stories in caucus states typically are. There are idiosyncrasies under the surface that lead to states falling in the caucus category, and more often than not, they are some combination of political/partisan and financial, not suppression.

But that is a charge -- suppression -- that has been leveled more vocally this time around that may push the URC or the DNC to go beyond a passive encouragement and to instead do something with some more teeth. That passive encouragement, however, is the bare minimum here. 

Caucuses, then, will survive into 2020, but with a reduced footprint even before new delegate selection rules are crafted. Already ColoradoMaine and Minnesota have made moves to add state-funded primary options for the next presidential nomination cycle. But what of the remainder? Here Armando mentions the requirement that the URC consider so-called "firehouse caucuses".
"The DNC of course cannot require states to hold primaries, so some state parties will have no choice but to hold caucuses. But here the URC enabling resolution is also quite clear—it calls for making caucuses as much like primaries as possible. The express mention of “firehouse caucuses”—which entail providing as many voting locations as possible for the longest possible voting hours, with no requirement for spending long hours at a caucus standing in corners, is also indicative of the desire to diminish the use of traditional caucuses."
That "consider" is important. The URC's predecessor, the Democratic Change Commission, was charged with considering absentee voting in caucuses after 2008. And while there was experimentation with the practice it was not widespread in either 2012 or 2016. 

Firehouse caucuses are an extension of the firehouse primary concept. In fact, they are the same thing: a party-funded primary. As one looks at the state-level landscape, there are no longer any party-run primaries. South Carolina and Utah Democrats had the remaining party-run primaries, but found state funding or switched to caucuses during the first decade of the 21st century. And there is a reason there are not many party-run primaries. They are expensive. It is one thing for a state/local party to rent out locations across a state for precinct caucuses for a few hours at night. But to staff and rent out locations all day or during voting hours is something that most states faced with the option have rightly or wrongly avoided. That is the trade-off: lower turnout or less money in the coffers for other party business (and/or general elections). This is the tough part and why the national party has mostly deferred to the state parties to settle on a solution that fits them best. 

Finally, Armando raises the bonus delegates as incentive to draw states/state parties into doing what the national party wants. 
"The only proposal I can think of here that is consistent with encouraging the use of primary elections is to provide bonus delegates to states that use same-day registration. Note the mandate here is not for open primaries that permit Republican voters to cross over and vote in Democratic primaries. Rather it is to permit unaffiliated voters to vote in Democratic primaries. Since the DNC can’t dictate to states, its only option appears to be to provide extra delegates to states that permit same-day registration."
This is an idea that has come up a number of times surrounding and within the context of the Unity Reform Commission. Yes, the DNC has used a bonus delegate regime to help keep states in line on the primary calendar -- go later, get more delegates -- and to encourage states to cluster their contests -- hold a contest alongside other regional partners, get some additional delegates. But the record on these incentives is spotty at best. 

Actually, they have not really worked. The Republican Party had a similar system and dropped it due to its ineffectiveness and curbing frontloading. And the successes the DNC has had have been due to already late states staying late (see Arkansas, North Carolina and Pennsylvania for much of the post-reform era) or Democratic-controlled states moving back in non-competitive cycles (see the bloc of mid-Atlantic/northeastern states that shifted out of non-compliant February positions to April 2012 and stayed in 2016). California similarly shifted back after 2008, but did so not for extra delegates, but for budgetary reasons. That often proves more instrumental in the decision-making among state legislators than some extra delegates here or there. 

It is not clear, then, that delegate bonuses would have the desired effect of eliminating caucuses in primary states or opening primaries, as has been mention by occasional Armando foil and Sanders URC member, Nomiki Konst at the Vegas meeting. 

Carrots have not generally worked. Sticks have. Delegate penalties have been more effective -- offered across party lines -- at keeping states in line. But it is not at all clear that that is an option for Democrats and they will not necessarily have buy-in from Republicans on similar penalties. Caucus states do not match up across the parties, nor does a desire to have more open, inclusive processes. No, having Republicans onboard is not a goal in and of itself. Most Democrats would balk at the idea. But presenting a united front on penalties often helps make them more effective, albeit on common problems. 
Look, FHQ does not mean to nitpick here, but if one is setting a bar on what to expect from the URC, then aim for something more modest. A divided commission (in terms of how it came into being) such as this one is more likely to agree on smaller, incremental changes than larger ones that are more likely to drive a wedge or wedges between the two camps. And keep in mind, the DNC will have the final say, influenced not only by the URC but by the deliberations of the Rules and Bylaws Committee as well. Again, this fifth URC meeting and the recommendations/report is but the end of the beginning. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

At the End, a Beginning: The Unity Reform Commission Winds Down

With the final meeting of the DNC Unity Reform Commission on the horizon, some focus has again been given to the group tasked with reexamining both the presidential nomination process and the party organization itself.

FHQ must confess that it missed Laura Barrón-López's Washington Examiner piece on the URC over the holiday week last week, but it is a good example of attention that is shifting back to the group as it finishes up its work. But the story also overplays the Dems in disarray angle and misses the mark in a few other places.

On the former, it is prudent to provide some context. It is easy to say that there are tensions in a party and provide a couple of quotations from folks on opposite sides of the spectrum from within the Democratic Party (or any party for that matter). The truth is that parties are often internally at odds and in both the best and worst of times. However, those schisms are amplified when a party is out of power in Washington, when it has fewer (or no) legislative and/or executive branch victories to ease (although not solve) the problems at the heart of those divisions. It would be a bigger story if Democrats were not divided about the future of their party after losing the White House and were thus facing a unified opposition in control of the federal government than if they were/are at odds. That -- being at odds -- is basically the expectation one should have in this context, and is often something that most quickly appears in nomination rules fights for the next cycle.

In that way, the Democrats now are in a position not unlike the Republicans in either 2009 or 2013, coming off a presidential loss and trying to find a way out of the wilderness. Indeed, it is still rather underappreciated just how harmonious -- or if not that, then non-controversial -- the rules-making process was in 2013-14 on the Democratic side. The difference, of course, was that the Democrats of 2013 were crafting rules after two consecutive presidential wins. Something had gone right enough in  the nomination processes of the 2008 and 2012 cycles that the party -- in this case, the party organization (DNC) -- had incentive to retain the same basic delegate selection rules structure.

