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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rules and Bylaws Committee Interim Report on 2020 Rules

Below is the interim report that the Rules and Bylaws Committee will submit to the Democratic National Committee at its Winter 2018 meeting. The report serves as a progress update on the RBC consideration of the Unity Reform Commission report from December 2017.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Rules and Bylaws Committee and the Unity Reform Commission Recommendations

The following is part four in a series of posts on the recommendations passed by the DNC Unity Reform Commission during the group's final public meeting on December 8-9. Unlike the previous posts in the series, this one will focus less on the substance of the recommendations and more on the next steps in the Democratic Party process of amending its nomination rules for the 2020 cycle.

Part three: Superdelegates recommendations

On to the Rules and Bylaws Committee

Under what one might consider the normal protocol of nomination rules reform within the Democratic Party, post-reform, the process tends to work through the following sequence.
  1. Initially, the preceding national convention creates the terms for a commission to examine the successes and failures of the immediately prior nomination process and reexamine and recommend rules changes for the next cycle to further buttress successful practices and correct any real or perceived shortcomings. 
  2. Those recommendations are then passed on to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) for their consideration. This step can entail a simple up or down vote on the package of recommended reforms, but more often, the RBC deliberations are more in-depth. Usually, the depth of consideration is conditioned by a number of parallel factors operating concurrently alongside the substance of the recommendations. Was there consensus behind some or all of the recommended changes on the commission feeding into the RBC? Are individual components in package of proposed tweaks doable, advisable and/or a priority? Are they specific or has the commission passed on an ambiguous task that creates more work for the RBC? Recommendations that meet those criteria -- near unanimous support, specific, doable, advisable, a priority -- are the ones that tend to pass muster with the RBC. In most cycles, by extension, some recommendations get the green light from the committee while others do not.
  3. Finally, full DNC votes on -- in whole or in part -- the original or amended package of recommended changes out of the RBC. The first step runs through the year following a presidential election year, while step two tends to occur during the first half of the midterm election year before the DNC finalizes the rules for the next cycle by the end of summer of the midterm year. 
Now, the above sequence is, in part, an oversimplification of the sequence, but it is a decent shorthand for the process through which the nominations rules change within cycles. Sometimes there are deviations. The 2016 rules, for example, were developed through a process that skipped the first step. But on the whole, the Democrats have worked through these three steps in settling on the overarching rules that govern the presidential nomination process.

Currently, the 2020 rules-making process finds itself on the cusp of step two on the Democratic side. The Unity Reform Commission has issued its report and the Rules and Bylaws Committee convenes in Washington on January 19-20 to begin its deliberations on the recommendations contained therein. On the surface, then, 2020 looks like a normal cycle in terms of the above sequence. However, drilling down a bit, there are some important differences between the process now and the more routine processes that have been the norm for Democrats in the post-reform era. 

The clearest distinction between the the RBC now in its consideration of the Unity Reform Commission package and the committee stage of this process in the past is the treatment of the RBC itself. Unlike other cycles, the RBC potentially finds its role constrained for 2020. It is not that the committee will have no impact on the rules that will govern the nomination process. They undoubtedly will. Yet, that authority is colored by the convention resolution that created the Unity Reform Commission and by extension the URC itself. Far from a toothless middleman in all of this, the RBC is nonetheless compelled by the convention resolution to consider and implement the recommendations of the URC report. That much is consistent with past relationships between the RBC and the various rules commissions over time. 

However, part of the agreement between Clinton and Sanders proxies that led to the creation of the URC was that should the RBC fail to enact in a timely manner the recommended reforms -- within six months after the transmission of the URC report -- then the URC would retain the ability to place the package before the full DNC for consideration. In essence, that would skip the Rules and Bylaws Committee. 

But the process heading down that particular path assumes a level of hostility between the URC and RBC that has yet to manifest itself to this point in the cycle. And it may not develop at all between those two entities before the rules are finalized for 2020 later in 2018. That tension is currently more fully animated between and among certain vocal quarters of the broader party coalition loosely encamped along the lingering border established during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary race. But again, those cross pressures have not yet seeped into the 2020 rules-making process in any injurious fashion.

To get a sense of whether such division may be triggered at any point during or in the immediate aftermath of the RBC consideration of the URC recommendations, a decent place to start is the checklist established in the RBC section (#2) above.

With respect to the 2020 rules-related items the URC was tasked with examining -- primaries, caucuses and superdelegates -- all the component parts therein saw broad, unanimous support with just two of exceptions. The first was the two dissenting votes to the superdelegates section creating a bound segment of the automatic delegates. [More accurately, the dissent over the segment of superdelegates that were left unpledged as before.] But even those votes were more symbolic than anything else given clear mandate the resolution creating the URC handed the group with respect to superdelegates. 

The only other break in unanimity was within the caucuses section. A coalition of Sanders appointees and caucus state Clinton appointees, comprising half of the URC, blocked an amendment dealing with states that opt for caucuses despite the presence of a state-funded primary. That amendment would have included passive language presuming the three states in that category -- Idaho, Nebraska and Washington -- would use the primary option in the future. But blocking that amendment had the effect of tabling not only it but the underlying section it sought to change. 

