Last month’s leak of DNC (Democratic National Committee) e-mails resulted in a resignation of DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz and several staffers. That, however, was the extent to which the Democratic party leadership was willing to go. Hillary Clinton was nominated in Philadelphia as planned. Last night Debbie won the primary to hold on to her congressional seat.
Media continually tries to distract viewers from the content of the DNC e-mails by speculating that Russia is behind the leak in an effort to manipulate U.S. elections. Party loyalists have been very active trying to diminish the importance of what was discovered about DNC’s attitude towards Clinton’s rival for the Democratic party nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders.
There is no way even Clinton supporters didn’t feel something (fear perhaps, if not disgust) on discovering through the leaked e-mails that DNC was plotting anti-Sanders narratives to plant them in the media. From Clinton-supporting friends to on-line regulars the dominating reaction was, at first, silence. That is because there is a universal understanding of what a fair contest is, no special course in the U.S. government is needed, and so their initial reaction of silence was the most honest one.
If during a school science fair it would be discovered that a teacher helped one student, but not the others – the student would be disqualified and both would face consequences. No one would be asking for proof of how much the teacher’s involvement changed the outcome.
If it was discovered that a government employee fed information to one of the contestants for a government contract, that employee would lose his/her job and the company competing for the government contract would lose the contest and possibly suffer additional penalties. No one would be asking how much the leaked information helped the contestant.
If in the Miss Galaxy International contest a juror was caught having a relationship with one of the contestants the contestant would be disqualified and the juror would lose his job. No one would be asking if perhaps the contestant would still have won without the compromised juror’s vote.
And so on, and so forth…
Although it is best to ignore obviously disingenuous attacks they give us an opportunity to remind ourselves of how our government works and what our rights are, as citizens and as humans.
DNC is the governing body of the Democratic party ultimately responsible for the primaries, therefore DNC bias compromised the election process and the results should have been voided
After a day or two of complete silence following the release of the damning DNC leaks on July 23rd, the internet started buzzing with various takes diminishing the importance of the discovery.
Here are some of the statements that were circulating:
“The Democratic party has nothing to do with the elections” (sic)
“Only state parties are responsible for elections, not the DNC”
“The party only controls the caucuses and Bernie won those”
“The leak is not a big deal because there is no proof the attitudes and actions of DNC discovered through the leaked e-mails influenced the election results”
“The elections were fair because Hillary Clinton got more votes”
The last comment was shared on Facebook by a friend of mine, a woman with two master’s degrees and 30+ years of professional work experience at high levels of management. This perhaps illustrates that people who author or repeat these statements are not necessarily unaware that it’s complete nonsense. They are just willing to commit murder on logic and morals in order to justify nominating the person they want to see in the White House. “The elections were fair because Hillary Clinton got more votes” is obviously an illogical statement after it was discovered that the integrity of the election process was compromised. We don’t know how many votes Hillary and Bernie would have respectively received if the elections were not compromised. Therefore true results are not known and it follows that the known results are not valid.
What about “the leak is not a big deal because there is no proof the attitudes and actions of DNC discovered through the leaked e-mails influenced the election results?” We don’t need to show that! When the integrity of the election process is compromised, through organizers siding with one of the contestants, it is universally understood as automatically triggering voiding of the results and consequences for all involved! That is the ethical standard governing every kind of contest from school competitions to the Olympics. Perhaps there is some confusion stemming from the fact that no authority has forced the Democratic party to void the results and that they nominated Hillary Clinton a few days after the DNC leak. As if nothing happened, with media silent on the subject, which supports the myth that the primaries are exclusively an internal party matter. The media’s current interest in the integrity of the election process in the context of general elections approaching long after the Democratic party nominee has been chosen seems to suggest
Comic Lee Camp of “Redacted” exposes CBS’s sudden interest in integrity of our elections
media take part in bullying the population into believing that we have no right to demand that the primary elections are as “fair and square” as the general election.
