Democrats poised to limit influence of superdelegates in presidential nominating system

Democrats gathering in Chicago this weekend are poised to formalize several significant changes to their presidential nominating system to repair relations with rank and file members who felt bamboozled by the 2016 selection process, and ultimately, they hope, win back the White House.

These Democratic National Committee members are moving with exacting deliberation on changes, likely to be approved Saturday, to a system that just two years ago was criticized as unfair and corrupt.

The most noteworthy of these fixes is a plan to limit the influence of the party’s most high-profile members – often called superdelegates. These officials – governors, members of Congress, mayors and others – represent 15 percent of the overall delegate count that determine the presidential nominee.

Under the new system, the superdelegates – or “automatic” delegates as the party now wants to call them – will not be guaranteed a vote on the first ballot at the 2020 national convention. In other words, for the initial vote in a contested race, candidates will only be able to count on the delegates they won during state primaries and caucuses.

“Making sure that at the end of the day when the process is done – to select the Democratic nominee – that they feel like their candidate got a fair shake,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez explained to members on Thursday.

If there’s a need for a second ballot then the superdelegates, who are not bound to any candidate, are free to step in and possibly tip the balance towards someone who can win a majority of the votes.

“You’re going to see little discussions here, and there but at the end we are going to be a whole—Democrats are going to be moving forward for a 2020 election,” says Iris Martinez, a DNC member from Illinois.

The push for a new system comes from backers of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who feel the 2016 process was stacked in favor of eventual nominee Hillary Clinton. Amongst other complaints, they objected to media tallies during the primary season showing Clinton, with her significant support among superdelegates, holding more votes than she’d earned in the various state contests.

But as veteran Democratic campaign manager Bob Shrum noted to Fox News, Clinton did eventually win a majority of the delegates at stake during the primary and caucus process so that in the end, the superdelegates didn’t matter.

“Superdelegates are either superfluous or they’re dangerous,” says Shrum, who is now director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics

Shrum says the superdelegates have never overturned the will of the voters and predicts if it did happen there would be so much discord that it would doom the nominee in the general election.

“I think Tom Perez is absolutely determined that you won’t see in 2020 the kinds of charges you saw in 2016,” he says.

The DNC is also expected to pass rules forcing caucus states to make absentee ballots available and to also demonstrate a paper trail sufficient to conduct a recount or otherwise verify the legitimacy of the contest.