So, are the Democrats divided on the 2020 rules and the future of the party? Sure, but that is what one should expect under the circumstances. That out-party tension is at least a part of the advantage incumbent presidents have in defending the White House (assuming said incumbent is not embattled at the top a divided party him- or herself).

With that contextual note inserted, how are the Democrats' tensions overstated in this Barrón-López piece with the Unity Reform Commission as the backdrop? The following are a few nits that FHQ would pick.

The lede is misleading enough.
"The ideological fight for the soul and future direction of the Democratic Party is about to boil over. A commission created in the aftermath of Democrats’ 2016 presidential primary is meeting in December for the last time to make reform recommendations. This meeting is going to be a doozy."
  • See, right from the top, there is a fight for the soul of the party. But again, one should expect as much. There was vigorous, rules-based soul-searching within the DNC in the early years post-reform after 1972, 1980, 1984 and to a lesser degree -- at least in scope of resulting rules changes -- in 1988, 2000 and 2004.
  • Just to be clear on the process of the Unity Reform Commission, the group originally planned to meet four times, but added the fifth (voting) meeting for December at its second meeting in San Antonio. That fifth meeting will be the final opportunity for the group to meet and vote on specific recommendations. However, it may not be the final time the group meets. As part of its charge, the Unity Reform Commission does not officially disband until it is the judgment of the group that the full DNC has fully considered the package of reform recommendations. Yes, the recommendations will first go to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, but if the RBC does not adopt the recommended rules changes within the first half of 2018, the URC recommendations will be placed before the full DNC at its next meeting. This may be the final public meeting, but the work of the commission may or may not be done in December. 

Another process point...
"Among the reforms being floated by members of the commission, four big ones stand out and are at the center of debate."
These four reforms are not being floated, nor do they stand out. They are the four areas the resolution creating the Unity Reform Commission laid out from day one. The mandate with regard to the superdelegates is the most specific, though some questions remain about implementation. Further, the DNC will be limited in what it can do in the areas of caucuses and opening primaries to independents. The area where the URC has the most latitude and the least guidance from the resolution is party reform.


And another process point...
“'I’m afraid this is a dog and pony show and they’re just playing this game,' said DNC member Nomiki Konst, who sits on the Unity Reform Commission."
'Tom Perez says I’m going to follow the unity commission — of course you’re going to follow the unity commission, because it’s stacked with all of your people, so you’re going to get the votes you want,' she [Nomiki Konst] said."
Look, Konst was a bomb thrower before the URC, is a bomb thrower now and will likely be one after the group has wrapped. And that is fine. There is absolutely a place for that -- a push for reform -- in the process. Yet, the charge that the commission is "stacked" glosses over enough of the process to make it unfair.

Again, turn to the resolution that created the Unity Reform Commission. That granted the Clinton team the ability to name ten members to the commission and the Sanders team an additional eight. Part of what got the Sanders folks to go along with the membership part of the resolution was that the new chair of the Democratic National Committee got to name an additional three members. If a Sanders-aligned or Sanders-sympathetic chair was elected post-election (2016), those three additional members could tip the balance in Sanders' direction.

But a Sanders-aligned candidate fell short of that goal and Tom Perez was elected DNC chair. That seems to have further swung the commission in a Clinton/establishment/current DNC direction. This has been the case since Perez was elected and filled out the remainder of the URC last spring. It is not new.

That Konst is voicing the "stacked" charge now is potentially telling. It says less about the URC being a "dog and pony show" and more about where the recommendations negotiations are heading/have headed since the Las Vegas meeting in October. That is to say, not far enough in the Sanders direction at crunch time.

This December URC meeting may, in fact, be a "doozy" but that is because the other four have been more about hearing presentations from a number of principals from each of the four areas the group was charged with reexamining. Those were about listening, learning and discussing whereas this fifth meeting will be more final, more decisive. Recommendations that will appear in the Unity Reform Commission report to the RBC will be settled.

But this will be the end to the beginning, not an end. The structure of the convention resolution allows the URC the ability to continue lobbying the DNC. That pressure would mean more, however, if the group comes to some consensus on some or all of its recommendations. Divisiveness coming out of the commission -- less of a clear mandate -- potentially makes it more likely that the full DNC maintains much of the status quo. Of course, the counterargument to that is that the losing faction retains some electoral leverage. The DNC would have to come some of the way toward the Sanders' positions on reform to keep them in the fold.

Granted, that did not work in after 1984 when remnants of the Hart and Jackson campaigns demanded changes to the rules. Nor did it work four years ago on the Republican side when demands were made by the Ron Paul/liberty/Tea Party faction which was in a similar position.

Again, the close of the working portion of the URC is the end of the beginning. The end on the 2020 rules comes in 2018.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Unity Reform Commission and Superdelegates

Let's talk about the superdelegates.

FHQ has largely steered clear of the topic of the unpledged delegates within the Democratic presidential nomination process for a very simple reason. The convention resolution that created the Unity Reform Commission (URC) in the first place in the summer of 2016 really tied the hands of the commission with a specific recommendation the group had to make to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee.1 Given the language of that section of the resolution, the question has always been over whether the commission would stick with that specific recommendation or go beyond it (while still fulfilling the mandate). This is a point FHQ has hammered since the convention and on social media in the time since.

That question -- resolution mandate or mandate and more -- remains the pertinent one to pose, but the report of the unpledged delegate working group of the URC added significant nuance to it in probably the shortest of the four working group reports at the recent commission meeting. And what did we get from that status update from the working group "conveners" David Huynh (Clinton campaign Director of Delegate Operations and Ballot Access) and Lucy Flores (Our Revolution board member)?2

Most significantly, Huynh said that there is agreement within the unpledged delegates working group that the role of superdelegates is due for both revision and reduction within the presidential nomination process, but went on to concede that the mandate for what the commission is to do on the topic is clear. Huynh went on to say that the work ahead was about "working out the kinks" and "logistics".