The original language for a recommendation would have presumed -- not necessarily required -- the use of primaries in states with that option in states with five or more congressional districts. That would have exempted Idaho and Nebraska from the presumed use of state-funded primaries, but not Washington. And five congressional districts is not an arbitrary threshold. It would theoretically confine the use of caucuses to smaller states in which it could be argued they are better/best suited. But perhaps more importantly, that particular threshold would exempt Iowa and Nevada should either -- through no fault of Democratic state legislators -- ever pass laws establishing a state-funded primary option. Both Iowa and Nevada are currently protected as early states on the calendar, and both fall just below that five congressional district threshold (with some leeway to account for population and thus congressional seat changes, post-census). 

Save for those two exceptions, however, there was nothing but unanimous support for the laundry list of other items the URC recommended from easing registration and caucus participation burdens through the system for binding DNC member automatic delegates. Importantly, that is a clear signal to the RBC. The URC report was not a package of reform recommendations narrowly passed along Clinton/establishment-Sanders lines. Instead, despite those underlying differences, the URC report was a product of compromise, compromise that drew widespread support for the majority of its component parts from the various factions represented on the URC. 

The signal, then, is clear and that clarity provides the URC some leverage over the RBC moving forward that it would not have otherwise had if the report passed along factional lines. If the RBC balks at the recommendations in whole or in part, the URC has not only the ability to take the recommendations before the full DNC, but a leg to stand on in arguing for an affirmative vote there. The RBC, in other words, would have to have good reasons for ignoring, in whole or in part, recommendations that garnered consensus URC support.  

Those reasons may or may not exist now or develop during the RBC consideration of the URC recommendations, but that feather in the URC's cap -- unanimity -- will potentially place a check on the RBC, potentially constraining the RBC if not role, then collective desire to stray too far from the recommendations. 

Workability, Advisability and Prioritization  
The remainder of the checklist items are interrelated with the unanimity point above and with each other. Nothing in the URC report is technically unworkable, and that is consistent with past rules commissions. They tend to be given a fairly defined, but not necessarily narrow, mandate in the originating resolution. That, in turn, indicates at least some appetite within the party to examine the rules in some areas; typically those where a flaw in the system has been exposed and/or exploited in the previous cycle. After the 2008 cycle, for instance, there was cause to explore the rules-based conditions that gave incentive to states to encroach on the privileged positions Iowa and New Hampshire enjoy on the primary calendar or to curb superdelegate creep. In other words, rules changes to those items were more doable because they were already advisable and/or prioritized within the party. It was already baked in by the time it got to the RBC. 

And again, that is not atypical for the how the rules-making process progresses within cycles. However, each of those items is certainly in the eye of the beholder -- how workable, advisable or prioritized an action item is. And the RBC is often the beholder. It represents the step in the process where those determinations are made; where recommendations become implementable rules.

That transition -- from recommendation to rule -- hinges on another input from the commission empowered by the preceding convention: the specificity of the recommendation. Some are very detailed like the current URC recommendation for binding a segment of the (potentially former) superdelegates. That specificity can limit the RBC action in response. On one hand, the commission could have handed off a ready-made rule in the form of a recommendation. But on the other, the recommendation may be so complex as to make it irreconcilable with the baseline delegate selection rules being amended. In the latter case, the RBC is almost forced to ignore the recommendation or devise a workable alternative consistent with the intent of the original recommendation. It is that path that can lead to division between the preceding commission and the RBC. 

Lack of specificity can also be an issue and in a few ways. First, rather than having a ready-made rule, an ambiguous recommendation makes the transition to implementable rule a steeper climb. It potentially creates more frontend work for the RBC or knocks it down the list of priorities. Take section 4 of the caucuses recommendations. This is the one that calls for the DNC to work with caucus states to "create consistent standards and guidelines across all caucuses". It goes on to use a term -- best practices -- that was used in the context of the Democratic Change Commission recommendations on caucuses in 2009. It is a desirable recommendation, but has proven tough to turn into a specific rule (or priority). 

Second, ambiguity in commission recommendations can create distance between the intention of said recommendation and what, if anything, the RBC devises in terms of a rule. This, too, can trigger more friction between two groups in the way the URC and RBC are currently aligned. Anything that produces a discrepancy between the recommendations and the rules is potentially problematic as the process moves to the DNC stage.

Finally, a lack of specifics in the recommendations can also make more work for the RBC on the backend, actual implementation.1 This is an important point and something distinctive on the Democratic side of the equation. Ambiguous -- and that is perhaps an imperfect descriptor in this particular case -- recommendations can make it difficult to develop clear rules and to then, in turn, implement them across all 57 states and territories. For example, the URC has a raft of recommendations on primaries. But only one of those recommended changes -- a requirement for states to pursue later party switching deadlines -- suggests specific means for implementing that recommendation: a delegate penalty.

The remaining primaries recommendations/requirements lean more on the RBC. To transition those recommendations to implementable rules on action items like the requirement for same-day or automatic registration, the RBC has a choice. It can add delegate reduction penalties rules to coax states into compliance -- a frontend protection for the national party -- or it can punt enforcement to the backend of the process, making approval of state party delegate selection plans contingent on hitting proposed new requirements for registration just as it does and has for delegation diversity requirements or primary calendar/timing requirements. Each route is workable, but the latter, while effective, adds to the workload of the RBC in the delegate selection plan approval phase of the Democratic process. That is a step unique to the DNC, a codified layer the RNC does not have in its concurrent process. The national party approves of plans ahead of time and uses delegate penalties first as a negative incentive up front, but also potentially as a last resort if compliance is not forthcoming from a given state party.

