Showing posts with label superdelegates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label superdelegates. Show all posts

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Draft Resolution Would Largely Extend 2020 Democratic Nomination Rules to 2024

The Democratic National Convention is not set to gavel in for another 18 days, but the work of the convention itself is already well underway. The convention Platform Committee met earlier this week, and the convention Rules Committee will hold its first session today at 2pm.

But the work of the 2024 Democratic delegate selection rules will not begin there. In fact, a resolution has already been drafted to be shared with and considered by the 180 delegate member Rules committee.1 However, unlike past cycles, Democrats do not have a laundry list of primary phase grievances to bring into the quadrennial confab. For starters, despite all the hype given the large and diverse field of candidates, neither chaos nor widespread division among party factions took hold in the lead up to and during primary season. It is those divisions that often put the rules of the nomination process in the crosshairs, making them fertile ground for potential convention compromise.

The fallout from the tight 2008 Clinton-Obama battle, for example, produced the Democratic Change Commission that further codified the addition of Nevada and South Carolina to the early primary calendar, reduced the share of superdelegates, and committed to developing best practices for states with caucuses in lieu of primaries.

And obviously, the friction from the 2016 nomination race between Clinton and Sanders led to the compromise in Philadelphia between the two camps that yielded the Unity Reform Commission. Both sides had their quibbles with various aspects of the process and that created a commission with a clear cut agenda to examine the possibilities of opening the process up to an increased number of voters and transitioning more states from caucuses to primaries. It also set a concrete reduction of superdelegates that was later revised by the Rules and Bylaws Committee before it was adopted by the full DNC in August 2018.

But in 2020, that sort of animosity just never materialized among those vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. And now that the virtual national convention to formally nominate Joe Biden is on the horizon, the early signals for what the rules discussion will entail show it. Early reporting indicated that the draft resolution to be considered would include language creating a Build the Party Commission, but that language is not included in the draft made public. Instead, the process of reviewing the 2020 process and creating rules for 2024 would, under the resolution, skip that step and go straight the Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC). That body, as it was after the 2012 cycle, would be tasked with the rules review. Recall that the Unity Reform Commission met throughout 2017 and was required to present a report to the RBC by the beginning of 2018. The RBC then had to take those recommendations and turn them into actionable rules changes by the summer of 2018 in order for them to be adopted by the full DNC with enough lead time for 2020.

If this resolution is ultimately adopted by the convention Rules Committee and then by the full convention, then the RBC would review the 2020 process and draft a report by the end of March 2021. That would give the group ample time to craft 2024 rules ahead of a likely late summer 2022 DNC meeting that would adopt rules for 2024 (if the past model of rules adoption is followed for the next cycle).

But that is the structural piece of the 2024 rules puzzle. There is also a substantive portion embedded in this draft resolution. Again, however, if one is here for the flash of potential reforms, then the substance may be lacking compared to past cycles. Basically, the proposed resolution would carry over much of the 2020 rules to 2024. They would continue the commitment to a more open nomination process; the changes layered into Rule 2 for 2020. Caucuses, through state-level rules changes or necessity given the coronavirus pandemic, were already reduced to the lowest number ever on the Democratic side during the post-reform era.

The resolution would also see the barring of superdelegates from voting on the first ballot at the national convention extended to 2024. No, superdelegates could not overturn the will of voters (through primaries and caucuses) at the convention, but that was never really a threat in 2020. Biden established a large enough lead on and in the weeks after Super Tuesday to eliminate that prospect. However, superdelegates retained the ability to line up behind candidates before and during primary season. And the ones who did overwhelmingly preferred Joe Biden. And while that role was extended to 2020, the number of superdelegates weighing in and endorsing before or during primary season was greatly reduced compared to 2016. But that should not have come as a surprise with the field as large as it was and support as varied as it was. The true comparison, then, would be a competitive cycle with multiple candidates involved and not the sort of one-on-one contest that 2008 or 2016 quickly offered during primary season. In other words, the winnowing of the field was different in 2020. But superdelegates still played a role in determining who stuck around.

Despite that reality, the superdelegates rules change enacted for 2020 will very likely be extended to 2024 and very likely without much controversy. There may be pockets of dissension, but there will not be controversy.

The one new thing added in this draft resolution to the list of items to be carried over to 2024 is the one thing that was universally controversial about the 2020 Democratic nominating process: the chaos in Iowa at the beginning of the primary calendar. That raised anew the Iowa and New Hampshire question, one that has been fought to varying degrees for cycle after cycle in the post-reform era.

Is this the time that that change will finally come to the early calendar? On some level, it seems the perfect time. The strengthening of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd's killing over Memorial Day weekend brings into even starker contrast the misalignment of the two earliest states' demography with the membership of the broader Democratic Party. And that is after that was already a complaint of at least one candidate for the 2020 nomination.

That may be. However, those contests only minimally affected the winnowing of the field of candidates and weeded out those that likely should have bowed out earlier in the invisible primary campaign. It was when the calendar brought in more diverse electorates that the true winnowing took shape. It was the more diverse electorate in Nevada that indicated a two person race between Sanders and Biden and an even more diverse electorate in South Carolina (if not the important endorsement of Jim Clyburn) that catapulted Biden into Super Tuesday and the nomination.

Given that timeline, it would seem that the Democratic Party -- and this is excluding the important work the Republican National Committee will do on its own 2024 rules -- has a choice to make. Jettison Iowa and New Hampshire from the early calendar and risk the potential for backlash from those two states or basically ignore them and let Nevada, South Carolina and states immediately on their heels on Super Tuesday continue to do the heavy lifting.

Many will downplay the possibility of backlash from Iowa and New Hampshire. The DNC, after all, can follow its 2008 model, and penalize any states that seek to break the rules on primary and caucus timing. But would the party be willing to do so with a couple of states that are often competitive in the general election? They were with Florida and Michigan in 2008 (and they had more electoral votes at stake). But would that be worth it to potentially negatively affect the relationships between the national party and state parties in Iowa and New Hampshire with a competitive 2024 general election in which those states may be pivotal? That is an open question.

Look, the symbolism of the early calendar change alone is going to exert a degree of pressure on the RNC and DNC to make the above questions almost moot. But that does not mean that they are not worth considering or will not be between now and summer 2022. But those are the trade-offs that are involved in complex party decision making.

And to close on this subject, what happens on the Republican side with respect to Iowa and New Hampshire matters too. If Republicans hold pat, then that adds to the friction between the state parties in those respective states and the national party. That is negative momentum that the DNC in this case would probably want to avoid. And no, that is not the RNC dictating what is occurring on the Democratic side. It is just another variable in the decision-making process cited above. On the other hand, the RNC could take any potential change to the calendar on the Democratic side and run with it. This is more positive or reinforcing momentum. It is not as if the Republicans have not considered calendar changes of their own. But would the RNC willing follow the DNC into that change? That, too, is an open question.

Regardless, those are all questions and considerations for the time after November's election. But the rules discussions for 2024 start now at the conventions.

