Superdelegates have become a renewed contentious topic for Democrats since the 2016 presidential primary. Multiple methods have been put into action to deal with the frustration/unfairness that superdelegates create, from leaving the party outright (Draft Bernie, PIP, DSA, GP, etc.) to the creation of the unity commission. Furthermore, at the local Democratic level, the fight has raged on long after the primary. Passing resolutions to eliminate superdelegates outright is seen as a high priority to some members, in hopes that it will create greater electoral fairness and inclusion.
The Argument Against Superdelegates
The best argument against superdelegates, in my opinion, is to define them. Put simply, they are hand-picked party elites that have the ability to vote for whoever they want despite the primary process (voting/caucuses). In other words, party elites pick their own to pick themselves when the time calls. Rick LaFave, a Lewis County Democrat member from Washington explains:
Superdelegates are the most undemocratic method of selecting a nominee. 230,000 is the approximate number of attendees to the 2016 presidential primary caucus in Washington State…Bernie Sanders won the primary caucuses in Washington State by 73%. Of those delegates pledged to Bernie Sanders, the breakdown should have been 84 pledged delegates for Bernie Sanders and 32 pledged delegates for Hillary Clinton in Washington State. Instead the superdelegates refused to follow the results of Washington State. Simply put, the superdelegates have arbitrarily been given the power equivalent to 23,000 caucus attendees from our state. That’s not democracy and the Democratic Party refuses to change this.
Often seen as a Sanders vs. Clinton dichotomy, with Bernie delegates demanding change and Clinton delegates steadily holding the line, change has not come easily. Even with the Unity Commission, as reported by Michael Sainato, superdelegates, lobbyist, and party elites help make up the commission members. Thus, the unity commission that is charged, in part, to tackle the issue of superdelegates, will most likely concede very little given their own interests are at stake. True concessions by those appointed to the commission by Sanders and Clinton may ultimately fall short, because, as Michael Sainato aptly puts it, “trying to achieve unity among these opposing forces, one against lobbyists and one that views partnerships with lobbyists as vital to the Democratic Party, is as futile as trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”
Given the likelihood that the elimination of superdelegates won’t materialize through the unity commission, another avenue to change is from the bottom up, at the local Democrat level. LaFave enthusiastically purports, “we are doing everything we can to fix this terribly broken system and this resolution is a step in that direction!”
Resolutions at the Local Level
By the end of the convention season during the 2016 primaries, 18 states passed resolutions to either eliminate superdelegates or diminish them in some way.
In Washington state, many local Democrats are trying to get the same thing accomplished. Georgia Davenport, Washington state Democratic Central Committeewoman for the 33rd LD relayed to the Progressive Army:
In 2016, many democratic state party organizations around the country passed superdelegate resolutions attempting to eliminate or reduce superdelegates, or bind their vote proportionally to the will of the people. The superdelegate resolution that has been passed in at least two local democratic organizations in Washington state asks the DNC to do the latter.
This resolution will be submitted and (if passed through the resolutions committee) will be voted on at the next state committee meeting in September. The unity reform commission meets in August to discuss unpledged delegates, which is why I hand delivered the resolution to DNC Chair Tom Perez immediately after we passed it in the 33rd [LD].
Although not binding in relation to the DNC, as states have no control whether or not the DNC has superdelegates, the resolution contains language that makes them irrelevant within Washington state:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that beginning with the 2020 presidential election cycle, should the National Democratic Party fail to amend its rules and delegate selection plan to allow states to bind superdelegates on a first ballot then the Washington State Democratic Party shall amend its rules to require superdelegates to declare their presidential candidate preference to the State Party Chair prior to the opening of the state convention. The Chair will take those preferences into account in allocating at-large pledged national convention delegates among presidential candidates so as to assure that the complete state delegation matches the result of the primary election to the greatest degree possible.
If states have the support to change their own rules, they can circumvent the role of superdelegates. This should be seen as an agent of change. Getting and retaining that support is no easy feat.
Getting to the Finish Line
If #DemEnter is a real phenomenon and true reform can be realized, I think seeing the elimination of superdelegates is a good way to gauge its effectiveness.
When everyone is not on the same page, seeing things through and being an agent of change is exhausting, explains Precinct Committee Officer of Washington State’s 46th LD Andy Galipeau:
Phew, it is a constant struggle just to keep myself engaged and in the process, which is completely rigged and unfair, and I haven’t even fully convinced myself that it can work.
But I got sick and tired of waiting for someone else to come around and do it for me so I could support them, and what I have found is that all of our suspicions were true. The back room selections, the cliquish political factions, the existence of the establishment mindset… but the majority of those involved do not even realize it, or if they do, justify it with a *shrug* that’s just the way it’s always been.
For me, the most frustrating part has been the effectiveness of the systemic effort to drive people out of the Democratic Party who seek progress or question their methods and neoliberal heroines, but the reality is that WE have rigged the system against ourselves… by not getting involved and showing up, the pool of representation will remain the elite few, the insider club.
In some places the difference is merely a dozen more people showing up will tip the scales. There is a lot of work to be done and multiple layers of protection in place, and the only thing keeping them in power is the combined efforts of those in power and ourselves telling us that “it can’t be done, so why bother trying?” Because when we give up, they win by default…and when we show up, we win.
I’m definitely not the first, and won’t be the last. I’ve met some amazing people who have been on the front lines of this exhausting fight for longer than I have been alive, and most of them agree that the hope lies with us, the younger generations, to be that final push beyond the tipping point which has been a long time coming.
The Gen Xers and Millennials need to start caring and getting involved in the political process, or we won’t have a future left to inherit. If the Democratic Caucus participants of Washington State ran the Democratic Party, we would have a nearly 3/4 majority vote almost everywhere.
Superdelegates won’t just ‘go away’ all on their own, and the DNC certainly will not remove their greatest asset for maintenance of control over the party without a fight, that’s why we need fighters sticking it out on the inside, as well as pressure from the outside…so our argument has teeth.