Now, those terms in quotation marks above merit some further explication. Huynh did not elaborate, but Flores did in her brief comments to the full commission during the meeting. The main kink from her point of view was the language in the resolution on superdelegates creates two classes of unpledged delegates. Furthermore, she added, echoing the Sanders campaign and many others before it arguing against superdelegates presence in the system, that it was unfair to give more weight to some voices/unpledged delegates than others.3

Looking at that, there is not much that wanders very far from the binary choice mentioned above with respect to superdelegates and 2020. Again, that is resolution mandate or mandate and more. However, Flores later augmented her commentary on the progress of the unpledged delegates working group in an interview with The Young Turks. There, Flores points to a possible third -- yet to be determined (thus the "working" group) -- option on superdelegates. No, the pointing Flores did was not emphatic, but what is is that both the unpledged delegates working group and the URC are not all that enamored of the language on the superdelegates section of the resolution that created the commission. Its specificity limits what the group can accomplish in reexamining the role of superdelegates in the process.

And all of this comes full circle right back around to the "logistics" on which the subgroup is working. To be clear, this does not mean that the working group or the URC are nefariously trying to "get out" of that section of the resolution. Rather, the goal would be to devise an option different than that set out in the resolution while staying true to the intent: revising and reducing the role of the superdelegates. It is that point on which there is agreement on the commission after all.

With the time between now and the final URC meeting on December 8-9 -- the one where voting on recommended changes will be done -- ticking away, where does all of this go with respect to unpledged delegates? Does the group stick with the mandated recommendation, go beyond it, or find some alternate path? The answer hinges on a number of factors that I would file into three main categories.

1) Two classes
The main "logistical" issue cited in the comments of the unpledged delegate working group conveners was the two classes of superdelegates that the mandate creates: a group of unpledged, unfettered elected officials and a group of pledged party leaders.

This is nothing new.

FHQ will delve into a part of the history of superdelegates here before circling back to the main point of this section. Bear with us or scroll on down to the paragraph beginning "FHQ will deal...".

The two classes of delegates is almost inevitable so long as the Democratic National Committee places some value on having elected officials -- particularly Democratic members of Congress -- and party leaders involved in the process. Following two trial runs of the newly reformed system, post-McGovern-Fraser, the DNC was still in search of "just right" from its nomination process.4  Roughly, that is a system that manages a balance of a number of factors. And with respect to superdelegates there was a desire for balance in terms of representation among convention delegates. As Priscilla Southwell (1986) notes:
Some argued that the 1972 and 1976 conventions had contained too many “amateur” delegates who had little understanding of the necessary qualities for successful presidential candidates. Others argued that exclusion of mainstream Democrats prevented presidential nominees from building coalitions that were necessary for winning the election or governing effectively.
Now, there no doubt will be those who would contend that the rank-and-file members of a party do not need the party establishment to tell them what the "necessary qualities for successful presidential candidates" are. And that point would be well taken. However, the Democrats of the 1970s were still after not only an overarching set of delegate selection rules that would produce a winning presidential candidate, but one who could govern effectively as well. One concept that has made its way into the Unity Reform Commission discussion of superdelegates that was also often used in similar meetings in the 1970s is that of "peer review". In other words, there would be a faction of delegates that could provide that point of view at the convention.

But the first attempt at adding that point of view for the 1980 cycle fell short. The 1978 Winograd Commission had boosted each state delegation by ten percent with the express purpose of providing pledged delegate slots to party leaders and elected state officials (PLEOs). This had the effect reducing competition for the at-large and district delegate slots. Activists, grassroots organizers and others did not have to run for those positions against those PLEOs with better name recognition. Alternatively, it removed a negative incentive for PLEOs: They did not have to run against their constituents for those spots, something most were loath to do. After all, those rank-and-file most likely to run for delegate positions are the same who are most likely to volunteer for and/or donate to reelection efforts of those officeholders.

Those were the positives of the Winograd Commission addition of PLEO delegates for the 1980 cycle. But those changes missed the mark in terms of peer review. The number of party leaders and elected officials delegates actually decreased in 1980 relative to 1976 and that was most acute among members of Congress, those perhaps best equipped to judge the qualities of a potential partner in the executive branch.

It was there that the Hunt Commission began in 1982; again attempting to provide for robust peer review to complement the voice of rank-and-file party members filtered through primary and caucus voting. To bridge the gap between the perceived shortcomings of the Winograd Commission rules and the need to get more PLEOs involved in the process, the Hunt Commission reversed the 1972 era ban on automatic delegates but also made the 568 new delegate positions for DNC members and some members of Congress unpledged. The former -- the ban reversal -- addressed the participation issues for members of Congress while the latter -- their unpledged status -- returned, in the words of the Hunt Commission report, "decision making and flexibility to the convention."

--
FHQ will deal with most of the issues with that decision in section two below, but the important factor here in light of the "two classes" complaint is that the context was much different in 1982. The DNC not only saw the need for peer review, but foresaw that process happening after the voting and at the convention. Those were the considerations that became the the very foundation of this two classes distinction.

A generation later, though, the process functions differently than intended, and there are two groups of delegates treated differently in terms of how they function. But the baseline recommendation the URC is to make to the Rules and Bylaws Committee based on the group's charter does not really remedy that issue. In fact, as unpledged delegate group convener, Lucy Flores, basically argued in Las Vegas, it perpetuates the two classes problem while shrinking one of those classes.

Actually, it creates a third class of delegates when one fully considers the relevant dimensions of this. The pledged at-large, district and PLEO delegates remain as do the unpledged national elected officials and distinguished party leaders (i.e.: former presidents, former speakers of the House, etc.). But the DNC members who would be shifted into the pledged category do not so neatly fit in with the rest.

Why?

The answer is twofold. Part of it lies in the process the URC resolution creates. Those DNC members would be, in the words of the resolution, required to cast their vote at the Convention for candidates in proportion to the vote received for each candidate in their state. They would be bound. Now, the Republican Party does this. The last two Republican conventions have had heated discussion over the issue.

