Washington D.C., Domestic Affairs – The Democratic National Convention voted on Saturday to decrease the influence of superdelegates in the party, curbing the ability of 15% of its members to vote for any candidates in the presidential election regardless of the results of party primaries and caucuses. NBC News reports the change as “the most consequential reforms to the party’s nominating process since the 1980s,” when superdelegates first became a part of the DNC. Union president Lee Saunders of AFSCME recalled the change coming as a result of the topic being debated “ad nauseam,” and asserted that “Our job as the Democratic Party is to get Democrats elected, so let’s start that right now.”
The real criticism against superdelegates within the DNC didn’t commence before the primary election in 2016. As late as February 2016, the then-chairwoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz gave a clear defence for superdelegates in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. When he asked “What do you tell voters who are new to the process who say this makes them feel like it’s all rigged?”, she proclaimed that “Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grass-roots activists.” However many members of her party agreed with her then, when the primaries started firing up between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders later that year, supporters of the latter came to vehemently oppose the concept and privileges of superdelegates considering they overwhelmingly sided with Clinton. According to a Pew poll published on May 5 2016, 500 superdelegates backed Clinton, and only 42 supported Sanders. Sanders supported thus made efforts to lobby and petition superdelegates to reflect the popular vote rather than the sentiment of party elites.
Unsurprisingly, Bernie Sanders lauded the decision Twitter on Saturday, finally achieving his goal after a “long and arduous process”, having pushed for total elimination of superdelegates for the superdelegate reform in July 2016.
Tom Perez, the current Chairman of the DNC, spoke to grassroots activists in the party after the vote, announcing, “Today we demonstrated the values of the Democratic Party. We trust you, we want you to join the party. We will listen to you, we want you to have a seat at the table.” He also asserted in a statement that “Today is a historic day for our party. We passed major reforms that will not only put our next presidential nominee in the strongest position possible, but will help us elect Democrats up and down the ballot, across the country.”
Even some super-delegates, like Howard Dean, a former DNC chairman, supports the change as in the country’s best interests despite himself losing privileges by it. In an e-mail to fellow DNC members, he wrote that “We need to unify around our shared values, inspire trust in voters, and energize the grassroots. And one of the best ways we can do that is by reassuring our voters that this is their party. This is the party of the people.” William Owens, a DNC member from Tennessee, said he was sceptical of the proposal, but claimed to be a team player and that “the most important thing we can do is elect Democrats this fall and in 2020.” According to the NBC, he was choking back tears as he said it, himself conceding that “I’m trying to say this without crying.”
However, the vote hasn’t been exempt from criticism. Some argue that the change will negatively affect the representation and influence of African Americans in the party, some of whom have used decades of hard work “climbing in the halls of power,” as Huffington Post described it. DNC Committee CEO Leah Daughtry and former DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile argue that through this hard work and diligence, “Black Americans enjoy stronger representation among the ranks of superdelegates than ever before.” Most notably Karen Carter Peterson, an African American superdelegate and DNC vice chairwoman in Louisiana, who told fellow party members in frustration that “Are you telling me that after my 30 years of blood, sweat, and tears for this party, that you’re going to take away my right to appease a group of people?”
Proponents of the reform have responded with claims that the pledged members are more “diverse” – that is, includes a higher percentile of African-Americans and other minorities – with 25% of pledged delegates being black as opposed to 20% superdelegates. According to Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, “The greater diversity among pledged convention delegates simply reflects the fact that even in the Democratic Party, the racial makeup of elected officials has yet to completely reflect the diversity of the party’s voters.” He also added that “The rule strengthens minority and ethnic groups’ position in our party.”
According to Huffington Post, however, this isn’t a split between white and black Democrats so much as a disagreement along generational lines. Minnesota DNC member Ron Harris, a younger DNC member in the party, for instance, publically supported the change, arguing that “The grassroots are more diverse. And more participation from the grassroots would mean more diversity at the convention.”