Moving on to the next argument, is DNC really off the hook because “the state parties are responsible for elections?” DNC is, of course, the governing body of the Democratic party. This Daily Kos diary explains well what the DNC is and the process of electing the chairperson. The chairperson of DNC, in particular, is responsible, according to their own bylaws, for making sure party officials nationwide as well as the DNC staffers are neutral. To sum up – DNC is in charge of state parties, including the specific responsibility to maintain their neutrality during the primaries.
What about “the party only controls the caucuses and Bernie won those?” Meaning, I guess, that DNC’s anti-Bernie words discovered through the e-mails leak, didn’t translate into anti-Bernie actions because he overwhelmingly won the caucuses (which the statement’s author incorrectly claims are the only thing DNC has control over, but I will address that later). First of all, Bernie did lose the very crucial caucuses in Iowa and Nevada. Secondly winning a contest doesn’t mean that there was no cheating or at least attempts at cheating by your opponent. It is thankfully very hard for the party to cheat at the caucuses, as once the supporters of a candidate are in a group together, they are a force to reckon with and it is very difficult to conceal any foul play from them. They do the “supporter counts” themselves, they write down the final results and send them over to their candidate’s campaign independently from the party structure.
Yet there were still many “irregularities” reported from the caucuses. Organizers “running out” of registration forms, which eliminated new voters (usually going to Sanders). Bernie supporters were shut out of the caucuses despite being on time versus Hillary supporters being let in even after the registration was finalized. Hillary’s campaign allowed to talk to the undecideds, while Bernie campaign was not. Caucus venues decorated with Hillary campaign gear and caucus attendees being told by those in charge that they must vote for Hillary. People allowed to vote for Hillary without prior registration, people pressured by employers and their union to vote for Hillary and “silent observers” getting involved and campaigning against Sanders. Sanders voters not being able to get a legitimate recount versus Hillary supporters getting unlimited recounts until the desired result, etc., etc. These are some of the complaints I saw on the internet and they might very well be mistakes, exaggerations, lies or even outright attempts by outsiders to stir the pot. However, at the very least, they show there is some room for the Democratic party organizers to influence and manipulate the results of a caucus. DNC leaks confirm that party leadership worked in a variety of ways to the benefit of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders. This is breaking their own bylaws, so it is not far fetched to believe they also tried (and perhaps succeeded) to influence caucus results in ways not permitted by their own bylaws.
I saved my favorite ridiculous statement for last, “the Democratic party has nothing to do with elections.” First of all, it’s really funny how the same side can make this sweeping statement and at the same time claim that Democratic primaries are the party’s internal election and it’s not anyone’s business how they do things. Democratic party, of course, has a lot of control over the Democratic party primary elections. But it is not just their internal election either and I am devoting an entire chapter to explaining it later on.
let’s look at the ways the Democratic party controls the primary elections.
One of the most important ways in which the party controls the election is deciding who is a “serious candidate.” Anyone remembers Vermin Supreme or Rocky De La Fuente among the unfamiliar names on the Democratic primary ballot in New Hampshire? The first one is a performance artist, the second, a very successful bilingual (English/Spanish) businessman who is currently the presidential nominee of the Reform party (of Ross Perot fame). Vermin received only 268 votes but Rocky made the ballot in many states and received a total of 67,457 votes which is quite impressive considering he had no help from DNC or the media. Anyone who is at least 35 years old, is a natural born citizen, has lived in the US for at least 14 years, can afford the ballot fees or collect enough signatures can be on the Democratic Party ballot. This article lists the steps to becoming a candidate and this is a full list of 2016 candidates and their share of the popular vote.
Unless a candidate is someone already famous or rich enough to flood the media with paid ads months before the first primary contest, being acknowledged by the Democratic party is crucial to getting national exposure. They have their own internal messaging system through mailers, phone calls and e-mails targeting registered Democrats. They have their state party conventions which took place before the primaries kicked off. They have such events as televised Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinners (dedicated to party founders) during which the candidates have a chance to speak and make their positions known. They organize forums and “town halls” with the candidates. They write open endorsement letters reprinted in the press. They bundle their endorsements maximizing media impact. What they should do is to help voters get acquainted with all the candidates and their platforms. What they do is implement bias from the beginning of the process, by deciding who is “in” and once they are “in” how much exposure and support the party is going to give them.