But the secret of the Democratic process is that the delegates are not bound. They are pledged. They are pledged to a candidate but are free within the context of the convention to vote for whichever candidate they please. What kept, for example, delegates in Bernie Sanders' corner at the 2016 Democratic convention despite the fact that he could not win the nomination was loyalty. But that loyalty was borne of the process by which those delegates were selected. Sanders won the delegate slots in primaries and caucuses and filled those slots with loyalists from his slate of delegate candidates. And lacking a full slate or enough candidates to fill those slots, the Sanders team had the right of review over who filled them (if filled by the state or district party). Those delegates are not bound, but are the folks least likely to stray from their candidate in a competitive convention environment.

The treatment of the DNC members would be different than both those pledged delegates and the unpledged superdelegates. They would be bound, not pledged. And they would be bound because, unlike the other pledged delegates, they could not be replaced by the candidates or would ostensibly lose their DNC positions in order to be replaced.5 But that is a treatment different than the two other types of delegates that potentially creates unintended consequences.

No matter how one cuts it, there will almost always be different classes of delegates, super- or otherwise, on some level so long as the national party continues to place value on trying to maintain both instructed delegates and enlightened trustees involvement in the process. But creating a new class of delegates is something with which the URC and later the Rules and Bylaws Committee will have to wrestle.


2) History and Evolution
Having established the context for the addition of superdelegates in the previous section, it is additionally worthwhile to look at the evolution of that group of delegates for some hints about any potential alternate paths the URC may consider, one divergent from the superdelegates resolution.

It is often easy to assume that the group of superdelegates in the Democratic presidential nomination process has been mostly static over time. Add Democratic members of Congress to DNC members and that equals superdelegates. That, of course, is an oversimplification of the equation now and historically. The number of superdelegates has evolved over time as has their share of the overall national convention.

Let's revisit the 1984 cycle. To reiterate, this was the cycle that unpledged superdelegates became a part of the system, added by the 1982 Hunt Commission to provide what was and has in the time since been called peer review at the convention. But fighting the battles of the previous cycles to right the ship for the future often lays the groundwork for unintended consequences. That was the case in this instance.

The original idea was to create a group of unpledged delegates that would equal 30 percent of the total number of delegates to attend the 1984 convention. By the time the delegate selection rules had been finalized for 1984, that number had been cut by more than half to around 14 percent. But the emerging method of determining who was a superdelegate was much more complicated than was the case in 2016.

The 568 superdelegate slots in 1984 were reserved first for state party chairs and vice chairs. The remaining approximately 400 positions were granted to the states and the Democratic conferences in Congress. States received a number of slots equal to the sum of Democratic members of Congress, governors and big city mayors. However, those spots were not necessarily reserved for members of Congress, governors and big city mayors. State parties could fill them how they pleased with, for example, DNC members from the state and/or other party leaders and elected officials not filling the pledged PLEO positions in state delegations. If that was not complex enough, the formula also granted the Democratic conferences in Congress the ability to choose 60 percent of their members to be unpledged as the final piece to the original superdelegate puzzle.

Now, the addition of these unpledged delegates was controversial as it stood. Yet, in practice, the selection itself, particularly of those congressional superdelegates, became separately contentious during and following primary season in 1984. And the reason was not dissimilar to what occurred in 2016. Early in 1984, before Iowa and New Hampshire voted, the Democratic conferences selected 60 percent of their members to be unpledged delegates to the national convention. But while still unpledged, the vast majority of those selected had a public preference for Mondale.

That selection served as an unofficial and unintended first contest in the 1984 Democratic nomination race. Again, the Hunt Commission report had seen the addition of these delegates as adding more deliberation to the convention, not less to the progress of primary season. The parallel is imperfect, but like the Sanders campaign during 2016, the Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart campaigns saw the early activity of superdelegates in 1984 as problematic.

After  primary season in 1984, Jackson surrogates argued for the elimination of superdelegates while Hart proxies pushed for a reduction of their share relative to the total number of delegates to the national convention (Southwell 1986). Of course, there were those who argued for the preservation of unpledged delegates moving forward. The byproduct of the back and forth for 1988 was a streamlining of the superdelegate process. First, the "who" of the superdelegates was simplified. Specific groups were granted unpledged status: DNC members, Democratic governors, distinguished party leaders and 80 percent of the congressional Democrats. Not only was that percentage of Democratic members of Congress raised, but a window was created between late April and early May for selecting them. That addressed a lingering issue from the 1984 cycle, pushing the selection back to a point well after the beginning of primary season voting.

However, rather than reduce the number of superdelegates, those changes for the 1988 cycle slightly increased their number. And that was generally the trajectory of change through the 2008 cycle; what was later referred to as "superdelegate creep" during the proceedings of the post-2008 Democratic Change Commission. That interim period saw the superdelegate share of the total number of delegates rise for a variety of reasons; a trend made clear in the chart below.

Some were more benign than others. Obviously there is some variation in the number of Democrats who hold elective office at the federal level, but the position of Democrats in Congress or in gubernatorial positions ebbed and flowed over the course of the period in question. There was also a broadening of the distinguished party leader category of unpledged delegates. Former presidents and vice presidents were included in that group from the start, and it expanded in fits and starts over time to include not only former Democratic speakers of the House and Senate majority leaders, but former minority leaders as well. Later, this was expanded to former DNC chairs and sitting presidents and vice presidents. Again, though, these were not changes that significantly altered the superdelegate share.


What more greatly increased the share of superdelegates were a couple of factors. In 1992, add-on delegates -- one additional superdelegate for every four DNC members in a state delegation -- pushed the number higher. And during Bill Clinton's reelection campaign in 1996, all Democrats in Congress -- not just 80 percent as was the case in the previous two cycles -- were granted to superdelegate status.6

All of this created an increasing share of superdelegates over time. But that was a period that witnessed neither the type of deliberative conventions the Hunt Commission had hoped for, nor superdelegates playing an outsized role in those nomination contests. That changed in and after 2008, prompted by the intensely close Clinton-Obama nomination battle. Not since 1984 had superdelegates and their role in the process been in the spotlight in the way each was in 2008. That was enough to put the role of unpledged delegates on the agenda of the Democratic Change Commission, the post-2008 group tasked with reexamining the nomination process and rules.