1 Draft resolution text (via HuffPost):
"WHEREAS, following the 2016 election, the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”), under the leadership of Chair Tom Perez, took substantial steps to ensure a more accessible, transparent, and inclusive 2020 Democratic presidential nominating process;

WHEREAS, these reforms, which encouraged many states to move from caucuses to more inclusive primaries, led to an unprecedented level of voter participation in presidential primary contests across the country, allowing more Democratic voters to make their voices heard and increasing voter confidence in our nominating system;

WHEREAS, these reforms helped inspire the largest and most diverse field in our Party’s history to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for President;

WHEREAS, the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the DNC (“RBC”) was instrumental in adopting and implementing the reforms that made the 2020 presidential nominating process the most dynamic and successful in our Party’s history;

WHEREAS, the Democratic Party needs to continue to build off the successes of the 2020 primary reforms in creating the rules of the 2024 primary process and Democratic National Convention;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the RBC must protect and continue the work started in 2017 to make improvements to the 2024 nominating process and Democratic National Convention and build on the successes achieved this cycle. With the purpose and the goals of continuing to further accessibility, transparency, and inclusion in our Party, the RBC shall conduct a comprehensive and structured review of the presidential nominating reforms adopted by the DNC for the 2020 primaries to evaluate where even further reforms are needed, while maintaining the advances that have been made. This review should include considerations of the successes of each of the reforms adopted in 2018 in achieving the DNC’s goals, empowering rank and file Democrats, and strengthening and unifying the Democratic Party in the lead up to the general election. In conducting this review, the RBC should take steps to ensure public and stakeholder engagement in the process, including at least one public hearing and an opportunity to submit comments. This review and accounting should be completed by March 31, 2021."

Recent posts:
The Electoral College Map (7/29/20)

The Electoral College Map (7/28/20)

The Electoral College Map (7/27/20)

Follow FHQ on TwitterInstagram and Facebook or subscribe by Email.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

One of Biden's Magic Numbers is Now a Little Different

No, not among pledged delegates.

Former Vice President Joe Biden clinched the Democratic presidential nomination over the weekend, surpassing the 1991 pledged delegates necessary to reach a majority. But with nearly one-fifth of all delegates yet to be allocated in the remaining contests, it remains to be seen whether Biden will earn enough pledged delegates and open the door to superdelegate participation in the presidential nomination roll call vote during the national convention.

To do that the presumptive Democratic nominee would have to be allocated a majority of all delegates (in pledged delegates). That way superdelegates would be unable to overturn a tight pledged delegate majority -- one that does not exist in 2020 -- if the group voted as a bloc. But again, that will not be necessary in 2020. Biden has a wide enough pledged delegate lead to have clinched the nomination by the pledged delegate method. The only question left outstanding is whether he will win enough delegates to allow superdelegate participation on the first ballot.

Biden is on pace to do that, but that number -- the majority of all delegates -- has changed during primary season. Appendix B to the Call for the Convention had the number of superdelegates at 771 at the end of 2019. For the 2020 cycle, however, the secretary of the Democratic National Committee had to certify the number of superdelegates to each state party by March 6, 2020 under Rule 9 of the 2020 delegate selection rules.

That subsequent certification adjusted the number of superdelegates in 23 states and territories. And those changes ranged from an addition of four (4) superdelegates in New York to a loss of two (2) superdelegates in three jurisdictions (District of Columbia, Illinois and Oregon).

Although, in the aggregate, the changes across all 23 states and territories largely cancelled each other out. There ended up being three more delegates added from states than subtracted. And that increases not only the number of superdelegates to 774, but slightly raises the magic number of all delegates Biden would have to win in order to allow superdelegates into the roll call voting at the convention.

So, instead of that number being 2376 delegates, Biden will have to get to 2378 pledged delegates to trigger the superdelegate voting privileges. No, that is unlikely to be too high a bar for the former vice president to clear. But it is a change.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Magic Number? Determining the Winning Number of Democratic Delegates Will Be Tougher in 2020

FHQ gets a kick out of folks who authoritatively talk about the number of delegates the winning candidate will need in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race.

There are some things that one does know at this point about the chase for Democratic delegates in 2020. There are a lot of candidates (now). The allocation is all proportional (with a 15 percent qualifying threshold). California and North Carolina joining most of the Super Tuesday line up from 2016 means Super Tuesday 2020 will, in fact, be fairly super. Furthermore, one knows that the cumulative delegates allocated through the first two months of the 2020 calendar (February and March) is roughly on par with the number of delegates allocated through the first two months of the 2008 calendar (January and February).

All of this is useful, but it obscures one reality about the 2020 Democratic nomination process that is unknown at this point and may remain that way for some time: the actual number of delegates and thus the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

Part of the reason for that is, for lack of a better term, normal, or it has been since the 2008 cycle. Since the Democratic process includes bonus delegates for timing (a 2008 cycle innovation) and clustering (new in 2012), the final tally of delegates has to wait on the calendar to solidify. New York,  for example, does not yet officially have a primary date. But if the Empire state primary ends up on April 28, as is expected given the draft of the state party delegate selection plan, then New York Democrats will tack on an additional 10 percent to the base delegation for an April primary (timing) and an additional 15 percent for scheduling the contest with primaries in regionally contiguous states (clustering). That is easy enough to work around, but it 1) is not reflected in the number of delegates the DNC is counting because 2) those bonuses will ultimately affect the number of delegates at stake.

Again, that is an easy enough adjustment. But it is just going to take some time to officially settle.

But there are two other factors that make the magic number of Democratic delegates necessary to clinch the presidential nomination more of a moving target in 2020 than has been the case in the past. And this is an issue that will stretch into primary season. Both hinge on the changes made to the rules regarding superdelegate participation in the process.

The first of these is more obvious. Since superdelegate participation in the voting on the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee is conditional, that affects which group of delegates is determinative. As FHQ laid out last summer when the rules package was adopted by the Rules and Bylaws Committee:
  1. If a candidate wins 50 percent of the pledged delegates plus one during or by the end of primary season, then the superdelegates are barred from the first ballot.
  2. If a candidate wins 50 percent of all of the delegates (including superdelegates) plus one, then the superdelegate trigger is tripped and that faction of delegates can participate in the first (and only) round of voting.
  3. If no candidate wins a majority of either pledged or all delegates during or by the end of primary season, then superdelegates are barred from the first round and allowed in to vote in the second round to break the stalemate.
In other words, if there is a presumptive nominee heading into the convention, then it is likely that the magic number it be a majority of all delegates (including superdelegates). Of course, that outcome is less knowable in the thick of primary season. But if the writing is on the wall by the end of primary season, then there is likely to be some movement between then and the convention that allows superdelegates back into the voting. And by "writing on the wall," FHQ means that the first ballot vote appears to be the formality that it has been since 1952. And, by extension, it will include all of the delegates -- pledged and superdelegates -- as it has since 1984.

However, early on in primary season, at least, there is likely to be a chase after two separate numbers: a majority of pledged delegates and an asterisk chase for a majority of all delegates. Candidates will go after the former because that is all that is technically needed to win the nomination. By the same token, however, campaigns will also target the latter. And in truth that chase is, perhaps, less about the majority of all delegates than it is about lining up superdelegates support contingent on a second ballot vote at the national convention. But that contingency will be one that requires a majority of all delegates because superdelegates will be eligible to vote on any ballot beyond the first.

The final complicating factor in determining the magic number of delegates needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 again focuses on the superdelegates. But this one has less to do with the which question above (as in which pool of delegates is determinative) and more again about how many delegates are necessary. Unlike past cycles during the superdelegates era (1984-2016), superdelegates can shed their capes so to speak and run for pledged delegate slots. The DNC made that change because of the above changes made to superdelegate participation. In the event that a DNC member or elected official is so frustrated at potentially not being able to participate in the convention voting on the nomination, the party rescinded the prohibition on superdelegates running for pledged delegate positions. The new rules, then, allow superdelegates to run for pledged delegate positions if they want to guarantee that they will meaningfully vote to determine the nomination.

But that is not a costless exchange, at least not for the state delegation. Any superdelegate that opts to run for (and potentially win) a pledged delegate position gives up that superdelegate vote. Furthermore, that vote is not replaced as a vacancy in the pledged delegate pool would be. That would have the effect of reducing the number of delegates in a given state delegation by the number of superdelegates who choose to run for pledged delegate slots.

