Democrats Move Forward With Plan To Make Superdelegates Irrelevant

The Democratic National Committee is one step closer to adopting a rule change that would make superdelegates largely irrelevant to the party's nomination process.

Democrats moved another step forward with a plan that will essentially make superdelegates irrelevant to the party’s Presidential nomination process, and the people being impacted by it are not very happy about it:

Democratic Party officials took a major step Wednesday toward sharply reducing the role and influence of powerful political insiders in the presidential nominating process, a change sought by Senator Bernie Sanders and many other liberals after the 2016 campaign.

These insiders, called superdelegates, who are free to back any candidate regardless of how the public votes, would no longer be allowed to vote during the first ballot of the presidential nominating process at the party’s convention in most circumstances. Superdelegates would only be able to vote in extraordinary cases such as contested conventions, where the nomination process is extended through multiple ballots until one candidate prevails. They would still have a significant voice in other party debates outside of presidential nominations.

“This is a compromise that reduces that influence of superdelegates by taking them out of a first-ballot vote. Therefore, the activists that have been concerned that superdelegates will overturn the will of the voters should feel good about this,” said Elaine Kamarck, an influential member of the Democratic National Committee and its rules committee since 1997.

The party’s rules committee officially adopted the language Wednesday in advance of a final vote during the Democrats’ summer convention next month in Chicago. Members of the D.N.C. are now hoping the measure will move forward in August without fanfare, therefore settling the matter before November’s all-important midterm elections and well before the 2020 presidential campaign season.

Though superdelegates have never before overturned the will of Democratic voters in the presidential primary, their role caused deep tensions in the 2016 Democratic primary between Mr. Sanders and Hillary Clinton, when supporters of Mr. Sanders said these insiders — mostly elected officials, party leaders and donors — were emblematic of a “rigged” nomination system favoring Mrs. Clinton.

“There’s been various iterations of the plan, but this is where most people came out and felt comfortable,” Ms. Kamarck said.

The changes are not without controversy. Some members of the party, particularly those currently designated as superdelegates, believe any reduction in their power is an unnecessary capitulation to Mr. Sanders and his supporters.

Donna Brazile, a former D.N.C. chairwoman and a member of the party’s rules committee, said she abstained from voting on the new changes Wednesday because she believed the influence of superdelegates has been overstated.

In an email, Ms. Brazile said she did not believe in “taking away the vote from any individual.” Superdelegates, she said, “did not change the outcome of the 2016 nominating contest, as Mrs. Clinton received the bulk of the pledged delegates. She also received the majority of voters, and she won more states.”

“We are simply part of the ingredients,” she said of superdelegates, “not even the meat or the sauce.”

Others are opposed to the proposal because superdelegates have historically enjoyed an exclusive level of access to candidates. Some nonwhite members of the party believe such access is necessary to get presidential candidates to consider issues that affect minority groups.

Michael Blake, a New York assemblyman and vice chairman of the D.N.C., said he was sympathetic to the concerns of superdelegates who are members of minority groups. Regardless, Mr. Blake, who is black, said his concerns were mitigated because superdelegates have not been eliminated completely, and could become vitally important during any second round of votes in the nomination process.

Any presidential candidate would still be foolish to ignore the group, Mr. Blake said.

“Our power isn’t lessened,” Mr. Blake said. “Rather, this is about what’s the greatest good for all of us.”\

This whole process started almost two years ago in the wake of the 2016 primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Long before the first votes were cast in that race, the vast majority of Democratic superdelegates had pledged their support to Clinton, and that process continued as the Clinton-Sanders battle continued through the winter and spring of 2016. Largely, of course, this was due to the fact that Clinton appeared to be the most electable candidate in the race for the party’s nomination. Even as Senator Sanders managed to pull off victories in party caucuses and some primaries, those superdelegates remained steadfastly loyal to Clinton and others gathered around her in support of what, even with Sanders stronger than many had suspected campaign, many saw as her seemingly inevitable victory. This led many Sanders supporters to claim that the primary process was rigged against him even though it was clear that, while Sanders was winning in some races, he was utterly failing in the seemingly simple task of winning states that actually mattered or, most importantly, attracting support from African-American and other minority groups, something that would be absolutely required for a Democratic candidate in a General Election  In the end, of course, this superdelegate support did not make a real difference in the race. Clinton ended up winning support from “regular” delegates to win the nomination outright, and the support of the superdelegates once again proved to be non-decisive. Despite that fact, the ground was laid for a revolt over superdelegates.