As far as exposure it is hard to match the importance of the televised debates in the primary process. Perhaps you have heard of Laurence Lessig? He is a professor of law at Harvard University and campaign finance reform activist.
As you are listening to Prof Lessig remember DNC didn’t want you to hear him in the debates!
Lessig was for a short time a Democratic party presidential candidate but he resigned when he couldn’t get into the Democratic party debates. He wrote an article about it, which is an important insight into how decisive it is to have DNC approval in order to be a successful candidate. He wrote:
“Here’s how you make the debates: After one declares, a candidate is formally welcomed into the race by the Democratic National Committee. Polling firms, taking a cue from the DNC, include that candidate on their questionnaires. Candidates that poll at 1 percent nationally in at least three separate polls earn an invitation. Simple enough.”
But that’s not what happened for Lessig. He was not treated as a serious candidate by the DNC (neither were Rocky De La Fuente or, perhaps understandably, the performance artist Vermin Supreme, and many others). Lessig was not officially welcomed into the race, and that resulted in media excluding him from many polls. Amazingly he still polled well enough to qualify for the second debate on November 14, 2015, which prompted the DNC to change the participation rules thereby excluding Lessig.
Getting into the debates, the number of debates, how they are scheduled – means everything for the lesser known candidates. In addition, Lessig’s story shows us that media were very influenced by DNC in their presentation of the candidates. It mattered when at the New Hampshire convention Clinton got an hour to speak and Lessig only 5 minutes. It mattered when Sanders and O’Malley both got less speaking time than Clinton at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in the same state. BTW, that event was a piece of political theater that belonged more in a totalitarian country than the “free” world. Bernie supporters were as numerous as Hillary’s, but they were positioned behind the cameras and far from the mikes. The area between the cameras and the stage was populated by Hillary supporters. They looked very uninspired during Bernie’s speech. The momentum of the evening was building up for Hillary as if she was a rock star. She spoke last. The lights were dimmed.
When she appeared the whole area between the cameras and the stage erupted with Hillary signs and glow sticks. Her supporters having the benefit of being close to the mike appeared to be a much stronger group. In fact thanks to the positioning of the cameras it looked like she had the support of the entire room. That political theater mattered not only to the candidates’ exposure within the party through people who were watching the live stream, it also mattered to how it was covered by the media. Media “took their cue” from DNC not only on whom to include in the polls, but everything else about the candidates. Every biased decision of the DNC was amplified by the media.
Even if this was the only thing the party did have control over, it could have decided the election. The difference in pledged delegates was small: Clinton won 54% to Sanders 46%. As Carl Beijer has convincingly demonstrated in his blog Sanders preference and favorability among eg. black voters was closely related to name recognition. Cutting down the number of debates from 28 during 2008 election season to 6 in 2016, DNC hurt Sanders’ chances considerably. The leaked e-mails show this was done intentionally.
Continuing the subject of Democratic party control over its primaries: party leadership decides how many delegates constitute the national convention (currently 4,763) and how many each state is sending (both “pledged” and “superdelegates”). They decide whether “pledged” delegates are elected through voting at the polls (regular elections conducted by the states through their boards of elections) or through the caucus process (run exclusively by the party). “Superdelegates,” a group of party’s top current and former elected officials, were introduced in 1984 and it was decided they would form 14% of all convention delegates. Currently, that percentage translates to 715 “superdelegates,” allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice, no matter how strongly their constituents support another candidate. Here is a good article explaining the history of the superdelegates. It is worth noting that during the last month’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia, Sanders delegates asked for abolition of superdelegates and the party agreed to a compromise, in which 2/3 of the superdelegates for the next Democratic convention in 2020 will be bound by results of primaries and caucuses in their states.
Next, the Democratic party leadership decides the rules for the Democratic primaries schedule. For example, since 1980, the first state to hold a primary contest (in the form of a caucus) is Iowa, followed by New Hampshire. Current rules allow for 4 states only to hold primary contests in February. This is a good introduction to the subject.