[Incidentally, this highlights at least part of the motivation to add superdelegates in the first place way back in 1982. Yes, superdelegates potentially have great sway in a tight nomination race and if they are largely united. But creating automatic slots for DNC members and elected officials also freed up pledged delegate slots for grassroots activists and gave state parties much more leeway in balancing their delegations given the DNC affirmative action requirements. That task gets much harder in 2020 if superdelegates are moved to run for pledged delegate slots.]

No, superdelegates running for pledged delegate slots does not affect the number of pledged delegates needed to clinch the nomination. Yet, if would affect the total number of delegates needed should the convention go beyond a first ballot. And if you are the braintrust within any of the Democratic presidential campaigns at this point, that is a jumble of rules that you have to keep tabs on. Some campaigns will be better able to adapt than others.

While the wait continues on the calendar to finalize, a word of advice: dismiss out of hand any mention in any story of a specific number of delegates needed to win the 2020 Democratic nomination. At this point, that number is not known.

Monday, January 21, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- How the 2020 Endorsement Primary Will Be Different

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the days that recently were...

It is not going too far out on a limb to say that any one aspect of a presidential nomination cycle is or will be different than it was in previous cycles. That is and has been the nature of the process in the post-reform era. Rules change. Candidates change. Conditions change.

2020, then, is not exactly like 2016 in the same way that 2016 was not a carbon copy, at least on the Democratic side, of 2008.

One area where 2020 will differ from 2016 is in how candidates running for 2020 accrue endorsements along the way. Much has been made of the rules changes the Democratic National Committee made with respect to superdelegates. That group of unplugged delegates was not eliminated, but their collective voting power at the national convention was curbed to some degree. However, left untouched by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee was the ability of individual superdelegates to endorse candidates vying for the 2020 nomination.

In that way, superdelegates could play much the same role in 2020 that they have in previous cycles.

But the conditions of 2020 may augur against that. For one thing, there are far more candidates who are seemingly running this time around than four years ago. And there is also no clear frontrunner at this point in 2020 as there was in 2016. The clarity of Clinton's status was buttressed by the endorsements she had. At a similar point in 2015, the former secretary of state had 62 high profile endorsements. And that was before she had announced her bid.

No one candidate for 2020, announced or not, has anything approaching that level of institutional support. Joe Biden's name has been invoked by California senior senator, Diane Feinstein, and New York governor, Andrew Cuomo. And while that may be significant given that folks from those two states -- Harris from the Golden state and Gillibrand from the Empire state -- are running, the total falls far short of Clinton's from four years ago (if one can even consider those full-throated endorsements for Biden at all).

Again, however, with a larger field of candidates and no clear frontrunner, some of that is to be expected. But there may also be other forces at work here that are worthy of further consideration.

One that has been mentioned in light of the 2016 controversy over superdelegates and resulting rules changes that stemmed from that is that some elected officials in the position to endorse may opt to wait as others have in the past until after their constituents have voted (or all of the voting is complete). In some way, superdelegate decision making on the endorsement question is like that of the calculus that big money donors are facing now: wait for the dust to settle a bit and then weigh in.

Yet, the extent to which superdelegates may be frozen out of making an endorsement goes beyond that which donors are encountering. Some may be waiting on a signal rather than more actively/forcefully giving one; a reverse of the causal relationship noted in Cohen, et al. in The Party Decides.

Another aspect of this that I have not seen picked up on to this point is the reduced potential for high profile endorsements this cycle as (unfairly?) compared to the far less wide open 2016 cycle. And what I mean by that is there are already a fair number of superdelegates who are vying for the Democratic nomination in 2020. On a basic level, then, there are just fewer superdelegates to provide endorsements. Elizabeth Warren is not going to endorse Cory Booker anymore than Kamala Harris is going to throw her support behind Jay Inslee. this time.

This, too, to some hypothetical extent has a freezing effect on other high profile would-be endorsers. Why support someone now only to see them withdraw from the race in the coming months? Why endorse a colleague/ally now over another colleague/ally?

In other words, there is a timing element to layer into this decision-making framework. The confluence of everything above may -- may -- give less incentive to early endorsements, but really increase the likelihood (and impact?) of later endorsements once the field has winnowed some and some of these superdelegates are culled from the pack.

In the meantime, there may be other endorsements to fill the void: state legislators. They may not meaningful on an individual endorsement basis, but in the aggregate may give us an idea of which candidates have some institutional support on the state level. And that may, in turn, influence where some of the heavier endorsement hitters wind up in the end.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Add Kamala Harris to the list. The California senator is officially in and not just exploratory committee in -- like Castro, Gillibrand or Warren -- but in in.

2. Brown's PAC continues to add staff in Iowa.

3. Recent speeches are giving the potential Larry Hogan challenge of the president for the Republican nomination some steam.

4. If his was a run *for* 2020, it was a very half-hearted run from Bob Casey that is now over. It never really got beyond the "I won't close the door on it"/"I'm thinking about it" stage.

5. Booker gets encouragement to run while in Louisiana and Georgia on his trips through the states on the way to South Carolina on the MLK holiday.

6. New Hampshire got a visit from Warren for the second consecutive weekend, and South Carolina will see her there this week.

7. Howard Schultz and his advisers floating the idea of an independent bid seemingly indicates an awful lot about how things are going for him in the Democratic invisible primary.

8. There were no endorsements, but one would rather have potentially influential Iowa Democrats at a  speech during a first trip to the Hawkeye state than not. Gillibrand had the state party chair and 2018 Democratic for secretary of state stop in.

9. Both Gillibrand and Harris are touting widely distributed fundraising successes following their presidential announcements.

10. Swalwell's Palmetto pitstop over the weekend gave a bit more of a glimpse into his thinking on a run.

11. Finally, Elaine Kamarck has a solid piece on the 2020 rules and the Democratic nomination. The only omission is some of the superdelegates/endorsements-related implications which were more controversial in 2016 and were not affected, at least not directly, by the changes for 2020.

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Unity Reform Commission Seeing Its Recommendations 'Substantially Adopted' Sends Rules Package on to DNC

Following a brief (by rules meetings standards) conference call on Tuesday, July 17, Unity Reform Commission Chair Jennifer O'Malley-Dillon and Vice Chair Larry Cohen released the following statement (via the DNC):
“We are proud to fully support the Rules and Bylaws Committee’s proposals for substantially adopting the Unity Reform Commission’s recommendations. Following the 2016 Democratic National Convention, the URC was established by party members with a mandate to review our party’s presidential nominating process and make meaningful reforms to strengthen our party and expand its reach. After several meetings, we proposed our recommendations for making our party more accessible, transparent, and inclusive. Since delivering our recommendations to the DNC last December, DNC Chair Tom Perez and the members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee have worked diligently to develop the new processes through which we will select our presidential nominees in future election cycles. 
“These new reforms will increase participation, empower our candidates to be more competitive across the country, bring new and unaffiliated voters into the party, broaden our base at the grassroots level, expand the use of primaries, and make caucuses more accessible to people like shift workers and overseas military personnel. Notably,​ in a reform that we fully support, the new rules will reduce the influence, whether real or perceived, of unpledged delegates. 
“These proposed reforms carry support from this commission made up of individuals that represent the vibrant, diverse quilt that makes up the Democratic Party. As such, we are confident that we’re going to head into 2018 and 2020 a stronger, more unified, competitive, and energized party that is welcome to every voter who shares our values.”
[Bolded links added by FHQ]

FHQ will not call the aforementioned conference call a formality, but the pace with which the URC reviewed the work of the Rules and Bylaws Committee -- reconciling it with the URC recommendations from December -- made it appear as if it was just that.