The end of the Clinton-Sanders race didn’t bring the debate over superdelegates to a close, though. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, for example, it was reported that the party was considering a plan that would have required superdelegates to vote according to the outcome in their respective states on the first ballot at the national convention. After that, they would be free to toss their support to any candidate they chose. More recently, in anticipation of the upcoming summer meeting at which the final rule changes will be adopted, Democratic officials have been considering another plan under which the role of superdelegates on the first ballot would essentially be non-existent. For rather obvious reasons, these proposed changes were objected to by Congressional Democrats in no small part because it would significantly reduce their power inside the party. Last month, though, the DNC moved forward with the process anyway and put forward a proposal that would bar superdelegates from participating in the first ballot at the convention at all, a rule change that would effectively make them meaningless given that its unlikely that a modern convention will go to a second ballot any time in near future. This is the proposal that was approved at this week’s meeting and which will apparently be adopted at the meeting in Chicago later this summer.

The superdelegates aren’t going down without a fight, though, and Politico reports that they intend to fight the new plan at the upcoming Chicago meeting:

A band of Democratic National Committee superdelegates is staging a revolt against a Bernie Sanders-endorsed plan to reduce their influence in the presidential nominating process, mounting a long-shot bid to block the measure when the DNC meets in Chicago next month.

The proposal, a priority of Sanders’ supporters since the Vermont senator’s defeat in a bitterly contested 2016 primary, would prohibit superdelegates — who made up roughly 15 percent of the delegates during the 2016 convention — from voting on the first presidential nominating ballot at a contested national convention.

But even as the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee moved forward with the proposal Wednesday, superdelegates outside of Washington were beginning to organize opposition ahead of the August vote by the full DNC in Chicago.

“If we don’t have a vote, then what good are we?” said William Owen, a superdelegate and DNC member from Tennessee who has been contacting fellow DNC members ahead of the Chicago gathering, especially in the South. “In Chicago, this will not be rubber stamped.”

Bob Mulholland, a superdelegate and DNC member from California who has been in talks with superdelegates in the West, said, “The more DNC members realize that this so-called reform is to throw them off the floor. … I think there will be a lot of complaints in Chicago.”

The resisting superdelegates’ odds of success are long. The proposal has the support of DNC Chairman Tom Perez and two former DNC chairs — former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate. And the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, following months of discussion, voted without dissent on Wednesday to recommend the plan to full DNC. The proposal was backed by many Clinton supporters, as well.

But even if the superdelegates fall short in their opposition, controversy surrounding the issue threatens to once again focus national attention on Democratic Party feuding at the height of this year’s midterm elections.

Invoking unrest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Mulholland said, “Unfortunately, while the Republicans are winning elections and taking over the Supreme Court, we’ll be in Chicago looking like 1968.”

The proposal to reduce the power of superdelegates reflects a broader effort by the DNC to mend divisions still lingering from a fiercely contested 2016 presidential primary. Superdelegates, including members of Congress, governors, DNC members and other so-called distinguished party leaders, overwhelmingly sided with Clinton.

Perez has said the proposal to rein in those superdelegates will help ensure “that no candidate will be able to have an accumulated lead, whether it’s real or perceived, before a ballot has been cast.”

Sanders, meanwhile, has called the plan “a major step forward in making the Democratic Party more open and transparent.” In a prepared statement last month, Sanders said the rules change “will ensure that delegates elected by voters in primaries and caucuses will have the primary role in selecting the Democratic Party’s nominee at the 2020 convention.”

In all likelihood, the effort of superdelegates to stop the rule change is going to fail. As Politico notes, the rule change has the support of DNC Chair Tom Perez and other DNC leaders, as well as party leaders that will have a strong say about how the vote turns out in Chicago. Nonetheless, an extended fight over this issue could end up deepening the divisions between the party establishment and the so-called “progressive” wing of the party that has rallied around Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and other potential 2020 candidates for the party’s nomination. While those divisions may not have an impact on the party’s chances of retaking Congress in November, they could end up having an impact on the party’s ability to govern if they do recapture the House or the Senate and will most assuredly have an impact on the 2020 race itself, which could prove to be as divisive for Democrats as the 2016 race was for Republicans.


FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Campaign 2020, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Joe says:

    I still contend that if Republicans had superdelegates, they could have dodged Trump because he was not a Republican. I find it ironic that the Democratic superdelegates are being attacked nominally by Bernie Sanders who is not a Democrat. The parties as party organizations don’t have much control over who grabs their banner. I see the supedelegates as some semblance of that control.

  2. Kylopod says:


    I still contend that if Republicans had superdelegates, they could have dodged Trump because he was not a Republican.

    In theory they could have, but it’s far from clear that they would have. In theory they could have challenged his nomination at the convention, too, as a small group of Republicans wanted them to do. The issue with stopping Trump wasn’t the particular mechanism they used, it was the fear of being seen as overturning the will of the voters. The problem with superdelegates is that they were created with the express purpose of providing a fail-safe in the event that a candidate who didn’t have the support of party elites was winning the primaries, as happened in the case of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, and yet up to now they’ve never actually been used that way. Yet the very threat that they might be has already caused a great deal of consternation within the Democratic Party. I think a big part of the reason why Hillary Clinton in 2008 and Bernie Sanders in 2016 stayed in the race for as long as they did–long after they had any serious chance left of overtaking their opponent in pledged delegates–is that they held out the (delusional) hope of winning over the supers and essentially overturning the results of the primaries and caucuses. In other words, the supers have had in many ways the opposite effect from what they were intended to do.

  3. Kathy says:

    Don’t they have a huge midterm election to worry about? Couldn’t they have left this stuff for later, say the third week of November?

  4. HarvardLaw92 says:

    (Yet again …): Superdelegates are already irrelevant to the nomination process. They always have been.

  5. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Superdelegates could be a failsafe if there is a scandal, like could have happened with John Edwards.

  6. teve tory says:

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  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Joe: @Kylopod: The time to dodge a trump or Sanders bullet is at the beginning.

    “Can I run in your party’s primaries?”
    “You have never been a DEM/GOP. Why should we allow you to?”
    “Well I’m a really neat guy, important, with great ideas. Besides, you guys are doing it all wrong.”

  8. Kathy says:

    @teve tory:

    Related, some interesting tidbits from The Guardian:

    As he was setting off for his first visit to the UK as American president, he told the Sun that he advised Theresa May “how to do” Brexit but “she didn’t listen to me”.

    I don’t much care for May, but this shows she is not a fool.

    And this:

    His outburst to the Sun – a Eurosceptic tabloid newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News channel supplies many of Trump’s views and staff

    This is priceless.

  9. Kylopod says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I know I’m not going to be popular when I say this, but I don’t think it’s all that important that Sanders isn’t technically a member of the Democratic Party. Like Angus King, Joe Lieberman, and Jim Jeffords, he caucuses with the Dems, and he’s been a more reliable Democratic vote than many self-identifying Democrats in Congress. Though he calls himself a democratic socialist (just as Democrat Ocasio-Cortez does), his overall positions are pretty standard left-leaning Dem views. I’d take him over, say, a Joe Manchin any day.

    Having the Democratic Party exclude candidates who aren’t technically members isn’t unreasonable in itself, but I think it’s an overreaction to something that isn’t terribly consequential. Yes, Sanders did some damage to the eventual nominee through his negative attacks, but no more so than Hillary herself did in 2008, or Bill Bradley did in 2000. Losing primary candidates have a tendency to go a little off the deep end. In fact Hillary’s behavior toward Obama during the 2008 primaries was very similar to Sanders’ behavior toward Hillary eight years later, except in many ways it was worse. We overlook it because Obama in the end managed to win the election by a substantial margin. Had he been running during a much less favorable year toward Democrats and had ended up losing narrowly in the general election, a lot more attention would have been placed on Hillary’s attacks during the primaries. And it would have had nothing to do with the letter after her name.

