(First of a series)
On Dec. 8 and 9, in Washington, D.C, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Unity and Reform Commission (URC), a commission created by DNC at the 2016 national convention in July 2016, will meet for the final time to discuss, debate, and adopt recommendations regarding reforms to the presidential nomination contest for 2020. These recommendations will be submitted to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee by January 1. 2018, who are charged with considering these recommendations within six months or the recommendations are to be submitted to the full membership of the DNC for consideration and a vote.
The URC is comprised of 21 members. By mandate of the DNC enabling resolution, the members were chosen as follows:
[The URC] shall consist of 21members including a chair and vice-chair, all with the right to vote on Commission business.The chair shall be Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and the vice-chair Larry Cohen. Secretary Clinton shall appoint nine members of the Commission and Senator Sanders shall appoint seven members of the Commission. The remaining three members shall be appointed by the National Chair of the DNC.
So what exactly is the URC charged to do? The DNC enabling resolution spells it out clearly:
the Unity Reform Commission shall consider and make appropriate recommendations regarding revisions to the Delegate Selection Rules for the 2020 Democratic National Convention with respect to the manner of voting used during the presidential nominating process with a goal of increasing voter participation and inclusion through grassroots engagement of the Party’s voter base during and in-between presidential election cycles. The Commission shall make recommendations to encourage the expanded use of primary elections. [. . . ] 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. (My emphasis)
As you can see, the DNC resolution is quite pointed and specific on what the commission is to have as an objective and designates specific steps with regard to the use of primaries and caucuses. First and foremost, the commission is to “encourage the expanded use of primary elections.”
How can the DNC do this? One easy step is to require state parties to accept the results of primary elections where available. For example, in 2016, the Washington and Nebraska state Democratic parties discarded the results of OPEN primaries held by their state governments despite the fact that voter participation was magnitudes larger in the primaries than in the party-run caucuses. The bare minimum the DNC can do to “encourage the expanded use of primary elections” is to prohibit state parties from using caucus results when their state governments hold primaries. If the URC fails to propose this reform, you will know this process was a sham. The DNC can also encourage the use of primaries by favoring states using them with an award of more delegates than states that use caucuses.
The DNC of course cannot require states to hold primaries, so some state parties will have no choice but to hold caucuses. But here the URC enabling resolution is also quite clear—it calls for making caucuses as much like primaries as possible. The express mention of “firehouse caucuses”—which entail providing as many voting locations as possible for the longest possible voting hours, with no requirement for spending long hours at a caucus standing in corners, is also indicative of the desire to diminish the use of traditional caucuses.
The reason for this imperative is simple and clear—caucuses suppress voters. Caucuses are institutional voter suppression. It would be obscene for the DNC to embrace institutional voter suppression. If the URC is to honor its mandate, caucuses must be enemy number 1. Just as nationally Democrats must declare voter suppression enemy number 1.
With regard to the issue of open and closed primaries, there really isn’t much the DNC can do. States hold primaries, not state parties. Primaries are creatures of state election laws, not state party rules. Nonetheless, the DNC resolution nods toward the goal of same-day registration for voters:
the Unity Reform Commission shall make recommendations to encourage the involvement in all elections of unaffiliated or new voters who seek to join the Democratic Party including through same-day registration and re-registration.
The only proposal I can think of here that is consistent with encouraging the use of primary elections is to provide bonus delegates to states that use same-day registration. Note the mandate here is not for open primaries that permit Republican voters to cross over and vote in Democratic primaries. Rather it is to permit unaffiliated voters to vote in Democratic primaries. Since the DNC can’t dictate to states, its only option appears to be to provide extra delegates to states that permit same-day registration.
What would absolutely be a violation of the URC’s mandate would be a recommendation to replace any primary (open or closed) with a caucus. THIS CANNOT BE ALLOWED.
Finally, the URC is to address the issue of Super Delegates. On this issue, the DNC enabling resolution is remarkably specific. Indeed, the reform is already written:
That the Unity Reform Commission shall consider and make appropriate recommendations for revisions to the Delegate Selection Rules for the 2020 Democratic National Convention to provide for a change in the manner by which unpledged party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates participate in the presidential nominating process. In particular, the 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. (My emphasis)
In plain English, the URC is to propose that Members of Congress, Governors and “distinguished party leaders” (former presidents and the like) remain free to vote as they wish while all other Super Delegates will vote in proportion to their state results. Personally, I would make them all non-voting delegates, but the resolution is clear on this point.
In sum, the URC’s job is actually rather straightforward and simple if they follow their mandate: (1) prohibit caucuses where state governments hold primaries; (2) make caucuses as much like primaries as possible; and, (3) adopt the Super Delegate reform outlined in the DNC enabling resolution.
Will the URC act in good faith? I’m extremely skeptical they have an intention to do so now. I will explain why I think so in my next installment tomorrow.
(In the next installment I ask the question “is the reform process rigged when one potential presidential candidate has designated nearly half of the delegates to the commission? “ Look for it tomorrow.