Typically, the modus operandi of any party following a successful capture (or recapture) of the White House is to maintain the status quo in the nomination process. Newly nominated/elected presidents tend to like the process that got them into office. That leads to subtle if any changes. And that was mostly true after 2008. However, one of the largest changes for 2012 was to the superdelegates system; to counteract the slow, but ever increasing share of unpledged delegates in the process.

And that change, too, is clear in the figure above. That substantial drop from a superdelegate era high point of 19.3 percent in 2008 to a low point -- lower than the original share of superdelegates in 1984 -- in 2012 of 13.1 percent is attributable to a couple of factors. One is that the add-on category was eliminated.7 But the decrease in 2012 is greater than the increase due to the add-ons in 1992. The other main factor differs from those above. All of those affected the numerator in the superdelegate share equation. The denominator also can change and did for 2012. From 1988-2008 the baseline number of delegates in the Democratic delegate apportionment formula was 3000. That was increased for 2012 to 3700, an uptick nearly equivalent to the overall number of superdelegates. But when that denominator increases the resulting share of superdelegates decreases. Practically speaking, those add-on spots were shifted from the unpledged to pledged area.

[The subtle uptick for 2016 is directly linked to that denominator change made for 2012. A baseline number of delegates set at 3700 plus unpledged and alternate delegates pushed the total number of delegates close to 5000. This proved to be a logistical nightmare. Delegations were seated not only on the floor but took up the entire lower bowl in the arena in Charlotte. That pushed press in to the mezzanine and upper deck and all other attendees in the upper deck as well. There just are not that many arenas that can handle that, nor a variety of cities that can accommodate that number in terms of lodgings. That, in part, forced the reduction in the baseline number of delegates for 2016 to 3200. That pushed the share of superdelegates to just above but around where it originally was in 1984.]

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This evolution since 1984 does offer some potential courses of action for the Unity Reform Commission if the group is looking for ways to uphold the intent of the superdelegate section of the resolution, but alter in some ways the language and implementation. On its surface that resolution redoubles efforts to curb the influence of superdelegates. It echoes the 2012 change eliminating the add-on delegates (and shifting of them in to the pledged category). However, as was described in the first section above, such a move to shift DNC members into the pledged category does create some issues that would require further discussion if not rule-making to properly implement. However, such a change, if ultimately recommended and passed, makes more sense than reintroducing an unnecessarily complex cap on the percentage of Democratic members of Congress who can be selected as unpledged delegates. That does not appear to be a road the DNC would be willing to tread again.

One could argue that the pledging of members of the Democratic National Committee is not the highest priority of those who were superdelegates detractors in 2016. Indeed, considering how by the end of March 2016 the Sanders campaign was openly discussing a plan to persuade superdelegates to switch allegiances, there does seem to be at least some acceptance of them. Granted, acceptance then does not equate to acceptance now. However, that strategic shift does point toward a hierarchy of  superdelegate grievances. The issue was less that those delegates were unpledged -- only that could allow a switch of preferences -- but the timing of the public announcement of the initial presidential preference.

As in 1984 with the selection of congressional superdelegates, the primary unpledged delegate issue in 2016 was that the public preferences of some gave a decided advantage to one candidate in the delegate count before any votes had been cast. The answer after 1984 was to create a window deep enough into the calendar in which congressional superdelegates could be selected and not give any candidate a pre-vote advantage.

Adapting a similar method for 2020 could accomplish the same goal. The idea is less to reduce the role of superdelegates and more to reduce the pre-primary role of superdelegates by prohibiting DNC member endorsements before a certain point/window on the calendar, until their home states have voted, or until primary season is complete. Many superdelegates have waited until those latter two points in past cycles. Such a move would circumvent the replacement and additional rules-making issues attendant to the current resolution -- as described in the first section -- while eliminating the largest of the superdelegates problems from 2016. And by delaying the endorsements of DNC members, especially if until the convention, maintains some consistency with the original intent of the Hunt Commission, a more deliberative and flexible convention (if the nomination remains unresolved at that point).


3) Process = Outcomes?
Now, if one were to handicap this and attempt to put odds on the likelihood of something other than the current superdelegate resolution being recommended to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, then one need look no further than the formation of the URC itself. This is a group almost engineered to deadlock on the most controversial items before them. And that is especially true for anything that reanimates the Clinton-Sanders fault lines. The superdelegates issue hits that mark, but so too do the items in the other so-called buckets. This is a group almost designed to create narrow and likely small changes -- at least compared to what some on the fringes of both sides seem to want out of this process -- to the 2020 delegate selection rules.

But that is precisely what makes how concrete the requirements of the superdelegates part of the resolution so important. Therein lies a recommendation the Unity Reform Commission has to make. If the narrowly divided group cannot agree on an alternative, then that is the recommendation that will make its way to the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

In the end, it is easy to be against something (like this resolution or the superdelegates system for that matter), but harder to come up with a passable alternative. That is all the more true given some of the complexities involved.


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1 Here is the language of the superdelegates portion of the unity amendment:
Section 3.
RESOLVED FURTHER:
That the Unity Reform Commission shall consider and make appropriate recommendations for revisions to the Delegate Selection Rules for the 2020 Democratic National Convention to provide for a change in the manner by which unpledged party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates participate in the presidential nominating process. In particular, the Commission shall make specific recommendations providing that Members of Congress, Governors and distinguished party leaders (DNC Charter Art. Two, Section 4(h)(ii)(1)-(6)) remain unpledged and free to support their nominee of choice, but that remaining unpledged delegates be required to cast their vote at the Convention for candidates in proportion to the vote received for each candidate in their state.

2 Convener is the term used by the URC for leaders of the four working groups (unpledged delegates, caucuses, primary/participation and party reform). Like the commission leadership structure, there is a Clinton-appointed and a Sanders-appointed convener for each subgroup.

3 Flores continued that grassroots voices/unpledged delegates in the party are the most important and should not be treated as lesser than those of other delegates.

4 Of course, given the rules tinkering that has become customary every four years, one could argue that the search for "just right" is never-ending. And considering that new problems are raised with new conditions in different cycles it is. However, it is more maintenance now than it was in the early days immediately post-reform. The two 1970s cycles and even 1980 were less maintenance and more about an attempt at developing a working nomination system.