And it was not just the pace. There were few times during the conference call in which objections were made. URC member, Jim Zogby, raised some concerns about a couple of subsections to the party reform section of the URC report. And vice chair, Larry Cohen, made a passing reference to the fact that the Rules and Bylaws Committee scaled back the language on how forcefully the national party would push states/state parties to change registration rules, for example. But that was the extent of the dissension. Zogby's issues will see a review by the Rules and Bylaws Committee either at its pre-DNC meeting gathering or during the winter meeting in early 2019. On the other hand, Cohen's point was more a comment on preference, but one that implied how limited the national parties are in exercising enforcement when change requires movement by state governments; state governments in some cases of which are controlled by the Republican Party.

With little dissension, then, the URC signed off on the rules reform package the Rules and Bylaws Committee has devised, clearing its path for consideration before the full DNC in August. That there has now been near unanimity on these changes at the URC stage in 2017, the RBC stage in 2018, and the URC review stage sends a clear signal to the members of the DNC ahead of the party's vote next month to adopt the changes to the delegate selection rules and convention call for 2020.

Real time thread on URC conference call meeting:

2020 Delegate Selection Rules and Convention Call Pass Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee Hurdle

Third Way? Third Way Plus? The Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee Again Revisits Superdelegates

DNC Unity Reform Commission Report

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

2020 Delegate Selection Rules and Convention Call Pass Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee Hurdle

Last week the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) once again reconvened in Washington, DC to finalize its proposed package of recommended changes to the delegate selection rules, call for the convention, and bylaws for the 2020 cycle. Despite some of the headlines trumpeting what a momentous occasion it was, the meeting was, in reality, another incremental step in the process of finalizing the amendment proposals. It was a meeting intended to polish one final time the changes the panel would send to the full DNC for consideration in August.

Now, that is not to minimize the work of the RBC over the last six months. Indeed, from a macro perspective the changes the members of the Democratic National Committee will vote on at its Chicago meeting next month represent some fairly significant potential changes to the Democratic presidential nomination process. But the RBC arrived at those decisions in fits and starts over a series of meetings during the first half of 2018. In other words, the heavy lifting had already been done.

Take, for example, the oft-discussed Third Way Plus proposal to reduce the role of superdelegates in the nomination process. Yes, the RBC voted on the exact language of those changes at this final July 11 meeting (27 votes for , 2 abstentions), but the group had previously passed off on the framework by a similar vote (27 for, 1 against, and 1 abstention) during a June 27 conference call meeting.

And that is the way it most often goes: changes both monumental and incremental can get lost among all of the rules tinkering that occurs at periodic but regular meetings of the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

While that superdelegate/automatic delegate change and the remainder of the amendments package will go before the full DNC in August, the convention-created committee where many of the proposed changes found their inspiration -- the Unity Reform Commission (URC) -- has the ability to review the package and reconcile it with their own work from 2017.

A thumbs up from the URC means the DNC will likely have an up or down vote -- pending any amendments from DNC members -- on the package of changes.

Any dissension in the URC review process likely signals amendments to come from the URC itself. Their threshold is whether the RBC in the URC's judgment has "substantially adopted" the URC recommendations. If, in the committee's judgment, the RBC has failed to meet that subjective threshold in the areas of primaries, caucuses, unpledged delegates, and party reform, then the URC can put before the full DNC next month proposals that will.

Two additional notes should be added here:
First, recall the membership of the URC. Although there was wide consensus across nearly all of the planks in each of the four areas (There were only two instances in which unanimity was not reached.), the panel tilted toward the more establishment faction (Clinton-chosen plus Perez-chosen members). Should, for example then, the Sanders faction of the URC come to the conclusion that some recommendation was not substantially adopted, they would need help from the other faction to get an alternative before the full DNC. [It could work in the opposite direction as well, but the establishment faction would have the votes without needing any Sanders-aligned support. That said, this scenario seems unlikely.]

It should also be noted that the DNC parliamentarian urged the RBC during its final July 11 meeting to adopt well ahead of the DNC meeting a clear protocol for amendments to be introduced at that meeting. Objection to a proposed change, as is the case with the platform amendment process at the national convention, would not be sufficient to derail a change. Rather, an objection plus an already devised and drafted alternative must be provided. The URC, then, can object, but it will have to work out an alternative proposal for the DNC to consider. And that proposal would have to include the exact language of the change. [This was an issue with the URC recommendations. The RBC spent the first few meetings this year trying to transition the proposals to language that could be inserted in the rules, convention call, and bylaws.] That would add to the items on the URC plate in its review meeting; items that could potentially take up time as the clock ticks down toward the DNC meeting.

Procedure aside, at what is the URC looking from the RBC and can it be reconciled with the recommendations the group settled on throughout 2017?

On superdelegates/automatic delegates, the RBC, it could be argued, went beyond the recommendations of the URC. Rather than fashioning a plan to leave a third of the superdelegates in place and bind the remaining two-thirds of the would-be automatic delegates based on statewide primary or caucus results, the RBC remedy for curbing the influence of superdelegates was to remove them from the equation on the first ballot roll call vote at the national convention.

The third way plus proposal was introduced during the June 27 RBC conference call meeting by member Elaine Kamarck. Her motion was the following:
All current unpledged delegates will become automatic delegates. On the first ballot of the presidential roll call, only pledged delegates will be permitted to vote unless a presidential candidate has secured enough pledged delegates to receive the nomination under any circumstances. At that point, automatic delegates should be permitted to vote. This determination shall be made by the DNC secretary upon certification of pledged delegates at the conclusion of the primary and caucus process. The threshold for a presidential candidate to secure the nomination is a majority (50% + 1) of all eligible delegate votes. In the event that the nominating contest moves beyond the first ballot, all automatic delegates would be able to cast a vote for the candidate of their choice on the second ballot and all subsequent ballots until a nominee is chosen. Automatic delegates would retain their ability to vote according to their own preferences on all other convention matters including the credentials, convention rules, platform, and the vice presidential nomination. 
This framework was adopted as described in the first section above. The intent and the eventual language set up the conditions under which the now-automatic delegates can or cannot participate in the first round of voting.
  1. If a candidate wins 50 percent of the pledged delegates plus one during or by the end of primary season, then the superdelegates are barred from the first ballot.
  2. If a candidate wins 50 percent of all of the delegates (including superdelegates) plus one, then the superdelegate opt-in is triggered and that faction of delegates can participate in the first (and only) round of voting.
  3. If no candidate wins a majority of either pledged or all delegates during or by the end of primary season, then superdelegates are barred from the first round and allowed in to vote in the second round to break the stalemate.
The route differs from the URC proposal for reducing the role of superdelegates in the presidential nomination process, but the RBC plan -- third way plus -- arrives at a similar end.

There were additional tangential recommendations made around the edges concerning automatic delegates. Under current rules, unpledged delegates are barred from seeking pledged delegate slots. However, the third way plus proposal gave the RBC reason to revisit that; to lift that prohibition, allowing automatic delegates a way to participate in the first ballot vote. To do that, an amendment adopted during the July 11 RBC meeting, would force any automatic delegate taking a pledged slot to give up their automatic status.

While that may seem like a backdoor to superdelegate participation -- and it technically is -- this is a point that came up during the URC meetings in 2017. The conclusion then among some members was if automatic delegates are willing to forego their automatic status, then they can run for pledged slots.

FHQ elaborated on this in a series of tweets during the July 11 RBC meeting:

Collectively, the URC is likely to green light these changes given that they exceed the two more complicated, less workable recommendations on unpledged delegates.

In the areas of caucuses and primaries, most of those recommendations were consolidated into some changes to the requirements and encouragements from the national party to state parties in Rule 2. Those recommended changes drafted by member Frank Leone were adopted during the May 8 RBC meeting.

