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What’s So Democratic About the Democratic Party?

Jake Tapper interview with Chair of Democratic Party Debbie Wasserman Schultz about superdelegates
Jake Tapper CNN interview with Debbie Wasserman Schultz about superdelegates.

The Democratic Party, the oldest active party in the World, prides itself as the party that upholds democratic values, equality, and fairness. Democrats believe that “this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.

While these values are certainly admirable and worth pursuing, the Democratic National Committee has shown no signs of adhering to the ideals it claims to believe in. Our analysis also shows that the Party has become less democratic since Debbie Wasserman Schultz became the Chair of the DNC in 2011.

Here are three areas where the DNC failed to adhere to its principles of democracy, equality and fairness:

  1. Challengers Denied Access to Voter File

The Democratic Party has a policy that candidates who wish to run against incumbent office holders would not receive access to the voter database.

VAN (Voter Activation Network) provides political candidates access to voter information such as their addresses, sex, age, when they voted last, party affiliation, etc. As Nate Cohn explains, this information is very critical to the success of a campaign. When the Sanders campaign was denied access to the database after the data breach, the campaign estimated that they could lose up to $600,000 in donations a day.

We reached out to Beto O’Rourke who defeated the eight-term incumbent Democrat Silvestre Reyes in 2012 for Texas’ 16th congressional district in a very close race. O’Rourke tells the Progressive Army that running against an incumbent candidate is very challenging, especially when it relates to raising the necessary funds and meeting enough likely voters. He explains that the voter database was key to his campaign’s success. It helped his campaign track all commitments and follow up on them.

This suggests that this undemocratic policy is relatively a new one and was put in place after Debbie Wasserman Schultz became the Chair of the DNC. This policy gives incumbent candidates, who already have the name recognition, an unfair advantage and interferes with the Party’s principles of democracy, fairness and equality. Several candidates, such as Maria Chappelle-Nadal, Alex Law, and Tim Canova, were denied access to the database as a result of this policy.

The Party has since made a one-time exception and gave Tim Canova access to the file “to avoid any appearance of favoritism.” It appears that the Party recognizes that the policy is unfair.

Nevertheless, Susan Smith, the president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida criticized this one-time exception: “We’re glad to see that Canova will be given access to the voter file, but our broader concern about fairness and a level playing field for Democratic candidates still stands. Inconsistent and non-transparent VAN access policies have been an ongoing issue in the Democratic Party.

Tim Canova also agrees: “I hate to be critical at a moment when I am thankful, but I think that is bad policy. I don’t think state parties should be putting their fingers on the scales to favor an incumbent. There has to be some accountability, and that should be a primary election in which voters decide.

In contrast, the Republican Party doesn’t have a policy of this kind. A Republican candidate, who asked not to be named, running against an incumbent Republican candidate told the Progressive Army that he wasn’t denied access to the voter database.

The Democratic Party, Democratic Party of Florida and Democratic Party of Missouri didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. We will update this article if we hear back from them.

  1. Debate Schedule Controversy

The DNC sanctioned six debates for the Democratic presidential nomination. The DNC was criticized for adding a new exclusivity requirement where candidates who attend unsanctioned debates would be banned from participating in any remaining debates. This was seen by many as a clear favoritism by the DNC towards Hillary Clinton, whose campaign’s preference was to have only four debates.

The times and dates of the debates were also scheduled in a way that would make poor ratings. The second and third debates occurred on Saturday, with the latter occurring the Saturday before Christmas. The fourth debates occurred on Sunday, which also ran during a National Football League playoff game.

On the other hand, the Republican National Committee sanctioned seven debates before the first contest in Iowa, all of which were scheduled on weekdays that ensure higher viewership.

It’s also important to note that the decision to limit the number of debates was unilaterally made by Wasserman Schultz. The former vice chair of the Party, Tulsi Gabbard, wasn’t consulted on the new policy which led her to criticize the Chair’s “poor judgment” on this issue.

  1. Undemocratic Superdelegates

Superdelegates (or Unpledged Delegates) are Democratic Party leaders, elected officials and state party chairs and vice chairs who receive an automatic right to vote for the Democratic nominee in the DNC convention. There are 714 Superdelegates in this presidential election, representing about 15% of the total number of delegates. In many ways, superdelegates have the capacity to steal the election from the candidate chosen by Democrats across the nation.

The superdelegate system is undemocratic. A superdelegate has the voting power of about 10,000 ordinary American voters. For instance, Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary in a landslide, winning 61% of the vote. However, thanks to the superdelegate system, both Sanders and Clinton ended with 15 delegates each.

Wasserman Schultz defends the superdelegate system in a CNN interview with Jake Tapper. She explains: “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.

Howard Dean also agrees that superdelegates like him don’t represent the people, as they are not elected by them.

Jamelle Bouie argued that superdelegates should exist since independents can vote in some primaries and caucuses. In other words, independents are welcome to vote, but if their vote is not in line with the will of the elites and the party leaders, their votes can be overridden. What’s the point of asking them to participate in the first place if their vote would not be honored?

Despite this undemocratic process, I have argued previously that superdelegates are effectively powerless. There is no question that if superdelegates steal the election from a candidate, that candidate’s supporters would resent that move and refrain from voting in the General Election. This would damage the Party’s chances of winning in November.

The Republican Party, which is struggling to prevent Trump from winning the nomination, doesn’t have a superdelegate system.

The Democratic Party should reconsider its policies and seek new policies that make it more inclusive and more democratic. Voters do not appreciate any sense of unfairness which would lead to resentment and disenfranchisement from that Party. While the Republican Party has made voter suppression and gerrymandering key party policies, it has generally been more democratic when it comes to the primary process. It’s time for the Democratic Party to lead by example.

John Macdonald contributed to this article.

Written by Salam Morcos

Salam Morcos is a Managing Editor of Progressive Army and a member of its Editorial Board.

Political activist for democracy, social justice, racial justice, women's right and human rights.

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