5 It would take an additional bit of rule-making to bring this enforcement/replacement into being. But it would be a necessary addition to the superdelegates provision in the resolution to create some basic functionality.

6 Interestingly, the expansion of congressional superdelegates from 80 percent to 100 percent was offset between 1992 and 1996 by the loss of Democratic seats in Congress in 1994. The combination had the effect of reducing the total share of superdelegates in 1996 relative to four years previous.

7 It should also be noted that Democrats lost seats in Congress and gubernatorial positions in 2010, reducing the number of superdelegates in 2012. But that change was slight compared to the other tweaks to the superdelegates rules.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Caucuses, the Unity Reform Commission and Democrats in 2020

The Democratic National Committee Unity Reform Commission recently reconvened for its third of four meetings.1 On the agenda were caucuses, support for state parties and superdelegates.

If you had told me heading into the meeting that superdelegates were going to be one of the topics -- even one of many -- then I would have assumed that superdelegates would have been the point of controversy coming out of the meeting. And that assumption is not without a foundation. The unpledged delegates in the Democratic presidential nomination process were a wound reopened in late 2015 and one that continued to fester not only throughout primary season, but into and beyond the national convention in Philadelphia. Ripping that particular scab off, then, would, it stands to reason, reanimate those divides within the party.

But that is not what happened recently in Chicago. And there is a reason for that. The Unity Reform Commission was chartered in Philadelphia with the express purpose of reexamining a number of items within the nomination process. Most of that was open-ended. The Clinton campaign and its proxies took issue with, for example, the caucus process, and those affiliated with Sanders had concerns about, say, how the party was reaching out to unaffiliated voters. The URC was tasked with working together to discover, devise and recommend any changes to the rules to address those issues (if the need was pressing enough and/or if consensus could be built). However, there was little guidance in the charter as to the shape those recommendations would take.

That was not the case with respect to superdelegates. The task there was more defined and much less open-ended. In other words, there is a specified recommendation the URC has to make via the charter on superdelegates; to trim their ranks by roughly a third by pledging DNC members based on the primary or caucus results in their home states. That, in turn, has the effect not of limiting the discussion on the place of those unpledged delegates in the process, per se, but rather, putting in place a floor on the discussion where one does not exist on the other matters. The URC, then, could go beyond that mandate for a recommendation, but could find it difficult to find consensus (and/or design an alternative that would pass muster with the Rules and Bylaw Committee much less the full DNC).

Regardless, superdelegates were not controversial (or any more than they already were) coming out of the meeting. Strangely, caucuses elicited the biggest response. And to be clear the controversy was mostly external to the URC meeting; more in reaction to the topic discussion than anything else.

Again, this is unusual. The Democratic National Committee is limited in what it can do on caucuses. As the Unity Reform Commission heard in their first meeting in DC, primaries are mainly state-funded, giving those state governments some limited input on matters of scheduling and participation.  There are state party-funded primaries, but they are exception rather than rule and have mainly died out. Both South Carolina and Utah have had party-run primaries as recently as 2004, but if a state is not funding a primary, then caucuses have become the default alternative.

Indeed, that is an important point. Caucuses, to the extent they remain in the current context, are a function of, in most cases, a lack of a state-funded primary. Of the 14 states -- not including the territories -- that had Democratic caucuses in 2016, 11 of them were in states where there is no state-funded primary option. Only the state parties in Idaho, Nebraska and Washington -- the states in lime green below -- opted out state-funded primaries for the most recently completed cycle.


Furthermore, if one overlays the recent open primaries map (below) on top of the remaining yellow states on the map above, the picture fails to clear up any further for Democrats. The important thing to eye there is the stripe denoting partisan control of state governments. In only Hawaii and Washington are there unified Democratic state governments that could, if they were so inclined, shift from a caucus system to a primary. And obviously one of those states, Washington, has seen its state Democratic Party opt out of the state-funded primary since it was brought into being by ballot initiative in 1989. In each of the seven intervening cycles, Washington Democrats have chosen to record presidential preference and select national convention delegates through a caucus/convention system.


Elimination of caucuses, then, does not appear to be in the offing in 2020 and beyond. Unless the DNC is willing to pony up or state parties raise the cash necessary to conduct party-run primaries in states where no state-funded option is available, then caucuses, for better or worse, will be a part of the presidential nominating process.

And while it is true that caucuses are not going anywhere anytime soon, they have gradually dwindled in number over the course of the post-reform era. Primaries have proliferated as the main means of presidential preference expression across the nation since 1972. Then there were only 22 primary elections. The remainder were caucuses. In the time since, the balance has tipped and even more decidedly toward primaries. Not counting the territorial contests in 2016, there were, as was mentioned previously, just 14 caucuses left in mainly small and medium-sized states. That number will be scaled back even further in 2020. Already Colorado, Maine and Minnesota have made moves to add state-funded primary options for the next presidential nomination cycle. And in the latter two, the state parties have a say in the date selection for the primary and thus have incentive to opt in. In Colorado, the state parties are structurally hemmed in by the new law and national party rules and likely have no other recourse but to utilize the primary for delegate allocation.

That leaves just 11 caucus states at this point in 2017 for 2020. And other than Washington, the remaining caucuses are in small states. None have more than four members in the House. Participation rates in caucuses, though reduced by comparison to primaries, are reduced by less in small states than in large states. Those are all steps in the right direction for those who are proponents of scaling back or eliminating caucuses. The reality is that this is much like the Democratic Change Commission (DCC) deliberations on the caucuses subject. Minus funding, the most feasible path is through a tweaking of the processes and the development of what the DCC called "best practices," a more uniform process across states.

That remains the most likely URC outcome/recommendation where caucuses are concerned.

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While the spotlight is on caucuses, I want to take an opportunity to address a rather strange narrative on caucuses that has blossomed during the summer months. The idea, as proffered by Armando at Daily Kos and picked up by some in the national media, amounts to this: Sanders-affiliated members of the URC are aiming to propose "a rule that will call for the the Democratic Party Presidential nominating rules to require a state either hold open primaries or if the state refuses, and instead holds a closed primary, that a state party hold a caucus instead to select presidential nomination delegates."