These too are likely to pass muster with the URC in whole or in part. This series of requirements more functionally embeds the recommendations in the delegate selection rules.

The URC meets via conference call starting at 2pm on Tuesday, July 17.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Rules and Bylaws Committee Gives Initial Greenlight to Revamp of Superdelegates System

At each voting stage along the way to superdelegate rules reform for the 2020 cycle, the final tally has seemingly demonstrated consensus. And there has been consensus on the Unity Reform Commission and now during the Rules and Bylaws Committee consideration of changes. But it has been hard-won consensus often following multiple hours-long meetings over the last 13 months spent exploring various contingencies in the hopes of avoiding some unintended consequence while also planning for the future.

Like the Unity Reform Commission before it, the Rules and Bylaws Committee gave the go-ahead today to a reform proposal to curb the influence of superdelegates with just a couple of dissenting votes (27 ayes, 1 nay, 1 abstention). However, unlike the URC, the RBC called an audible and devised an alternate proposal not prescribed it in the preceding step. The URC was given strict guidelines on superdelegates by the 2016 convention resolution that created the group. What the resolution called for, the URC produced. Two variations on the same concept were created to move 60 percent of the superdelegates from the unpledged to bound category.

The issue that quickly emerged once those two URC recommendations -- the pooled vote option and the alternate vote option -- transitioned to the RBC for its consideration was the complexity of both implementing and explaining either option. The desire on the group to balance doing something on superdelegates, staying true to the charge of the convention resolution (reducing the influence of superdelegates), and devising a more parsimonious reform laid the groundwork for what the RBC passed today.

At the confluence of those three criteria, the third way proposal first raised at the first of two March RBC meetings would remove superdelegates from the nomination equation on the first ballot presidential nomination vote at the convention. Should that vote prove inconclusive, then the less-super delegates -- now probably better referred to as automatic delegates -- would be able to participate in a second ballot to rectify an unresolved first ballot vote.

But that proposal was augmented at the June meeting in Providence. RBC member, Ken Martin, offered a friendly amendment, leaving an opt-in for superdelegate participation in the event that primary season has produced a conclusive result, a presumptive nominee with the requisite number of delegates to claim the nomination.

During today's conference call meeting, the RBC quickly dispatched with the two URC proposals for the same issues of complexity before the group turned its sights to Martin's third way plus, brought forth on a motion from longtime RBC member, Elaine Kamarck. The group then spent the next two hours attempting lay out/iron out the details of the plan. What they passed is intended to curb the influence of superdelegates by conditionally removing the unpledged delegates from first ballot at the convention.

The conditions of those contingencies for superdelegate participation fall into three categories.
  1. If a candidate wins 50 percent of the pledged delegates plus one during or by the end of primary season, then the superdelegates are barred from the first ballot.
  2. If a candidate wins 50 percent of all of the delegates (including superdelegates) plus one, then the superdelegate opt-in is triggered and that faction of delegates can participate in the first (and only) round of voting.
  3. If no candidate wins a majority of either pledged or all delegates during or by the end of primary season, then superdelegates are barred from the first round and allowed in to vote in the second round to break the stalemate.
Importantly, the first contingency allows a candidate to win without superdelegates, while the second deprives superdelegates through a supermajority requirement the ability to overturn the pledged delegate majority scenario in the first contingency.

The language of the motion passed today will be tinkered with between now a July 11 meeting in Washington to finalize the language of the call, delegate selection rules, and bylaws/charter changes. But this test vote of sorts portends easy passage when the official language of the third way plus reform comes up for a final vote.

Yes, there is much more to be said about this proposal -- FHQ raised a few issues just recently -- but there will be time to discuss that more in the days ahead. For now, it is sufficient that there is a specific proposal to reform the superdelegates' influence in the nomination process that has passed initial muster with the RBC.

Real-time thread on RBC conference call

Continuation of real-time RBC conference call

Further details on what the Third Way proposal

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Third Way? Third Way Plus? The Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee Again Revisits Superdelegates

The Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) once again took up the issue of superdelegates and 2020 at its recent meeting in Providence (the one on June 8 that ran concurrent with the DNC Executive Committee meeting).

On some level, one could argue that battle lines were drawn. However, it was yet another incremental push toward an altered treatment of the fraction of Democratic national convention delegates who have been unpledged in past cycles. Much of the work of the previous four 2018 meetings of the RBC have centered on the two plans that emerged from the Unity Reform Commission report. But both the complexity of those two reform proposals and the fact that the changes required to implement either of them would require an amendment to the charter of the Democratic Party -- and thus a two-thirds supermajority vote of the full DNC -- set the bar for passage quite high.

As those plans have lost steam another gained traction. First raised at the first of two March RBC meetings, the plan now dubbed the Third Way would make the first vote on the presidential nomination at the national convention one tabulated based on the votes of just the pledged delegates; removing the automatic, unpledged delegates -- superdelegates -- from the initial equation. That simpler approach would also prove easier to implement on the front end. Only a simple majority of the DNC would be necessary to shepherd the reform over the finish line. It is that combination of factors that has, at least in part, won the Third Way option the backing of DNC chair Tom Perez.

But in the back and forth in Providence among RBC members over how the national convention roll call vote would be designed and handled under a Third Way scenario, there was some resistance to prohibiting superdelegate participation on the first ballot presidential nomination vote. FHQ will save a discussion of the bulk of that series of exchanges for another post. For now, I want to focus on one specific counterproposal -- friendly amendment -- to the Third Way: Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chair and Association of State Democratic Chairs (ASDC) chief, Ken Martin's Third Way Plus.

The rationale behind Martin's proposal is to add a caveat to the Third Way plan; an exemption of sorts. If the pledged delegate count at the end of primary season is conclusive -- there is a clear winner -- then there is no need to prohibit superdelegate participation in the first ballot presidential nomination vote. If those unpledged delegates cannot overturn the will of the voters, as the charge against superdelegates often goes, then there is no need to bar them.

In effect, that would make the final tally -- the final delegate count -- an actionable datapoint; an opt-in for the party in terms of superdelegate participation in the initial round. Either a candidate will have accrued a conclusive level of pledged delegates by the second Tuesday in June or they will have not.

Although the caveat is a potentially helpful bridge to those on the RBC and within the DNC opposed to stripping superdelegates of their vote in the first round, the real import in Martin's proposal is in the trigger mechanism. But it is a flawed mechanism.

It is flawed because it is potentially built on wishful thinking. Wishful in that the process will work the way it normally does. Candidates will run. Candidates will withdraw from the race as wins and losses are tabulated and delegates won. And all of them but one will drop out as the war of attrition plays out and/or once one candidate wins 50 percent plus one of the requisite number of delegates. And that may happen.

But it also may not. The scenario that has often been spoken about is one where a large field of 2020 Democratic candidates winnows slowly enough under proportional allocation rules to keep some candidate from a majority of delegates before the convention. Under that set of circumstances, the plus in Third Way Plus is left unactivated and the party ends up with one of two options. On the one hand, there is some maneuvering among the party, the candidates, and their pledged delegates/delegations ahead of the convention that gets a candidate to a simple majority level of support.

Alternatively, that first vote is devalued as the convention approaches. The second vote -- the one with superdelegates -- then, becomes the "real" vote. The convention goes through the motions on the first vote, it stalemates in a manner that reflects the end-of-primary-season delegate count, and the superdelegates are added to the equation on the second vote to resolve the nomination. One could hypothesize that the former is more likely the closer the plurality primary season winner is to the 50 percent plus one mark in the delegate count while the odds of the latter increase the smaller the share of delegates the plurality winner has.

