Part 3 of my series on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Unity and Reform Commission (URC). Parts 1 and Part 2 discuss the mandate of the URC and how it was created. PArt 3 now discusses in depth the proposals of Senator Bernie Sanders.
In his Politico article on reforming the nomination process for the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders laid out his vision of what reform should look like. I’ll take each proposal in turn:
First, it is absurd that the Democratic Party now gives over 700 superdelegates—almost one-third the number a presidential candidate needs to win the nomination—the power to control the nominating process and ignore the will of voters.
Sanders is not specific on this point, but the URC resolution provides for the following reform on Super Delegates:
[T]he 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.
Literally, this qualifies to address Sanders’ objection. But it’s not clear if he wants more. My take is the Sanders designees to the URC are resigned to accepting this proposal. The Congressional Black Caucus was adamant on the point.
Next Sanders writes:
Second, in contrast to Republicans, Democrats believe in making voting easier, not harder. We believe in universal and same-day voter registration and ending antiquated, arbitrary and discriminatory voter registration laws. These same principles must apply to our primaries. Our job must be to reach out to independents and to young people and bring them into the Democratic Party process. Independent voters are critical to general election victories. Locking them out of primaries is a pathway to failure.
In that regard, it is absurd that New Yorkers must change their party registration six months before the Democratic primary in order to participate. Other states have similar, if not as onerous provisions.
The rules Sanders references are creatures of state law, not subject to DNC control. What can the DNC do? Well they could penalize states that do not provide for same day registration by reducing or eliminating delegates from that state. Despite my many queries to Sanders’ designees on the URC, I have not received a straight answer on this issue. And worrisome is this quote from Sanders URC designee Nina Turner:
“We need to declare, as a party, that structures like the one in New York [that requires party switching around 6 months before an election] iare unacceptable,” Nina Turner, the president of Sanders’s Our Revolution group, said at the commission meeting last month. “I can’t tell you how many times Republicans threw New York up in my face when I talked about voter suppression. “
Leaving aside Turner’s disingenuous invocation of “voter suppression” while supporting the most voter suppressive aspect of nomination contests, caucuses, Turner does not explain what she means by “declare, as a party.” The DNC can’t tell states what to do. But it can tell state parties what to do. So it is not clear what Sanders and his designees have in mind here and vigilance is required.
By contrast, Sanders and his URC designees have been very protective of voter suppression through caucuses. In his Politico article, Sanders wrote:
While there is much to be said for bringing people together, face to face to discuss why they support the candidate of their choice, not everybody is able to participate because of work, child care or other obligations. A process must be developed that gives everyone the right to cast a vote even if they are not physically able to attend a caucus.
Sanders’ designees to the URC have been positively effusive about caucuses. James Zogby tweeted:
Caucuses are of course, actually the most pernicious voter suppressing part of the nomination contest process. They are the opposite of a participatory democratic marvel. Zogby and his fellow Sanders URC designees are not going to be on the frontline of “encouraging the use of primary elections,” they are going to be fighting to save caucuses.
Zogby demonstrated that today in this tweet:
“For states that want to keep them.” What about states that want closed primaries? Not so deferential there.
Zogby is also wrong when he intimates the DNC can’t do anything about state parties using them in lieu of primary results for delegate selection. That is simply false. This is not a hypothetical. In Washington in 2016, the state Democratic Party chose to use the caucus results (220,000 voters) instead of the results of the open primary results (660,000 voters) in a blatant act of voter suppression.
The DNC can and must prohibit this from happening again. The URC mandate expressly calls for recommendations to “encourage the use of primary elections.” This is an easy one — make states use primary results where available.
This is not to say that the DNC can force states to hold primaries. Just as the DNC can not require same day registration or open primaries (or closed primaries for that matter) nor can it require states hold primaries.
With regard to caucus reform (where state governments do not hold primaries, which the resolution says should be encouraged), the URC resolution states:
The Commission shall make specific recommendations regarding the steps necessary to ensure that, in states where caucuses are conducted, eligible voters’ ability to participate in the caucuses are protected. The Commission shall make recommendations as to how caucuses can be less burdensome and more inclusive, transparent and accessible to participants. Specific consideration shall be given to so-called firehouse caucuses and other methods that will permit expanded and higher volumes of voter participation. These steps shall include ensuring caucuses are well-run,accessible, transparent and that the delegates allocated to the national convention fairly reflect the will of the voters expressed during the caucuses. The Commission shall make specific recommendations to streamline the caucus realignment process, including measures to accommodate increased voter participation and decrease the time necessary to conduct the caucus.
Sanders appears to accept this and I believe his designees on the URC are on board.
So where are we in conclusion? Sanders and his designees appear to be on board with the URC resolution regarding: 1/ Super Delegates and 2/ reforming caucuses to make them as much like primaries as possible.
Where they are fighting is the requirement that the URC ”encourage the use of primary elections.” In other words, they wll fight to preserve voter suppressing caucuses to the extent they can.
That is wrong and their attempts to preserve voter suppression through caucuses must be defeated.