In addition, the Democratic party working through state legislatures (if they have the majority) decides the date of the state primary, that is which day of the week is the primary election or caucus to take place (making it more or less accessible to voters) and how the contest is positioned within the primary season. Eg. “Dating back to the early 1970s, the idea was that the South would speak with one voice behind a more moderate candidate who would, in their way of thinking, make those southern states blue in the fall general election campaign.” You can read about the development of the practice of “front-loading” the primaries with Southern states (which affected Bernie Sanders candidacy very negatively) here. If a state government decides on a date that the Democratic party doesn’t like, the party can always decide to have a caucus instead. There are trade-offs involved. Caucuses have to be paid for by the Democratic party, but if the party goes with the caucus, then the party is in control of such things as the date of the caucus and who is allowed to participate (just registered Democrats, or also Independents, perhaps even Republicans?). This is a good article explaining differences between primaries and caucuses.
Unlike caucuses, the state-run primaries are not always under the Democratic party control. The rules are set by the state legislature, which can be Democrat or Republican dominated. Things that are decided by state legislature include: who is allowed on the ballot, who is allowed to vote (eg. different rules on felons), whether the primary election is open, closed or semi-open, when are the registration deadlines, what are the party affiliation deadlines, what (if any) documentation one must bring in order to vote, general rules of voting in state (such as whether there is early voting, voting by mail, absentee ballots, the rules governing polling places, rules governing audits). New York is, of course, a “blue state” so suggesting (as many Clinton supporters have done at the time of the NY primary) that the Democratic party has nothing to do with its draconian party affiliation deadline (6 months before the primary election) was ludicrous. Democrats together with Republicans are responsible for shaping voting laws that in practice exclude many voters. Eg. an easy solution to problems with registration deadlines would be implementing automatic voter registration for every citizen on reaching 18 years of age. A good solution in the meantime is allowing same day registration and party affiliation on the election day – something Democrats in many state legislatures are not eager to do despite paying lip-service supporting voting rights for all.
Besides legislatures, election boards have a big hand in shaping the Democratic party primaries (in states where the Democratic party decides not to hold a caucus). There are over 13 thousand election boards across America, including state boards or commissions. They chose the voting system for their jurisdiction, they decide who gets on the ballot, the look of the ballots, the number and location of polling stations, the hours of opening, the method of recruitment and training for poll workers. Election boards are in theory “neutral” but what that really means is that they are composed of (usually) an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, not including representation for the 42% of Americans who do not identify themselves as either.
In addition to that, election board members are nominated by local party structures (of both parties respectively). That means that there is a “chain of command” from DNC down to Democrats on election boards. The Clinton Democrats I spoke with believe that the presence of Democrats on election boards guarantees fair election systems and practices and that the presence of Republicans on election boards precludes any kind of bias against one Democratic candidate over another. However, there are multiple reasons this might not be true. There might be common goals that both sides tacitly agree on, like the exclusion of independents, or not meddling in each other’s primaries, or keeping the ratio of the rich to poor voters where it is, or (real or used as a pretext) budgetary concerns.
Decisions reached by these “neutral” election boards have a potentially enormous influence on the results of the elections. Eg. election boards are responsible for choosing the voting system. Not so long ago all voting was done on paper ballots that were then counted by hand in the presence of representatives of all candidates who were on the ballot. Many countries in the world have kept that old, tried, transparent system. But in the US, one election board after another decided to switch to voting machines. The main types of electronic voting equipment are optical scanners and DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) machines, some of which leave no paper trail. 40+ states use machines over 10 years old. This Ballotpedia page describes different types of equipment and where it is used across the United States.
Probably most concerning are the voting machines that leave no paper trail and therefore are un-auditable. After all, machines can malfunction, yet various election boards in 11 states decided to buy them with total confidence audits will not be necessary! Not to mention the machines are open to foul play as explained in the classic 2006 documentary “Hacking Democracy” linked here. It is very concerning that after it became national news that our elections are not secure, the election boards with old and/or un-auditable equipment did not buy new auditable equipment or simply return to old secure voting methods. This can not be blamed on Republicans! Democrats, under the chain of command leading down from the DNC, are part of the election boards making those decisions across the nation.