Neither route is what one would consider "clean". Then again, any path taken in a sequential nomination system offers up its own quirks, roadblocks, and problems. But this is a quirk, a roadblock, a problem, or a scenario for which the RBC is not exactly planning.

And look, it is easy for someone outside the process to critique the efforts of rules makers. Those rules makers -- regardless of party -- have to weigh not only the future but account for the past, and particularly the pressures from parts of the broader party coalition to right the wrongs, real or perceived, of past cycles. Often those goals do not match; do not mesh well. For Democrats in the current context to plan for 2020, they have to address lingering issues from 2016. And while relevant in the context of 2016, those issues -- superdelegates or otherwise -- may not matter in the same way during and through the next iteration of the nomination system.

None of this is to suggest that superdelegates do not represent a real or perceived problem. However, it requires of the RBC a fair amount of balancing across a number of different dimensions, not just the 2016 versus 2020 one.

But how well does the Third Way or the amended Third Way Plus even -- partially or completely -- resolve the superdelegate-related issues leftover from 2016? That is worth exploring.
  • Neither plan gets rid of superdelegates. Nor, in fact, did either of the two proposals that emerged from the Unity Reform Commission (URC). The Third Way options reduce the influence of superdelegates by removing them from the first round of nomination voting at the convention (or in the case of the Plus, only if primary season was inconclusive). The two URC plans allowed superdelegates to retain their automatic status (They would remain delegates; delegates with their positions reserved rather than those that have to run for delegate positions.), but sought to bind 60 percent of those automatic delegates to candidates based on the results of primaries and caucuses. 
  • Neither plan completely prevents the controversial type of early influence superdelegates had in 2016. That ability of superdelegates to endorse early remains intact. That act -- an endorsement -- just would not count towards an evolving delegate count. Or would it? It is hard to imagine a situation where those votes are not counted even with an asterisk. "Candidate X has the support of Congressperson Y. Congressperson Y's vote at the convention may or may not matter, but Candidate X has that vote in hand if it does." And with or without that sort of secondary delegate count, patterns of these types of endorsements are bound to be reported. "Members of Congress and governors are flocking to Candidate X and none of the others." There are signals -- there is influence -- in that sort of activity under even a Third Way structure.
While "doing nothing is not an option," this particular something does not exactly address the two biggest complaints/desires coming out of 2016 (nor some of the scenario-specific issues described above).

What might?

One approach may be to wed the past with the future. Attempts to balance an infrastructural element of the Democratic delegate selection process almost demands that.

First, the future. Ken Martin's plus is a novel idea. But its value is in turning the final delegate count into an actionable point in the process and less about the trigger. To repeat, none of these plans call for the elimination of superdelegates, and that is a nod to them being a load-bearing part of the overall delegate selection process. Eliminating superdelegates means fewer delegate slots and more competition for those spots (potentially/likely more among/between rank-and-file members and elected officials). Changing that would have a cascading effect on other elements of the delegate selection process.

If one acknowledges, then, that superdelegates are not going anywhere, then how does the party deal with their influence? One component is nestled in Martin's trigger. Not the trigger itself, but in the cutoff; the end of primary season delegate count. That data can be determinative in terms of the superdelegates. Either a candidate has a conclusive number of delegates to claim the nomination or said candidate does not. If one candidate has met the threshold, then the superdelegates can participate as they could not overturn the will of the primary voters. That is the plus mechanism in Martin's Third Way Plus; the no harm, no foul outcome.

However, the alternative outcome is an inconclusive primary season. That is a scenario in which superdelegates may be needed to break the stalemate. A convention vote is not needed to accomplish that when the result is already known. Moreover, why potentially take that tiebreaker into a convention setting? It would be a wide departure from what conventions have evolved to in the modern era: a kickoff to the general election.

Now, at this point one may ask, "Well, is this not just a way to keep superdelegates involved in the process?" It does resemble the status quo. That is why it is necessary to couple with the end of primary season delegate count with an element from the superdelegates past.

[For more on the history of superdelegates see The Unity Reform Commission and Superdelegates]

When the superdelegates concept was rolled out for 1984, there were a set number of slots set aside. There were 400 apportioned to the state parties to dole out. Additionally, state party chairs and vice chairs were granted automatic spots and 60 percent of the members of Congress (the latter of which were selected by the House Democratic Caucus and the Senate Democratic Conference).

One problem that arose during that initial run was that the congressional superdelegate selection happened prior to the first round of contests. That was viewed at the time -- mainly because there was a near-consolidation of congressional support behind one candidate, Walter Mondale -- as an unofficial first primary; one that provided undue influence on the nomination.

This came up in the rules discussions after 1984, and, in fact, affected the 1988 rules. The process of determining who the superdelegates were was streamlined. The who part was specified, getting away from the process of state parties tagging folks as unpledged. Instead, DNC members from the states were granted superdelegate status in addition to officeholders like governors and big city mayors. Additionally, the percentage of members of Congress was increased from 60 percent to 80 percent. Both these moves upped the number of superdelegates for 1988 as compared to the previous cycle.

However, one corrective action the 1985 Fairness Commission -- the corollary to today's Unity Reform Commission -- helped produce was a change in the time period in which congressional superdelegates would be chosen. Rather than having that selection process happen before Iowa and New Hampshire, the process was pushed back to late April and early May. And the intent was reduce the influence of the most high-profile superdelegates. That late selection period and the fact that only 80 percent of the Democratic members of Congress were selected combined to limit superdelegate influence. Sure, Democratic members of Congress could endorse but the impact is muted if it is unknown (to the public) whether that vote would be cast in any meaningful way at the convention.

And that was something that was consistent with the Hunt Commission report/recommendations. That 1982 commission sought to get Democratic members of Congress back involved in the convention, the potential deliberations around the presidential nomination, and weighing in (if needed) at the convention. The changes instituted for 1988 accomplished that (although Dukakis was the presumptive nominee well before the convention).

The superdelegate system -- indeed, the nomination system -- evolved from that point, and by the 1996 cycle, the "randomness" of which Democratic members of Congress would be involved was eliminated. With all Democratic members of Congress involved thereafter, the "selection" process became frontloaded (or at the very least the decision to weigh in early was left to the discretion of the most high-profile of superdelegates and on the individual level).

It was that change over time that left the Democratic system vulnerable to charges of undue and early superdelegate influence under circumstances like 2016 (where there was a consolidation of superdelegate support behind one candidate).

Bringing back some of that "randomness" to the process and pushing the "selection" of congressional superdelegates to the end of primary season when pledged delegate count is complete would help mitigate the influence. It does not get rid of superdelegates -- that has not been on the table -- but it would reduce their influence. And that was the main complaint during and following 2016.

Look, this is not going to be implemented. It is too late in the rules process for that (although this is similar in some respects to the plan discussed by former DNC chair, Don Fowler, at the Providence meeting). But by combining elements of the future and past, the influence of superdelegates could be reduced without either some of the problems in Third Way or removing superdelegates from a scenario where their ability to break a primary season stalemate is needed.

But the complications of juggling the needs of a cycle yet to come with the leftovers a cycle just past often yield unintended consequences. That is the nature of making nomination rules in diverse party coalitions.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Some Notes on the "Democratic Party To-Do List"

It is strange what does and does not pick up steam on social media sometimes.

When late last week I flagged the Astead Herndon article in the New York Times updating the Democratic efforts to finalize rules for the 2020 presidential nomination process, I was doing so more for personal reasons. As I explained in the remainder of the thread, I was more interested in bookmarking the article because there were several notes in it that deserved some attention if not pushback.

The window of attention was much more immediate for FHQ, then, than it was seemingly taken by most. Again, whereas I meant to relatively soon get back to what I see as the flaws of the NYT piece, most took it as FHQ flagging the proposed rule change -- specifically the scaling back of superdelegates -- for a time, far down the road, when the unintended consequences of the change will potentially be felt.