One could argue that a few more items to check is no big issue for the RBC. That is fair. But a few more items tacked on to the extant list becomes more daunting when one considers the impact those new items might also have on the waiver process the state parties have to undertake to either avoid penalty or gain approval for a plan (especially one affected by a state government not under Democratic control, for example).

None of the above is to be dismissed. And as the Democrats ease into the second step of the rules-making process for 2020, the Rules and Bylaws Committee will have much to consider as it deliberates about the Unity Reform Commission recommendations.

1 The backend is the role the RBC plays in determining whether states comply with the delegate selection rules that are now in the process of being finalized. Alternatively, the frontend is the role the RBC has in helping devise those rules in the first place.

Friday, December 22, 2017

DNC Unity Reform Commission Report

Although FHQ previously posted and commented on many of these recommendations (see links below), the full Unity Reform Commission Report is embedded below. These recommendations will now proceed to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee for the 35 member group's consideration. The RBC has six months to consider and adopt the recommendations as they are and send them on to the full DNC. Otherwise, the RBC can send along to the full DNC their version -- either edited or completely reworked -- but if those changes do not adequately match the intent of the URC recommendations, the URC can place before the full DNC the recommendations below.

The RBC will convene on January 19-20, 2018 to begin its deliberations on the 2020 delegate selection rules. Those rules will be completed by August 2018.

Part three: Superdelegates recommendations

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Unity Reform Commission: Superdelegates Recommendations

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

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

Part one: Primaries recommendations
Part two: Caucuses recommendations

Superdelegates/Unpledged Delegates Recommendations
1. The commission concurs with the determination of the 2016 quadrennial Democratic national convention that the reduction of over 400 unpledged delegate votes equaling nearly 60% of the total unpledged delegate votes in 2016 will strengthen the grassroots role in our presidential nominating process. It is important to the commission that the grassroots voice in the presidential nominating process be amplified. 

2. In regards to current unpledged delegates, the commission concurs with the 2016 Democratic National Convention that Democratic members of Congress, governors, and distinguished party leaders remain automatic delegates and unpledged on all matters before the convention, and that DNC members remain automatic delegates, but that their vote be pledged [bound] only with respect to the first ballot of the presidential roll call vote. 
NOTE: Weaver requested unanimous consent to change what was presented originally as "pledged" be changed to "bound" throughout the section on unpledged delegates. The request was made to clarify the difference between types of delegates. On the one hand, those delegates elected through the delegate selection process to fill a slot allocated to a particular candidate based on the results of a primary or caucus are pledged (but not bound). Weaver sought to differentiate between those delegates and the segment of superdelegates -- automatic delegates, not elected but guaranteed a delegate position -- who would be bound under the provisions of this recommendation to candidate. A candidate has the loyalty of the former group, but an enforceable binding mechanism is required to regulate it in the latter. 
There was never an objection to the request for unanimous consent. With no objection the use of "pledged" was changed to "bound" throughout the unpledged delegates portion of the recommendations (with respect to the recommended creation of the automatic but bound categories of delegates). 

3. The commission recommends that the DNC will ensure that all party officials who have a role in the execution of the actual primary or caucus process in their state must be scrupulously neutral, both in reality and perception, in their administration of electoral activities. Any person who violates this important commitment to impartiality could be subject to loss of delegate status or other privilege they may hold at the DNC. 

4. The Commission recommends the creation of three categories of automatic delegates, one of which would remain unpledged and two of which would be bound on the first ballot of the presidential roll call.
A. Category one: Democratic members of Congress, governors and distinguished party leaders who remain automatic delegates and unpledged. 
[13-2 in favor with one additional abstention; Konst and Turner in opposition]

B. Category two: state elected DNC members, DNC members elected as a state chair, vice chair, state committeeman or woman who are not part of category one would remain automatic delegates. However, on the first ballot of the presidential roll call vote, their votes would be proportionally allocated based on the outcome of the primary or caucus in the state which elected them [subject to the same thresholds that apply for the awarding of at-large, pledged delegates]. 
[unanimous with one abstention] 
NOTE: The bracketed portion in the text was added as an adjustment after public approval by the URC and revealed during reconsideration of tabled items.
C. Category three: Officers at-large and affiliated members who are not part of category one or two would remain automatic delegates. However, on the first ballot of the presidential roll call vote, their votes would be proportionally allocated based on the national outcome of the primaries and caucuses [as measured by national allocation of pledged delegates subject to the same thresholds that apply for the awarding of at-large, pledged delegates].
[unanimous with one abstention] 
NOTE: The underlined portion in the text above is an FHQ correction to what was passed as "category two or three" by the URC. The creation of the three groups here was done to comply with the convention resolution that created the Unity Reform Commission. It was the intent of the group to have a hierarchy of categories from the remaining unpledged delegates down through the two necessary types of newly bound automatic delegates.1 Subsection C seeks to create the lowest/third category in that hierarchy, defining it by differentiating that group from the higher two categories. Category three cannot, therefore, differ from both category two and itself.
NOTE: The bracketed portion in the text was added as an adjustment after public approval by the URC and revealed during reconsideration of tabled items.
5. With respect to the actual mechanism of how these new automatic but bound categories will be allocated, the commission provides two options for the Rules and Bylaws Committee to review and adopt. Pursuant to the mandate of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, if the RBC adopts a different mechanism, this commission will review it to determine whether it constitutes a substantial adoption of the commission's recommendation. The commission anticipates that the deliberations of the RBC in this regard will be consultative in nature with the commission to ensure the joint goals of unity and reform are achieved. In drafting the two options, the commission considered but did not adopt alternate mechanisms that, while less complicated, would substantially increase the number of delegates. For all purposes, the use of the word state shall include the states, the District of Columbia, the territories, and Democrats Abroad. The Commission, therefore, provides the following mechanisms for first ballot voting for the presidential nomination to the RBC to review and adopt.