Un-auditable voting machines are a huge problem, but at least the optical scanning machines and those DRE machines that leave a paper trail guarantee the integrity of the voting process, right? Not so fast. Look what happened in Chicago during the recent Democratic primary (as described in Counterpunch). A group of citizens decided to audit the official, legally mandated, 5% audit of voting and tabulating machines. They observed various irregularities, the most glaring of which (clip below) was adjusting the paper trail count to the machine results the paper trail was supposed to verify.
The citizens’ group came to the Chicago Board of Election meeting on April 6, 2016, to present their objections to certifying the election results. As you can see in the full video from the meeting (linked in the Counterpunch article) the election board is completely indifferent to the testimonies. They argue with the citizens that they are not qualified to understand what they saw. They argue that the audit was to test the machines, and is not the basis to challenge the elections results, implying that the citizens’ group objections are irrelevant. I encourage everyone to see this “democracy in action” for themselves.
Between the experience of the Chicago citizens group, the experiences of members of the public attending New York state audits or affidavit ballot counts (eg. this post by Lisa Barri) the behavior of the election board employees in the Volusia County, Florida, featured in the 2006 documentary “Hacking Democracy” (linked above, but here it is again) one gets the feeling that although the election boards are supposed to be neutral and work for us they are not always transparent, or careful with the voting records, or ready to take action to address citizens’ concerns about tampering with the results. Another question is whether the random 5% audits even work as an indicator of possible election fraud. We were told during the primaries that since American exit polls are not designed to detect election fraud, and the audits only check if these specific machines work (but not 95% of others) how are we to know when there is tampering with the results? Richard Hayes in the article for Black Box Voting (organization featured in “Hacking Democracy”) suggests targeted audits.
“Generally speaking, election fraud does not occur across the board, by shifting votes from one candidate to another in every ward and precinct.Such alterations would be discovered by any random audit. Rather, alterations to the vote count vary from precinct to precinct and are most apparent at the precinct level. The most anomalous precincts are the ones to be audited. If the ballots match the official count here, in a targeted audit, in suspect precincts specifically chosen for a fraud investigation, it is more convincing than a random audit. But if the ballots do not match the official count, it is prima facie evidence of fraud or egregious error.” – Richard Hayes The Truth About Exit Polls and Vote Counts
Hayes pinpointed St. Louis, Missouri, as one of the places that should be audited. There he found a large discrepancy between Clinton’s win among the voters at the polls (54.2% to Sanders’ 45.2%), and among absentee voters (71.4% to 25.2%). It is worth remembering that Missouri was one of the states (the other two being Massachusetts and Illinois) where Clinton’s win was very small and even a small scale election fraud could have flipped the state. It so happens that in St. Louis there is currently a case before court over August 5th primary election results for 78th congressional district, brought by challanger Bruce Franks against the incumbent Rep. Penny Hubbard. She won by 90 votes with the entire margin of victory hinging on absentee ballots! (Absentee voting rules in Missouri here, two articles on the case here and here ). As you can see, in order to vote on the absentee ballot in Missouri one must first request it from appropriate board of elections. Candidates without connections, like Bernie Sanders, have to rely on voters’ eagerness to vote, and as we know this is very low in the US (only 18% of the population participated in the primaries). But the campaign of a candidate preferred by the DNC might have access to a stack of absentee ballots through their connections on the local board of elections. Imagine how many votes could the campiagn workers get if they could bring the absentee ballots to the people while canvassing, have them fill the ballots out on the spot, and bring them back to the election board to be counted! Among Bruce Franks’ allegations were: “Workers from the Hubbard campaign pressured people to use absentee ballot” and “Individuals associated with the Hubbard family offered to fill in ballots for voters who weren’t sure who to pick.” Yet another way in which DNC potentially has control over the primary election. (Update 9/2/2016: Bruce Franks won the case for new election! To clarify – his case was about the congressional primary, not the presidential primary. I used it as an example of what can hapen with absentee ballots unethically used to get more votes).