But the thing is, that overall story has not changed -- the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee continues to consider what it will do with respect to the 2020 rules in general and specifically regarding superdelegates -- and the NYT story does not really add much to that. That is not to suggest that the story adds nothing -- it does, which I'll note below -- but it is mainly superfluous to items reported before or in the immediate aftermath of the Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting on May 8-9.

Look, if one thing is a constant around here at FHQ it is that changing the rules changes the game. FHQ's mission has almost always been to not only detail how and in what ways the parties are altering their presidential nomination processes, but the impact those changes do and do not have on how those processes arrive at a conclusion; a presidential nominee.

We remain far removed from the ultimate opportunity to assess whether specific rules changes for 2020 will lay the groundwork for unintended consequences in 2020. After all, we do not yet know what the final rules will look like (and will not until probably August). What remains somewhat clear this far out, however, is that the combination of a backward looking, 2016-tinged fight over superdelegates ahead of a 2020 cycle that looks like it will produce a large field of candidates is potentially mismatched. Reducing the role of superdelegates in the evolving primary season delegate count runs the risk of straining the math of that proportional allocation process. If enough candidates survive a long enough period into primary season, and if those candidates are qualifying for delegates -- hitting 15 percent of the vote statewide and/or at the congressional district level -- then the likelihood of some candidate receiving 50 percent of the delegates plus one to clinch the nomination shrinks. But those are big ifs as of now (and worth a separate post from FHQ at some point). Big because we do not yet know what the final contours of the rules will be and big because it remains early, early enough that there is still a ton of uncertainty involved in how the process will progress for Democrats over the next couple of years.

Now, about that NYT story...

I have a few thoughts that are best dealt with through some annotations alongside the passages in the piece.

#1: The compromise?

Following a lede that reestablishes the lingering divisions in the party after 2016 and a brief description of its symbolic cornerstone -- the superdelegates' role in the Democratic nomination process -- Herndon lays the groundwork of a compromise for 2020. This is not wrong, but it is a timeline truncated enough to be misleading.

The true compromise on superdelegates between the Sanders and Clinton camps, it could be argued, happened back in December when the Unity Reform Commission (URC) finalized its recommendations to the Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC). Those suggestions included a couple of options for scaling back the influence of superdelegates, and in the time since, a third option to more comprehensively reduce the role of superdelegates has been entertained by the RBC.

But what is lacking in the description above is that the compromise is without context. The membership of the URC was divided among Sanders and Clinton appointees. That was clear from the start. The RBC, however, is not. In fact when the new RBC membership was revealed in October 2017 there were complaints about how it was stacked against Sanders, his supporters, and their collective interests:
But Zogby alleges that the rules and bylaws committee chosen by Perez is stacked against the Sanders-aligned reformers.

“Not a single person from the Bernie camp is in the new bylaws groups, but five people from the Clinton side are,” Zogby said. “That’s not a way to get unity.”
There is, then, an inside-outside dynamic involved. It is not that the Sanders faction cannot continue to lobby the RBC to make changes consistent with the URC recommendations (or even more aligned with their various stances), but they are doing so from outside the Rules and Bylaws Committee. The RBC has its own divisions/differences that do not so easily fit in that Clinton-Sanders compromise narrative. The committee is balancing a number of overlapping interests.

#2: An aside on superdelegates

Herndon then jumps into some specifics on the superdelegates proposals. Look, I have been guilty of using this description, too. It is easy on social media in particular. However, it should be said that there is no plan to eliminate (or later in the section on Donna Brazile, "eradicate") superdelegates. This is a semantics issue, but well worth a mention.

There are two things that make superdelegates super. First, they are granted automatic delegate status.  Elected officials, in other words, do not have to run against rank-and-file members of the party -- often their constituents -- for national convention delegate positions. That is no small thing. Having those automatic delegates means there are more delegate slots for the grassroots member of the party.

The second feature that gives superdelegates something super is their unpledged voting status on the presidential nomination vote. Throughout the superdelegates era (1984-present) in the Democratic presidential nomination process, superdelegates have not been tethered to specific candidates based on the voting in primaries and caucuses. Rather, they have been free to choose to align with a particular candidate (or to choose not to) for any reason or combination of reasons of their choosing.

None of the three options that are on the plates of the members of the RBC seek to alter the first superdelegate feature. They will continue to exist -- to have their positions automatically carved out -- in roughly the same numbers in 2020 as 2016. And importantly, the roughly same number of superdelegates would retain the ability to vote on all matters before the national convention in 2020. That would include votes on the platform, votes on the rules, and, say, hypothetical votes by the full convention to unbind any bound delegates on (or allow superdelegates back into) the first ballot vote.1

The only area in which the potential reforms seek to affect superdelegates is on their unpledged voting status on the presidential nomination vote. And even then, the effects extend to just the first ballot and to (in two of the three cases) a fraction of the total number of superdelegates. FHQ tries to use the same "revise the role and reduce the perceived influence of superdelegates" description from the March RBC interim report adopted by the DNC. It can be a mouthful and not particularly well-suited to social media, but does accurately describe what is on the table.

#3: Forcing states

Let's quickly dispense with this one. There is no forcing here. Yes, the URC discussed at length different ways to encourage increased participation in the nomination process. And while some of those meetings included talk of requiring states to make such changes to registration rules or whether unaffiliated voters should participate, the reality is much easier said than done. Much of the language coming out of the current RBC meetings and likely to make it into the ultimate delegate selection rules in 2020 is more about encouraging states to move in these directions where feasible. And this is made clear in the primaries section of the RBC interim report.

#4: Summer meetings

This is a minor point, but Herndon lays out the path ahead for rules changes toward the end of the piece. But in so doing, he makes it sound as if the RBC has a number of public meetings ahead, peppering the summer months. The committee will meeting in conjunction with the June DNC Executive Committee meeting where the group will dig into the 2020 Call for the Convention (which includes some specifics on delegate apportionment and allocation) and seek to finalize the superdelegates and party reform sections of the URC recommendations. That is a long list, and even though the timing may extend beyond the URC/convention-mandated window for RBC consideration of the URC recommendations (end of June), an additional meeting in July may be required to deal with it all.

If past is prelude, then the DNC will adopt the 2020 rules as it has tended to in August.

Now, as FHQ mentioned above, the Herndon's story is not completely devoid of news. Part of that comes from Larry Cohen's comments and the impression they left:

Rather than indicating a sense of continued division, the former head of Our Revolution painted a picture of a leadership team at the DNC that is pushing forward and advocating for the reforms called for by the Unity Reform Commission. FHQ would add that the Rules and Bylaws Committee has had a measured and open consideration of the URC recommendations that has stretched beyond and not simply rehashed the Clinton-Sanders divide. Maintaining a balance on that front has been a thread throughout, to be sure, but there has been a thorough consideration of the practical implications of rules, rules changes, implementation, and unintended consequences.

As always, the proof is in the pudding on these things. Keeping folks "at bay" during rules discussions is one thing. Doing so after the rules are set in stone may be another altogether.

Another part is in Donna Brazile's comments:

There is no official whip count on these things. If there was it would be fluid and very much unofficial. The RBC is going to aim for a set of recommendations that is as close to unanimous as possible. This is the same principle FHQ discussed here with respect to how the RBC would deal with the URC recommendations. Unanimity means consensus, and consensus adds pressure to the next group considering recommendations. Any division is more likely to lead to a maintenance of the status quo.

In other words, tweaks will be made to ensure that the RBC is as close to on the same page as possible.