A. Pooled Vote Option
The votes of category two and category three delegates will be allocated as defined above. The state parties shall announce these allocations for category two delegates no later than when the state party certifies their pledged delegates to the DNC secretary. The DNC shall announce the allocations for category three delegates within ten days of the last nominating contest that awards pledged delegates. At the national convention, the votes from category two and three delegates shall be automatically reported by the secretary of the convention at the time of the presidential roll call vote or [and?] entered into the state tally sheet and voted in the normal order without ascribing the votes to any specific delegate.

B. Alternate Voting Option
No later than five days after the state's primary or caucus, the state chair shall poll the presidential preferences of the state's category two delegates and each category two delegate must make his or her binding preference known to the state party chair within 24 hours. If the proportion of category two delegates supporting each candidate matches the allocation to which each candidate is entitled, the state chair shall collect the written, binding presidential preference of each category two delegate and submit those preferences to the DNC. If the proportion of category two delegates for each candidate does not match the allocation to which each candidate is entitled, the state chair shall poll category two delegates currently supporting a candidate who has too many delegates and determine who is willing to change his or her binding presidential preference to another candidate who has fewer category two delegates than that to which she or he is entitled. If enough of these polled delegates agrees to change preference to provide a match to the number needed, the state party chair shall submit those changed preferences to the DNC. If the state chair determines that there is still an insufficient number of category two delegates supporting candidates proportionally, the state chair shall by lot determine which category two delegates supporting a candidate or candidates with an excess of delegates shall pass their vote at the national convention to a credentialed alternate delegate willing to support a candidate in deficit on the first round of balloting for the party's presidential nomination. Category two delegates chosen by lot in this manner shall retain all other voting rights, including the right to vote on all other matters other than the first round of balloting for the presidential nomination. Following this determination, the state party chair shall then collect and transmit to the DNC the written, binding presidential allocation of all category two delegates and alternates, if applicable, to the DNC. The DNC shall make public the identity of each category two delegate and any alternates as applicable and the candidate for which they have submitted a written, binding presidential allocation.

Those delegates who are in category three would be allocated similarly to those in category two as follows. The DNC would announce the allocation of category three delegates to presidential candidates no later than five days after the last nominating contest that allocates pledged delegates. If there are insufficient category three delegates to fill a presidential candidate's position, alternate delegates would be elevated to provide the needed presidential preferences. Once the DNC has achieved the requisite number of supporters for each candidate to match the allocation to which each candidate is entitled, the DNC shall then collect the written, binding presidential preference from each category three delegate and alternates as applicable. The DNC shall make public the identity each category three delegate and any alternates as applicable and the candidate for which they have submitted a written, binding presidential preference. 

If the state chair or the DNC determines that there is still an insufficient number of category two delegates or category three delegates, respectively, supporting candidates proportionally after attempting to allocate alternate delegates, the state chair/DNC shall still determine by lot which category two or category three delegates, respectively, supporting a candidate or candidates in excess shall pass their vote at the national convention. However, instead of passing the vote to an alternate, the vote of the delegates chosen by lot would be voted as abstain on the state tally sheet and as abstain during the roll call of the states. The secretary of the convention would then automatically announce and report a requisite number of additional votes to achieve the proportions required to reach the correct presidential candidate allocation of category two and category three delegates. 
[unanimous with one abstention]
NOTE: Both options in the subsections of section five were voted on together unlike the three subsections of section four above. 

FHQ Thoughts:

Hands tied
There never really was all that much suspense over what kind of recommendations were going to emerge from the Unity Reform Commission with respect to superdelegates. It was set in stone by the same resolution that created the group at the 2016 national convention. As FHQ wrote at the time:
While the open primaries mandate was passive, the part of the amendment devoted to superdelegates had more teeth to it. In any event, there was more clarity as to the specifics of the superdelegates mandate of the commission. While the group will broadly consider the superdelegates' role in the process, it will specifically recommend that elected officials -- Democratic members of Congress, governors and distinguished party leaders (presidents, vice presidents, etc.) -- remain as unpledged delegates. However, the second part of the recommendation shifts the remaining superdelegates (approximately two-thirds of them) out of the unpledged category and into a pledged territory (to be proportionally pledged/bound based on the results of primaries and caucuses). [Emphasis added now by FHQ]
In other words, the URC had to make this recommendation to the Rules and Bylaws Committee. They could not recommend that any additional delegate be added to or removed from the unpledged category. And while the URC was stuck with this particular recommendation, it remains to be seen whether the full DNC will stick with these recommendations as currently constructed. FHQ is not suggesting that the DNC will not adopt the measure as written, but rather that the convention resolution does not bind the DNC in the way it did the URC on the matter.