Election boards reducing the number of voting locations, when Bernie was winning in the polls and the state governor was a staunch Clinton supporter (like in case of governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo) could have been perceived as governors’ undue influence on election boards, as was acknowledged by internal DNC e-mails revealed by DNC leaks: “If she (Clinton) outperforms this polling, the Bernie camp will go nuts and allege misconduct,” the DNC staffer wrote. This is because people understand that 1. Boards of elections can manipulate election results by the strategic closing of polling places in areas they estimate are more likely to favor the candidate they want to lose, 2. That although theoretically neutral, boards of election members might have a hard time resisting the influence of a powerful politician such as governor or mayor. Similarly, in Puerto Rico, where governor Alejandro Padilla endorsed Hillary Clinton, the number of polls was reduced from 2,306 open for 2008 primary to 432 during the June 2016 primary. Of course, there is no proof that poll closing was done to hurt Sanders. But Puerto Rico denied Sanders’ observers entry to prisons (while Clinton’s observers were let in) and his poll volunteers were being denied certification. It has been raised by Clinton supporters, that the polls were probably just closed for budgetary reasons (Puerto Rico is going through a serious crisis). But, in that case, why was the primary contest not conducted in form of a much cheaper caucus? Indeed, this was the original plan. Puerto Rico then petitioned DNC in the spring of 2015 to have a primary instead and the permission was granted provided Puerto Rico could guarantee a certain number of polling locations, a promise they ended up not keeping. If you want further details – this is an excellent summary of problems with Puerto Rico Democratic primary.
Election boards are also in charge of the ballots and the rules governing their use. During the primaries there were many reports of caucuses and polling places running out (negligence) or “running out”(on purpose) of voter registration forms or ballots, thus reducing the numbers of new voters, who were known to overwhelmingly vote for Sanders. In California, independents were allowed by law to vote in the Democratic primaries but not on the ballot they were mailed. Already in the early voting period. there were reports that less than half of the independent voters (polling overwhelmingly for Sanders) managed to vote. This article provides useful statistics to show the huge effect this had on the results: out of 322 thousand independent early voters almost 200 thousand did not participate in the presidential primary (only voted for local candidates). Confusion also continued during voting in person on election day: apparently poll workers were not trained to give the independent voters the special “cross-over” Democratic ballot, and if the independents voted for a Democratic candidate either on independent or Democratic ballot – their votes were uncounted, which is also the title of the excellent documentary below, based on interviews with California primary elections poll workers.
Unlike the DNC, which showed no interest in informing Americans during the primaries about the voter registration deadlines, Sanders supporters ran a great website called How and when to vote for Bernie and “Sanders for President” subreddit. They not only posted information available on state websites but included deeply researched and detailed info and practical tips. This was obtained by contacting the appropriate authorities and people who have previously taken part in caucuses and primaries in their states. DNC did not show the initiative to inform and engage voters until after the primary was over. At least in my state, New York, the call for Latinos to register to vote, delivered by the actress America Ferrera, appeared in TV ads right after the state primary on April 19th.
Similarly, while hundreds of Sanders grassroots volunteers registered new voters all over the country there seemed to have been no voter registration drives initiated by the DNC, as Shaun King of the New York Daily News noticed in this article. Democratic party poses as the party which supports wide citizen participation in the voting process. Hillary Clinton said in the Democratic presidential nomination acceptance speech last month in Philadelphia: “we must nominate Supreme Court Justices that will (…)expand voting rights, not restrict them.” Yet it was very much in the hands of the party to expand voter participation during the primaries, and the party did nothing. This is another way in which the party controlled the primary results, as newly registered and newly affiliated voters overwhelmingly went to Bernie Sanders.
Next, let us remind ourselves that
what happened in the primaries did not just happen to Bernie Sanders or his supporters, it happened to the entire nation.
As citizens of a democratic republic, we have a right to fair elections. More than that, as humans we have the natural right to representation in government. Because we have a system that favors two major parties, primaries in the U.S. function as a first round of general elections. They are also paid for by taxes, no matter the taxpayer’s party affiliation. Independents, who form 42% of Americans, finance both Democratic and Republican primaries, subsidize their conventions, pay salaries for their politicians at every government level.