Now, on the one hand, this would create an expansion of the types of contests in which Sanders was most successful during the 2016 presidential primary calendar. That would be an understandable push for Sanders-appointed members on the Commission, and the behavior would not necessarily be that atypical. Proxies advancing the interests of their candidates in these settings is nothing new. What would be different is the Sanders folks attempting to include such a proposal among the recommendations the URC will make as 2017 comes to a close.

I say that for a number of reasons.
1) Nothing along these lines has come up at any of the three Unity Reform Commission meetings.

2) It is not that the Sanders appointees cannot push a measure like this, but rather, that they would likely have a difficult time garnering the votes necessary -- a majority -- to make such a recommendation. Clinton-affiliated members outnumber those appointed by Sanders, and new party chair, Tom Perez, filled the remaining three slots on the URC. And even if the votes were there, the measure would still have to make it through the Rules and Bylaws Committee and the full Democratic National Committee to be enacted.

3) That is even less likely given that the supposed proposal would face some of the same roadblocks as a rule eliminating caucuses, namely, funding. The Democratic National Committee would find it difficult to force a state/state party to have caucuses in lieu of a closed primary. First, the political landscape currently is not amenable to opening primaries as has been dealt with already. Republicans, at the moment, control too many of the state-level levers of power. That may change in 2018, but is unlikely to be reversed to an extent that newly-empowered Democrats could -- or even would -- open up primaries. And to force states in that category to hold caucuses would be unnecessarily and historically (in this context) punitive. State parties would have to give up a funded election and foot the bill for caucuses. Some states do that, but they are, as was pointed out above, very few in number.

4) It would be odd to allow states constrained by state-level partisan factors to apply for a waiver from penalties on something like what Minnesota Democrats faced in 2012 because of their statutorily mandated caucuses scheduling and not on something like how opened a primary is to unaffiliated voters. There would be an inconsistency there. There are inconsistencies in the delegate selection rules to be sure, but they tend to be on matters much less consequential than penalties on violating states.

5) The history of carrots and sticks offered by the DNC does not match this hypothetical proposal. Those have been used to combat issues where there was a widespread view that the matter was problematic. Frontloading is a great example. That increasingly more states were moving up their delegate selection events and clustering on earlier dates was seen -- regardless of which candidate one was rooting for on past rules commissions -- as a problem for the nominating system, not just a particular candidate. This proposal would mark a significant departure from that pattern of rule making.

Until the evidence changes and such a proposal is put forth, this is not something that should be taken seriously. The reality is that this proposal and the weird narrative around it are an engineered vehicle for some within the broader Democratic Party coalition to vent about some of the more vocal Sanders appointees on the URC if not Sanders supporters more broadly. It just would not be a serious proposal even if all of the Sanders appointees on the URC were publicly in favor of it. Those folks are still in the minority on the Commission.

In the end, it would still be more likely to see Sanders acolytes do what Ron Paul/Tea Party folks did after 2008. That is, attempt to fairly take over state parties and opt for closed caucuses over wider turnout primaries. The Tea Party era attempts failed in that bottom line, and it is still a likelier end point for Sanders folks than this unserious "proposal".

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1 A fifth meeting has now been added for December, one that will, no doubt, be utilized to finalize the recommendations the URC will pass on to the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Open Primaries, the Democrats and 2020

Early last month the Democratic National Committee-sanctioned Unity Reform Commission convened for their second meeting in San Antonio. While the agenda at the first meeting in May in Washington, DC served to provide an overview of the nomination process to the members of the commission, the San Antonio meeting was dedicated to drilling down on a couple of specific issues. Mainly, time was spent hearing from a series of presenters and discussing 1) the overlapping/diverging interests of state governments and the parties in the presidential nomination process and 2) the idea of drawing unaffiliated voters into the process.

[For more on the first meeting in Washington, see here.]

FHQ has spent (and will likely continue to spend in the future) an inordinate amount of time discussing the former agenda item, particularly through the lens of presidential primary scheduling. However, here I will focus more on the latter agenda point; those unaffiliated voters. Typically national parties, if they have weighed in at all during their nomination rules making over time, have tended move in the opposite direction. That is, the national parties have been guided by an impetus to make the nomination process one where only registered partisans participate rather than opening up the floodgates to those outside the party. The principle from the party's perspective, for better or worse, has most always been, "if you want to participate, join the party."

At the state level, the story is different and varied. There, most but not all states utilize a primary as the means of allowing voters to express their presidential preference, the results of which determine the delegate allocation to candidates. And therein lies one of those aforementioned points of overlapping jurisdiction. State parties, by opting into the government-run and funded primary cede in part some of their ability to directly determine the parameters of the election. That is clearest on something like the date of the contest. It is state governments that make that "when" determination whether or not either of the state parties is on board.

And that same relationship exists to a slightly lesser degree where participation is concerned. By opting into a state government-funded election, the state parties yield to the state government to decide which voters can participate in a partisan primary. Unlike setting the dates of those various contests, however, state parties have been more willing to challenge the extent of state government control over determining who can vote. And those challenges -- Tashjian, for starters and some of the blanket primary cases such as California Democratic Party v. Jones -- have tended to find the courts siding with the parties, emphasizing the private organizations' freedom of association protections.

But not all state parties have or have had conflicts with the decisions made by state governments. Those state parties are, on the one hand, fine with more open processes that allow them to woo independents and/or those affiliated with the other party. But on the other hand, some state parties are perfectly happy with state laws dictating a closed primary. And as Meinke, et al. (2006) found, the ideological proximity of the state party to party registrants in a state has a significant bearing how open the process is. If there is convergence between the party and rank-and-file partisans, the primaries tend to be more open. But the wider the distance between the two, the more likely it is that the state party makes some attempt to protect their position by closing off the process to partisans of their own party or limiting participation even further through a caucus/convention system of nomination.