Easier said than done (part one) -- Categorization
The catch in all of this is that it much easier to say that a particular segment of the heretofore superdelegates will in the future have their role/power constrained than it is to actually design and implement a system that accomplishes that goal. So while the recommendation was cut and dry, the system of achieving that directive was considerably more difficult in light of the fact that there are different types of DNC members (based on how they are chosen and/or end up on the DNC). Step one in this process was categorizing in Section 4 the delegates affected by the mandated recommendation. The segment unaffected by the changes -- elected officials and distinguished party leaders (former presidents and party chairs, etc.) -- is clear enough. But different DNC members would have to be treated slightly differently in shifting from unpledged to bound. That transition requires a different mechanism for state-elected DNC members (state party chairs, for example) and at-large or affiliated members (members who hail from states and have been a part of home state delegations in the past, but who are selected/elected nationally by the DNC).

Easier said than done (part two) -- Allocation:
Categorization in place, the URC designed in Section 5 not only a mechanism for allocating those delegates (in the introductory portion of Section 5), but two options (subsections A and B) for binding the DNC member delegates in categories two and three. The allocation part of the sequence naturally follows from the categorization step. Category two (state-elected DNC members) delegates would be allocated to candidates based on results in primaries and caucuses. The method is similar to how at-large delegates are currently allocated: proportionally to candidates with greater than 15 percent of the vote in the statewide result. In other words, that would layer an additional calculation into the statewide formula to go alongside that for at-large delegates and pledged party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates. This third, separate calculation would allocate, for example, approximately 30 percent of the category two delegates in a state to a candidate who has won 30 percent of the statewide vote.2

But category three (nationally elected DNC members) delegates are allocated similarly, albeit with a catch. Rather than being proportionally allocated based on statewide primary or caucus results, the nationally selected DNC member delegates would be proportionally allocated based on the final national results in all primaries and caucuses. The qualifying threshold would be the same 15 percent, but nationally instead of statewide.

Easier said than done (part three) -- Binding:
The first option laid out by the URC for binding, the Pooled Vote Option, borrows a concept employed by the RNC for the first time during the 2016 cycle. Essentially, the pooled vote option would do two things: 1) pool all of the category two and three delegates and 2) automatically have the secretary of the convention count their votes. This is akin to the binding mechanism the RNC instituted for the 2016 convention. And the intent in this case as in the RNC one is the same: to keep bound but conflicted delegates in line. Imagine a number of Sanders-bound but Clinton-sympathetic delegates at the Philadelphia convention, for instance, if this provision had been in place during the last cycle. Those delegates would not be unlike the Trump-bound, but Cruz/Kasich/Rubio-sympathetic delegates who were locked into Trump votes by the convention secretary during the roll call vote at the Cleveland convention.

How does the party/convention prevent mischief -- violating the binding by voting in line with the conscience -- in this type of scenario? There are two schools of thought. The first is to do what the pooled vote option lays out. It would remove the action/decision -- the ability to vote -- from the individual delegates on the first ballot nomination vote (and that vote alone). Once those delegate slots are allocated to the candidates at the time of certification of the state results (category two delegates) or once primary season is over (category three delegates), that is it. They would be added to the overall tally (and the state tallies for category two delegates) at the commencement of the first ballot roll call vote. The "who" filling that slot would be meaningless. In fact, it would be entirely withheld. The voting slots would be allocated, but remain basically unfilled; empty slots with votes automatically cast for a particular candidate on the first ballot.

Alternatively, a party/convention could employ a replacement strategy. This is what the DNC rules provide for in the case of all other pledged delegates. If, for example, a Sanders allocated slot is filled with a delegate candidate who is not loyal to -- or willing to vote for -- Sanders at the convention, then the Sanders team would have the ability to replace that delegate candidate with one who would at least be more likely to support that outcome. This is a concept FHQ raised when discussing the constraints the URC would face in dealing with a new class of automatic and bound delegates. After all, it would be a different proposition altogether to replace elected DNC members than it would be to fill allocated pledged delegate slots with loyalists as among pledged delegates now.

And while the DNC did not provide a full replacement option for the RBC to consider in lieu of the pooled vote option, it did attempt to thread the needle on a more complex alternative. The Alternate Vote Option allows DNC member delegates to retain their actual voting privileges on the first ballot nomination vote while attempting to mitigate some of the conscience and replacement issues with some constraints.

For category two delegates -- those elected on the state level -- this would work in a series of steps:
  1. Poll the preferences of state-elected DNC members. If the outcome of the preference poll matches the proportional distribution resulting from the state primary or caucus, then those automatic delegates would submit a written binding agreement to the DNC. If not, then the process would move to step two.3 
  2. Volunteer alternates: If a candidate has a surplus of preference votes as compared to the primary/caucus vote-based allocation, then the state party chair would ask for volunteers from the surplus candidate's supporters to volunteer to be bound to another candidate via the same type of written binding agreement in step one above. Should fewer volunteers come forth than would be necessary to right the allocation, then move on to step three. 
  3. Bound by lot alternates: If the surplus still exists, then the appropriate number of the surplus candidate's supporters would be chosen by lot to be bound by written binding agreement to another candidate to correct the allocation for the first round roll call vote. 
There is no mechanism at the secretary of the convention level to enforce the binding mechanism in a manner similar to the pooled vote option. However, the party would have the written binding agreement on which to lean, and additionally would make public the identities of the category two DNC members and the candidate to whom they are bound. That is, perhaps, a marginally softer binding process than the more severe pooled vote option.

For category three delegates, the process is slightly different. If, after the post-primary season allocation, there is a mismatch between the number of nationally elected DNC members aligned with still active candidates and the number of slots allocated to that candidate, then alternates would be elevated to correct the count.