I am telling you this so you understand that you own the Democratic (as well as Republican) primary elections. We all do. Of course, if we were really serious about democracy we should have open primaries and same day registration for voting or even better – automatic enrollment on reaching 18 years of age, public funding of elections, equal media access, rank voting, proportional representation and other features which allow for a multi-party system that truly represents the citizens (here is a good explanation of what is needed). So it does get confusing because our laws don’t always match our rhetoric…
But even if these democratic features are the things of the future, even considering all the current obstacles to participation, nevertheless voting in the primaries is open to all Americans. The Democratic party doesn’t have a roster of members. There are no membership dues. There is no oath of loyalty to the party. What makes you a Democrat is that you are currently registered as one. What gives you the right to have your vote counted in Democratic primary elections is registering as Democrat on time and in more open contests simply being registered without party affiliation or even, in some cases, simply being registered to vote.
There was a lot of rhetoric during the primaries that the Democrats have a right to control their primaries any way they wish. Except – there is no “them.” Sure, there is a group within the party that consists of Democratic party politicians, from the president at the top to school board members at the bottom. But as I explained above, the “lay” membership is fluid and any American can be a Democrat, and in some states, you don’t even have to be a Democrat to vote in the primaries. Of course, don’t believe this openness by the Democratic party leaders is out of the goodness of their hearts. They want the party open in some contexts that benefit them but they have no problem to talk about “the Democrats” in other contexts as if it was some closed membership organization. The reason this is brought up is to bully the public into thinking the vote of recently registered Democrats and those independents who voted in the open Democratic primaries is somehow less valid.
There is no question that recent recruits and independents got a hard time having their votes counted in these primaries. I will not get into describing different scenarios that people claimed happened to them beyond what I described in the previous chapter. I simply want to comment about the reactions from people who consider themselves “real” Democrats: they were fine with these people’s voices not being counted.
Many on-line pro-Clinton commenters were also fine with DNC bias against Sanders. Their given reasons varied from: “DNC role is to choose someone most aligned with values of the party (a difficult feat: how could DNC know which candidate aligned best with party values before the people have spoken on the subject of their values through the primaries?),”DNC role is to choose the best candidate for the general election,” and, most troubling, “it is OK for DNC to cheat because Bernie is not a real Democrat.”
To me, these comments mean that many American citizens don’t understand (or pretend not to) that the way the system is set up the primaries function as the first round of our general elections. Interestingly, whenever independents complain they can’t vote somewhere because the elections are closed the Democratic party loyalists bring it up by themselves that anyone can be a Democrat and it’s not their fault if someone didn’t follow deadlines.
Consider the alternatives. What if all the primaries were closed and New York State’s draconian cut off date for changing party affiliation 6 months before the primaries would be true for all states? What if there were membership dues? What if you had to show 10 years of loyalty to the party or give a sizable donation? In other words, what if there was some kind of party loyalty test that “real” Democrats crave in order for your vote to be counted? How many years of this “closed party” politics financed by taxpayers would we accept before revolt and creation of viable “3rd” parties? Or, if they relied on membership dues to finance their primaries, how numerous would their membership be?
That’s why the Democratic party leadership likes the system we have now. This way they can defend the existence of the superdelegates, early endorsements, DNC’s role in selecting the candidates and in ranking them in their promotional events, all the obstacles to mass participation in the primaries (which help them control the results) as their “internal matter” but when it is pointed out to them that 42% of Americans consider themselves independents and that in the 2 party system the primaries function as a first round of general elections for which are all paying – they say the opposite, that the participation in the primary elections is democratic – it is open to all as long as they follow the rules.
Well, they can’t have it both ways. The semi-openness of both parties, the vagueness of their relationship to voters, hinders democratic reforms (such as eg. recent ranked voting proposal in Maine) and hurts the creation and prospering of new parties. I think what we need to do is to resist the propaganda that the primaries are the parties’ internal matter and demand accountability from the DNC.