Of course, other state parties have not challenged those conflicts at all through legal channels, opting instead to leave well enough alone or to seek a solution through advocating for legislation making the necessary changes to who can participate. A final subset of state parties have chosen to (attempt to) opt out of state-funded primaries altogether at the presidential level and on down the ballot. It was this last subset that was most active during the Obama years. Tea Party and Ron Paul-aligned state Republican parties pursued -- mostly unsuccessfully -- a path of nominating candidates via low turnout caucuses closed but for registered partisans.

Yet, that action -- state parties attempting to create a process closed to those outside the party -- was consistent with how the national parties have tended to behave (when they have sporadically chosen to attempt to intervene on the matter). In fact, in an extension of the Tea Party maneuvering of the Obama years, a proposal was discussed and debated in the Convention Rules Committee meeting preceding the 2016 Republican National Convention to provide incentives to states with closed presidential primaries.

But the Democratic Party did not follow a similar, parallel trajectory at their 2016 national convention in Philadelphia. Rather, the pressure from Sanders delegates and supporters was to open the process up. That push, along with that on other points of contention like the superdelegates issue, culminated with the charter that created the Unity Reform Commission in the first place. However, while there were clear guidelines in that charter regarding the recommendations the commission would make with respect to superdelegates, the language on the open primaries question was more passive. Mainly, that is due to the some of the complexities described above.

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Now that the Unity Reform Commission has had this discussion, though, there are a couple of points FHQ would raise on open primaries. One is semantical. The other is a recitation on a theme I have raised a few times since primary season in 2016.

1. Open primaries?
While "open primaries" is often the shorthand used, they are not necessarily for what the Sanders folks have been pushing. And that is pretty clear in how the URC dealt with the issue. The approach of the commission was about attracting unaffiliated voters instead of an outright call for open primaries. There is some nuance there that is absent in calls for open primaries.

Categories based on National Conference of State Legislatures definitions

After all, Sanders did not fare all that well in open contests. Many of them were scattered across the South, where Clinton idd better than the Vermont senator, especially among African American voters. Looking at the wins each viable Democratic presidential aspirant had in 2016 (by contest participation type), Sanders clearly bested Clinton in states that held caucuses rather than primaries. Clinton only won in the earliest two caucuses in Iowa and Nevada. On top of that, her numbers were buoyed in the territories that held caucuses. But this was a category -- arguably the most closed of the bunch -- Sanders ironically dominated.

Sanders also had a 4:1 advantage in the states where law allowed unaffiliated voters to participate.

But Clinton dominated on either end of the spectrum in both completely closed and open primary states. The former was the true sticking point among the Sanders set as Sanders lone win in a closed primary was in the late calendar Oregon primary. The impetus of the call for change through the Unity Reform Commission, then, are those closed primaries. It is really a call fewer closed primaries or for more openness, not necessarily more open primaries.

2. Obstacles galore
Yes, this differs from what is happening on the Republican side -- the pressure there is in the opposite direction -- but that does not make a full scale change to more open primaries or incentivizing an increase in their number at the state level any more likely.

Why?

The answer lies in the fact that Democrats are in an inferior position relative to their Republican counterparts in state governments across the country. There are a lot of red and yellow stripes across the closed primary states in the map below. Republicans have unified control of more state governments, they control more state legislative chambers and they control more governor's mansions. That may change in the elections in New Jersey and Virginia later this year and/or in 2018, but that will not necessarily be clear when the Unity Reform Commission is making its recommendations (by the beginning of 2018), nor when the Rules and Bylaws Committee (and the DNC later) will finalize the 2020 rules in the late summer of 2018.

Sources: NCSL (participation type, 2017 partisan composition), New York Times (2016 Democratic results)
And even if Democrats improve their position on the state level in 2018, bringing about a change on the openness of the primaries may continue to prove difficult based on the mix of partisan control and local custom on a state by state basis. That circles back around to the Meinke, et al. conclusion above.

There is a reason the Rules Committee stalemate -- delay really -- yielded firmer guidance on the superdelegates question than on either the caucus-to-primary or open primaries questions. It was an issue the national party could more easily dictate. The latter two require some interaction with governments in the various states. And legislative action is just as difficult on the state level as it is in the national capital. It is a heavy lift and on open primaries, one that is political to say the least. Set your expectations accordingly.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Democratic Unity Reform Commission, Meeting #1, Day #1

The Democratic National Committee continued its path toward developing the rules that will govern 2020 presidential nomination process.

And if you came looking for fireworks on day one of the Unity Reform Commission (URC), you left disappointed. The group convened for the first time on Friday, picking up where the Rules Committee at the Democratic National Convention that chartered the committee left off.

This meeting, and likely part two tomorrow, will not be about setting any rules. Instead, the atmosphere among the 21 members -- minus two today -- was cordial. It was, after all, more of a preliminary meeting than anything else.

The usual suspects came up in presentations and subsequent discussions about the legal parameters of the nomination process and the history and evolution of the rules. There was a smattering of complaints about the privileged positions of Iowa and New Hampshire and the timing of delegate selection events generally, chatter about devising best practices for caucus states, and, of course, some mention of the place of superdelegates in the Democratic nomination process. Larry Cohen, Vice Chair of the URC and current Chair of Our Revolution, even reined in the group on superdelegates, cautioning that the group's next meeting (not tomorrow, but the next time they convene) will deal with that subject.

And overall, that was pretty much that. This was an introductory meeting that found the group more or less feeling each other out.

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FHQ had a recent discussion with someone in the Democratic Party, and we were talking about expectations for the URC. The point that I made then would reiterate at this juncture is that successful rules making from this group will be measured by the extent to which they are able to avoid items falling into the familiar Clinton/Sanders divide. If this becomes a process dominated by the rules decided along (intra)party lines, then it is likely to end bitterly. In the paraphrased words of a disappointed Sanders supporter at the convention last summer in Philadelphia, "These commissions are where reform goes to die." Perhaps, but it does not necessarily have to be or end that way.

But as the rules-making process on the Republican side over the last two cycles will demonstrate, it is difficult to avoid factions developing in a process that is viewed as extremely important among elites/activists within the parties' coalitions.

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The second part of the first URC meeting will be tomorrow. FHQ will be on hand for that as well. Whether I have a wrap up post on that session depends on the ground covered, but I will provide commentary on Twitter in real time as well.