Now, there are a couple of factors to note here. First, it is not clear from where these alternates come nor the process (if any) whereby they are selected in order to be elevated. Presumably, this task would fall to the RBC if they opt to pursue this option rather than the pooled vote or other option. Bear in mind also that these alternates would only replace the group of mismatched category three delegates on the first ballot nomination vote. The original DNC members would retain voting privileges on all other matters. And again, those mismatches represent an unknown number of additional bodies for whom the DNC would have to logistically plan. That means finding a large enough space to hold a convention and location/city that can accommodate them (and media). This is something the DNC is sensitive to since it reduced the number of base delegates by 500 between 2012 and 2016. This is likely why the URC did not recommend a similar alternate elevation process for category two delegates under this alternate vote option.

Secondly, the timing is important with respect to this process for the category three delegate allocation. It occurs at the end of primary season when typically the process has run its course. Typically. If there is one candidate remaining -- the presumptive nominee -- then this process is potentially easier to complete. Candidates who have withdrawn would have far less incentive to push for the elevation of alternates for a vote on the nomination they are not seeking.4 Then again, this is a mechanism for a competitive conclusion in which the nomination is unsettled heading into the convention. Even then, with fewer superdelegates, the margin would have to be within the margin of unpledged category one delegates if the choice was binary. If there were multiple candidates still vying for the nomination, however, things would be a bit messier.

And it seems like that multiple candidate convention scenario is the one that the final section of 5.B, is directed toward; the situation in which after all of the preceding maneuvering, neither the state party nor the DNC has the proper number bound category two and three delegates allocated to each candidate. Given that set of conditions, the remainder would be determined by lot but counted as abstain on the roll call tally and/or the state tally before being automatically added at the conclusion by the secretary of the convention.

One cannot say that the URC did not account for most things in these options. However, they are increasingly detailed and complex. It is easier to say delegates would be bound than to actually put a process in place to bind them.

Release the bounds
And what of the potential release of the newly bound delegates? The open secret about the Democratic nomination process is that all the delegates are technically free to vote for whichever candidate they choose. However, due to the manner in which the vast majority of delegates are selected -- essentially slated by the candidates (an oversimplification) -- those delegates rarely stray from the candidate to whom they are pledged. This differs from a Republican process that binds delegates to particular candidates based on the results in primaries and caucuses, but allows for the release of those delegates should the candidate to whom they are bound withdraw from the presidential nomination race.

There is no specified mechanism in the URC recommendations that accounts for that combination of possibilities. What happens to automatic delegates bound to candidates no longer actively seeking the party's nomination? The above recommendation implies that those delegates would be bound regardless of whether a candidate continues to actively seek the nomination or not. But again that is not specified. It is also unclear whether this task was punted to the RBC. However, it is something that they would likely have to consider particularly with respect to Category Two delegates. The Category Three at-large and affiliated members would be bound based on the national results rather than the state-by-state results. While Category Two delegates could conceivably be bound to candidates who cleared the 15 percent qualifying threshold, it is less likely, though not completely out of the question, that a candidate could stay above 15 percent nationally without having competed in all or most contests. But one could see that happen much more frequently on the state level, especially in the earlier states on the primary calendar. This is not an issue that will affect a lot of delegates, per se, but it is one with which the RBC will have to potentially contend when the rules baton is passed their way. That is also an area that could be a point of departure between the RBC and the URC.

Unanimity again (but with caveats)
As with the other two sections more directly linked to the delegate selection process, the voting on the unpledged delegates section of the recommendations saw more unanimity as a rule. However, unlike the draft recommendations in the primaries and caucuses sections, there were exceptions. Yes, RBC chair, Jim Roosevelt, abstained from voting on any measure that would come before the committee he chairs. That was consistent throughout the URC voting process. But in one case there were votes of dissent. When the matter of the preservation of unpledged, automatic status for members of Congress, governors and distinguished party leaders came up for a vote, two Sanders-appointed URC members -- Nina Turner and Nomiki Konst -- voted against. The remaining Sanders-affiliated members on the commission voted for the recommended change mandated by the resolution creating the URC. This was more symbolic than anything. The recommendation still passed with overwhelming support, and despite the break in what proved to be regular unanimity, the vote signals strong support to the Rules and Bylaws Committee and the DNC.

Superdelegates versus Automatic delegates
The above distinctions raise another related delegate distinction that merits some discussion as well. FHQ got some pushback on social media during the final URC meeting for stating that the number of superdelegates would be reduced under the provisions of this recommendation. The major point of contention was that italicized portion. Some contended that the number would remain the same, but that in the future, some would be bound and others would remain unpledged. This is a fair point, but it raises an interesting question: What makes a superdelegates super? The above pushback suggests that the automatic delegate status is sufficient to a delegate being considered super. But FHQ would/could counter that it is both the automatic status and the delegate's unpledged status combined that make them super. And if a superdelegate loses those unfettered voting privileges on the first ballot of the presidential nomination at the convention, then they are less super or not super at all. Should the DNC adopt these recommendations as they are currently crafted, then, for the sake of clarity, FHQ will refer to category one above as superdelegates and those of categories two and three as automatic bound delegates.

Of course, the DNC nomenclature on this has been different from that generally used by the public since the party added superdelegates to the nomination equation for the 1984 cycle. The national party has always tried to keep the label "superdelegates" at arm's length; preferring to call them unpledged delegates instead. In fact, both the URC resolution and subsequently the URC have referred to them in this manner -- unpledged -- adding "or as they are also sometimes known, superdelegates" to the discussions regarding this portion of their mandate. As such, one could also simply call these new categories (automatic) unpledged and (automatic) bound and move on.