One could glean a sense of that tweaking process in Brazile's comments laying down a marker on the proposal to completely remove superdelegate voting rights on the first ballot of the presidential nomination at the national convention. Parsimonious though that proposal may be, there is certainly going to be resistance to the idea within the DNC. That is not any breaking news alert. And Brazile is not alone in that resistance among the members of the RBC.

But that idea is out there.

We further know that there are pockets of support and opposition to the other two options; those from the URC. RBC member, Elaine Kamarck, has voiced some opposition to the pooled vote plan. The Congressional Black Caucus has as well. That points the process in the direction of the alternate vote option. That is the messiest, most complicated proposal of the bunch, and those complications are often enough to drive RBC members in the direction of the more elegant option Brazile opposes above.

The bottom line is that the RBC is in the midst of a balancing act on superdelegates that will ultimately produce some recommendations -- on superdelegates and other rules changes -- for full DNC to consider in August. The only thing on superdelegates that is clear at this point is that leaving them untouched is not on the table at this stage.

1 These latter options are not all that likely to happen. There are a number of political reasons neither would. However, such hypothetical votes are absolutely something on which the full convention could vote.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Superdelegates and the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee: A Different Perspective After the Winter Meeting

The Democratic National Committee is coming off its 2018 winter meeting, a meeting that culminated with the acceptance of an interim report on the 2020 rules. That report followed continued discussions by the Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) in conjunction with the winter meeting and a previous preparatory RBC meeting just a week before. FHQ tuned in to both rounds of RBC discussions and continues to be struck by the framing of the rules discussions in media accounts. By far the most dominant lens through which those rules discussions are being viewed is the lingering Clinton-Sanders tensions in the broader party coalition.

And it is not that those depictions are wrong. Rather, it is that they are overly simplistic and have missed some important developments along the way that run against that frame. This phenomenon is at its most stark with respect to the party's efforts on superdelegates, the unpledged elected officials and party leaders that have periodically been controversial in Democratic presidential nomination politics.

On the surface, there is a group that wants to see superdelegates go and an opposing group that wants to maintain the status quo. And there also exists the aforementioned Clinton-Sanders divide left over from the 2016 race. These two cleavages in the party are often treated as reinforcing in the context of these 2020 rules discussions. And that is an easy conclusion at which to arrive: the Clinton/establishment faction wants to keep the current superdelegate system intact while the Sanders group would like to see them go.

However, there is growing evidence that that is just not the case; that those two divides do not buttress each other nearly so completely as is often described. For starters, for all of the chatter about the purge of loosely Sanders-aligned members of the RBC by DNC chair, Tom Perez, during and after the 2017 DNC fall meeting in Las Vegas, the committee has not exactly moved against the interests of the Sanders faction in the context of the 2020 rules discussions. The fear within that faction at the time and since was and has been that the RBC would ignore or dilute the recommendations of the Unity Reform Commission.

On the matter of superdelegates, neither has been the case. In fact, the RBC interim report to the DNC stated that the committee "agrees [with the Unity Reform Commission] that the Party must revise the role and reduce the perceived influence that automatic unpledged delegates have in the presidential nominating process." Furthermore, David McDonald, RBC member from Washington, summed up the committee work to this point quite well in observing that there is consensus on the RBC to make a change -- revise and reduce -- but not on the nature of the influence superdelegates have on the nomination process. In other words, at the very least, there is a perception problem with the current superdelegate system. That, too, was voiced by other members of the committee during the RBC session on superdelegates at the winter meeting.

Rather than a keep superdelegates/get rid of superdelegates divide, then, there is within the RBC a perception problem surrounding superdelegates. And that is less about stay or go or Clinton-Sanders and more about how to reduce the perceived role of those unpledged delegates in the Democratic nomination process.

That "how" question, and particularly the options that have been developed to address that how, cross-cut both of the other cleavages as well. Working from the Unity Reform Commission recommendations, the RBC hit something of a wall. This is something that has been missed in nearly all of the accounts of the two early March RBC meetings. Neither the pooled vote option nor the alternate vote option recommended by the Unity Reform Commission have been viewed by the RBC as wholly acceptable answers to the superdelegate problem.

The alternate vote option drew fire from state party chairs on the RBC for overly complicating the roles of both them and their parties in administering the delegate selection process. Another issue that arose from the discussion of the alternate vote option was the potential for forcing abstentions from superdelegates bound to candidates they do not support.

And the pooled vote option, while perhaps a more elegant option, saw pushback from members of the RBC over its automatic transmission of superdelegate votes to the state tally sheet, removing the need for an actual human to fill the delegate slot. As RBC member Elaine Kamarck remarked, if the party moves in that direction "why even have a convention at all."

Together, those criticisms moved the discussion in a different direction: eliminate the superdelegate votes on the first ballot for the presidential nomination. Elimination is a simpler solution relative to the intricacies of the alternate vote option. Additionally, it is, perhaps, a logical if not justifiable (to some) step beyond the pooled vote option. Eliminating superdelegate votes on the first ballot circumvents the non-voting problem for some but not all superdelegates by applying it to all superdelegates on a vote -- the first ballot -- that has settled every Democratic nomination since 1952.

Now, there are arguments on the merits against the elimination option, but FHQ will save that for a separate post. Suffice it to say, however, there are three main options that are before the RBC that can be roughly arranged from complicated (alternate vote option) to easy to explain. The need for the latter was made apparent during a nearly hourlong back and forth around the three ideas at the winter meeting RBC gathering. There is some desire within the group to not only devise a set of rules to address the superdelegate perception problem, but one that is easy to describe/more easily understood by the rank-and-file of the party.

And that is a different discussion than Clinton-Sanders. It involves that divide; it is influenced by it. But it is not the same cleavage. As this process moves forward, it might be best to bear that in mind. There are really three main cleavages to consider:

    1) Clinton-Sanders (internal v. external):
Yes, the Clinton-Sanders divide remains a part of this discussion, but it is more a function of external pressure -- outside of the RBC1 -- weighing on the decisions of the group.

    2) perception problem/status quo (balancing process v. legitimacy):
It is evident the RBC sees a perception problem and is seeking to deal with that. And it should be noted that past iterations of the group have dealt with similar assaults on the superdelegate system. There was a more robust defense of the system following its maiden voyage in 1984 that, nonetheless, led to alterations thereafter. And after the close 2008 nomination race, the committee also moved to revise the role of superdelegates.2 But the same perception problem existed throughout, bringing, at its worst, the legitimacy of their inclusion and the process into question. The RBC has been sensitive to those questions in its past tinkering. Yet, that superdelegates can but have not overturned the will of the primary/caucus voters through the era of their inclusion fuels the discontent with them even further. The RBC, then, seems willing to test the system with fewer unpledged delegates in 2020 than at any time since before 1984. That seems to be the consensus on the RBC and does not necessarily match the divide described in #1 above; not exactly in any event

    3) options: eliminate on first vote, pooled vote, alternative vote (easy to complicated):
Finally, it is worth drilling down and focusing on the options the committee is considering. That way lies the functioning lines of demarcation on the RBC. This, too, overlaps some with both #1 and #2 above, but again, not perfectly. The bottom line here is over whether the answer to a complex problem can or should be parsimonious or demand further complex rules-making.

As the RBC, and ultimately the DNC, continue to work toward a resolution on superdelegate and other rules for the 2020 process, the above frames all should be considered and combine to give us a better picture of what is going on than repeatedly dipping back into the Clinton-Sanders well of explanations.

1 This is outside the RBC in terms of outside groups but also members of the DNC (those not on the RBC) who nonetheless want to see a curbing of if not end to the superdelegate role.

2 Add-on superdelegates were moved from unpledged to pledged and the total base number of delegates was raised from 3000 to 3700, reducing the percentage of superdelegates in the process.