FHQ will not belabor the point here. This has gone on a bit already. Yet, for a recommendation that was set in stone from the birth of the Unity Reform Commission at 2016 Democratic National Convention, it is worth noting that this compromise on superdelegates has been the most contentious of the lot throughout the life of the commission. No, that has not necessarily been the case on the URC itself. Again, despite the diversity of opinion on the commission, their hands were tied on the matter. The group had to make this recommendation to the Rules and Bylaws Commission.

While those various viewpoints were voiced in the context of the commission's work, most of the contentiousness was on the outside. Banners were raised for the cause of abolishing superdelegates and countered by others wanting to maintain the status quo. And that is all fine. In the context of the URC and the document that guided it, however, that sentiment -- on either side -- was misplaced. The group could have the discussion, but it was not going to affect its mandate to recommend a middle ground; a specific reduction in the number and role of superdelegates. The only lingering questions were always over implementation.

The matter -- where to come down on this superdelegates recommendation -- will ultimately be a balancing act for the full DNC. And balancing is nothing new to the DNC, or parties generally. In a recent New York Times op-ed in the wake of the final URC meeting, Julia Azari and Seth Masket spoke of a party's task of balancing the "need to win elections but also find a way to channel the different voices within their coalitions." But that second part -- the channelling of voices -- contains its own delicate balance. As Jennifer Victor described in an exchange with FHQ on superdelegates before the final round of URC meetings, "Effective democracy requires a balance of populism and elite control. Too much of one, or the other, produces suboptimal outcomes."

And that is essentially the crux of this. Superdelegates have been a part of the Democratic Party attempt at balancing populist and elite voices in the process since and during the era following the McGovern-Fraser reforms. Those who pushed through and won those reforms at and after the 1968 Democratic convention did not anticipate the proliferation of primaries that followed. Theirs was a vision of a wading into democratization, not the cannonball that states ultimately provided. To comply with the delegate selection rules changes the DNC instituted for the 1972 cycle, more states opted for the easier, state-funded primary route than the caucuses many of those behind the reforms expected. It was one of the earliest unintended consequences of the reforms.

But at its core, those changes were about the balance between the populist and elite voices in the party and the nomination process. Superdelegates were added for 1984, in part, to recalibrate the balance between the two. Not to tip in one direction or another, but rather to account for both in the process.

And although the process both internally and externally has evolved in the time since 1984, there has not been a concerted effort to revisit that balance. The issue of superdelegates has certainly been raised, but the share of superdelegates to total delegates has remained in the 15-20 percent range. And that was true even after the formula was tweaked after the 2008 cycle.

This URC recommendation is bigger than a tweak and gets at the type of change to the populist/elite balance that Victor cited. Is it too much of a lurch in the populist direction or not enough? That is the question. If the parties could go into the lab and try these things out in a dry run before the real thing they would. Instead, they are stuck with trial and error in real time during the actual primaries. That is often a road toward unintended consequences. And if one were to try to pinpoint one of those in any of the delegate selection recommendations from the URC, then the conventional wisdom of the current time would likely hold that, ahead of a competitive nomination race with no lack of prospective candidates, this superdelegates reduction is it. Is it? Will it be? Time will tell that tale.

...but the DNC will have to adopt these recommendations first.

Part one: Primaries recommendations
Part two: Caucuses recommendations

1 It should be noted that there is an order to this division of automatic delegates. Should any of the delegates fit into multiple categories, then such a delegate would, for the purposes of this recommended change and its possible implementation, be counted in the highest of the categories. A delegate who is both a member of Congress and a DNC member, for example, would fall into Category One above and be treated as such rather than being slotted into one of the two bound categories.

2 The at-large, PLEO and category two (automatic bound) delegates would be separately allocated in this manner -- three separate calculations -- rather than being pooled and allocated together as one statewide group of delegates. This is how at-large and PLEO delegates have been treated in national party delegate selection rules and resulting state delegate selection plans.

3 This outcome is possible, though perhaps not probable.

4 It is conceivable in that case that the convention votes to unbind those delegates (and perhaps category two delegates previously bound following state contests) for the roll call of states.

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.


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.]

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.

1 Here is the language of the superdelegates portion of the unity amendment:
Section 3.
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.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Democrats' Unity Reform Commission

The members of the Democratic National Convention Rules Committee convened on Saturday, July 23 to consider the report the committee will present to the convention on its opening day in Philadelphia. After a lengthy primary season that highlighted procedural issues surrounding superdelegates, caucuses and the openness of participation in the Democratic nomination process, it was expected that those matters would dominate the proceedings.

Not surprisingly, they did.

Following a series of uncontentious votes -- on convention officers and convention procedure -- and a short recess, the committee began to consider amendments to the charter of the party and the rules of the nomination process. This began with a series of amendments with respect to the influence of superdelegates on the process. But in each instance, the same basic pattern emerged: any change to the current superdelegate system was voted down by a ratio of around 3:2. That happened first on an amendment to abolish superdelegates. It happened again on measures to reduce their influence (or number) on the nominating process.

It was at that point that committee members from both the Clinton and Sanders teams rose to call for a recess. What followed was an over three hour break that produced a unity amendment chartering a post-convention commission to examine not only the superdelegate process that had triggered a slew of amendment proposals, but the other perceived shortcomings of the process (chiefly, caucuses and participation).

The Unity Reform Commission, successor to the Democratic Change Commission of eight years ago, will have a specific mandate if the convention votes in favor of the Rules Committee report on the first day of the convention on Monday. What passed the Rules Committee on Saturday was this:

  1. No more than 60 days after the election of the next chair of the Democratic National Committee early next year, the chair will establish the Unity Reform Commission (URC).
  2. Its membership will include Clinton surrogate, Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, as commission chairwoman and Sanders proxy, Larry Cohen, as vice chair. Clinton will fill nine (9) additional slots and Sanders, seven (7). The DNC chair (see #1) will select three (3) additional members. 
  3. Consistent with the timeline of the Democratic Change Commission, the 21 member Unity Reform Commission will meet during 2017 with the goal of producing a set of rules recommendations to the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee by January 1, 2018.
  4. The normal procedure is for the Rules and Bylaws Committee to consider those commission recommendations before sending them -- potentially in an amended form -- to the full Democratic National Committee for a final vote. That procedure remains intact. However, the URC retains the ability to place their recommendations before the full DNC if the Rules and Bylaws Committee "fails to substantially adopt" any of them. [NOTE: How the commission arrives at a conclusion that the RBC has not met that requirement greatly depends on who the members of the commission are.]
  5. Substantively, the unity amendment calls for another reconsideration of the caucus process. This was a Clinton campaign complaint after 2008 and is again in 2016. The question confronting the URC will be whether they come to a different conclusion than the Democratic Change Commission. The 2009 commission called for the development of a set of "best practices" for caucuses, but ultimately left the primary versus caucus matter up to the states (in order to best tailor a process at the state level). 
  6. The amendment is less forceful on the parameters of discussion on participation in the nomination process. The commission's charter only calls for the development of recommendations that "encourage" increased involvement in the process. In the end, the directive on what essentially boils down to an open versus closed primary discussion is more passive. The Sanders proxies on the commission will likely push for something promoting more open primaries, but historically the DNC (and the RNC for that matter) have remained mostly hands-off on this matter, deferring to the states. [NOTE: This question is certainly more difficult to deal with considering both major national parties are being pulled in opposite directions on the matter. Sanders supporters are advocating for more open primaries, while the liberty faction within the Republican Party are aiming for a more closed process. That potentially mixed message will be more likely produce mixed results if and when either party moves more forcefully on any recommendations on this front.] 
  7. While the open primaries mandate was passive, the part of the amendment devoted to superdelegates had more teeth to it. In any event, there was more clarity as to the specifics of the superdelegates mandate of the commission. While the group will broadly consider the superdelegates' role in the process, it will specifically recommend that elected officials -- Democratic members of Congress, governors and distinguished party leaders (presidents, vice presidents, etc.) -- remain as unpledged delegates. However, the second part of the recommendation shifts the remaining superdelegates (approximately two-thirds of them) out of the unpledged category and into a pledged territory (to be proportionally pledged/bound based on the results of primaries and caucuses). [NOTE A: Again, these are recommendations. The URC can go over the heads of the Rules and Bylaws Committee if it does not adopt any part of the commission's recommendations, but it cannot necessarily force the full DNC to adopt these rules. If the commission is near unanimous in its recommendations, that may make any inaction on the part of the RBC or DNC more difficult. And ultimately, that issue circles back around to the membership of the committee. If they are divided from the start, they will likely be somewhat divided at the end, issuing recommendations that are less clear and less likely to be ratified by the DNC.] [NOTE B: The specificity of this superdelegate section of the unity amendment presented to the Rules Committee moves in the direction of what the Sanders campaign wants: curbing the influence of the unpledged delegates. But while it hypothetically reduces their number, it does not address the core problem Sanders and his supporters had with superdelegates. The root complaint was that a significant number of superdelegates endorsed Clinton in 2015 before any primary and caucus votes had been cast. There are potentially fewer superdelegates after this, but the pre-primary endorsement problem is and will still be an issue. The commission is not confined to just this action on superdelegates though. It has to make that recommendation, but can go beyond that on the matter.]
  8. There is an additional section to the amendment dealing with expanding the party nationally that echoes not only what Sanders has said over the last year, but also is reminiscent of the Dean DNC's 50 state strategy. 
  9. The main perceived problems of 2016 are addressed in the amendment, but the scope of the commission's actions can expand beyond those areas at the discretion of the chair and vice chair of the commission. The group can look at other parts of the rules behind the presidential nomination process. 
One thing that is an interesting side note to all of this is something hinted at above. This Unity Reform Commission will be active simultaneous to the newly created study panel that came out of the Republican National Convention Rules Committee in Cleveland. Each group will most certainly have an eye on the actions of the other and that will undoubtedly affect the recommendations that come out of either. A similar separated, bipartisan consideration of rules occurred after 2008. That resulted in the Democratic Change Commission and (Republican) Temporary Delegate Selection Committee finding common ground on problems like the frontloading of primaries and caucuses and the January start to primary season. That sort of unofficial semi-coordination could repeat itself in 2017, but that outcome is dependent on the two groups seeing common ground. That was clear with the calendar after 2008, but may not be with open versus closed primaries and other issues following 2016. 

In any event, it will make for an eventful 2017 on the rules front.

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (7/23/16)

The Electoral College Map (7/21/16)

2016 Republican National Convention Presidential Nomination Roll Call Tally

Follow FHQ on TwitterGoogle+ and Facebook or subscribe by Email.