    My point about the superdelegates is that in both 2008 and 2016 they had the unintended consequence of causing the race to drag on far longer than it needed to because the losing candidate thought they could somehow win over the supers.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:


    I know I’m not going to be popular when I say this, but I don’t think it’s all that important that Sanders isn’t technically a member of the Democratic Party. Like Angus King, Joe Lieberman, and Jim Jeffords, he caucuses with the Dems, and he’s been a more reliable Democratic vote than many self-identifying Democrats in Congress.

    First off, there is nothing technical about Sanders not being a DEM. As soon as the election was over he went back to being an independent. 2nd of all, what has Bernie ever done for the Democratic Party? Voting with DEMs when it coincides with his own self interests, doesn’t count. Caucusing with them so he can get committee seats advantageous to him doesn’t count.

    Getting out and campaigning for other DEMs does. Raising money and sharing it with other DEMs does. Sharing one’s email list of donors with other DEMs does.

    Bernie tried to hijack the Democratic party because he can’t win on his own. He doesn’t want to put in the work to make the DEMs a better party, he just wants to co-opt it for his own personal agenda. And considering all that Bernie has done to undermine the Democratic party, why would any DEM stick their neck out for something he wants once he’s President? Loyalty goes 2 ways.

    I am not a big fan of Bernie but that has nothing to do with his being an independent or his policies (most of which I have at least some agreement with). If that’s the way he wants to represent the voters of VT and those voters are OK with it, fine. But it is rank hypocrisy to criticize a political party he has never done a damn thing for and then think he should be able just waltz in and use it as he sees fit.

    He’s a self serving a-hole, and I really don’t like self serving a-holes.

  11. Kylopod says:


    2nd of all, what has Bernie ever done for the Democratic Party? Voting with DEMs when it coincides with his own self interests, doesn’t count. Caucusing with them so he can get committee seats advantageous to him doesn’t count.

    Personally I’d say the single most important thing a Congress member can do for their party is cast votes for the party’s key initiatives when they are needed–but that’s just me.

    Getting out and campaigning for other DEMs does. Raising money and sharing it with other DEMs does. Sharing one’s email list of donors with other DEMs does.

    Then why get hung up on how he labels himself? All the things you mention would apply regardless of whether he calls himself a Dem or indie. You say there’s “nothing technical” about it, but then the rest of your comment is simply a laundry list of specific complaints about Bernie other than his party designation. Reforming the nomination process should not be about putting obstacles in the path of particular candidates we don’t like.

    Bernie may be a self-serving a-hole, but if that’s going to be a litmus test for who the Democratic Party accepts as a candidate, it’s going to end up with a very narrow field.

  12. JKB says:

    Much ado about nothing. We’ve seen how Democrats run votes. They keep up the “democracy” until they feel they can declare the pre-arrainged outcome the winner. And remember Hillary’s uncanny coin toss luck in Iowa?

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Joe: While that may be true, I don’t see what the good of avoiding Trump would have been for the country. It would have simply been the same shirt without the shirtstorm; Trump didn’t change the composition of the party or the people who support it’s goals. He’s simply a hi-def version of it. What would be the point for the nation of avoiding Trump?

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    If that’s the way he wants to represent the voters of VT and those voters are OK with it, fine.

    This is a good point about the nature of “party” and “partisanship.” As Doug noted in a post weeks back, Sanders ran in the primary as a Democrat intending not to take the label if he won. Since this has been going on for a while, if the Democratic Party voters want to elect a Democrat, they know what to do–not vote for Sanders. The fact that they don’t is telling.

  15. george says:


    Yes, but the problem with that is popular third party candidates draining votes (as in 1980, 1992, 1996, and 2000 for instance). Trump and Sanders running as third party candidates would have cost both R’s and D’s a significant portion of their votes – and in elections which typically come down to a few percent one way or the other that could be decisive. In 2016 Clinton lost anyway, so Sanders running as a third party wouldn’t have affected the outcome. But Trump running as a third party would have cost the GOP the presidency (which I submit would have been orders of magnitude better than Trump being presidency, but the GOP not surprisingly disagrees).

    On the other hand, I think the amount of Sanders followers unhappy with super delegates is overblown; note that a smaller percentage of Sanders voters abstained or voted Trump in 2016 than the percentage of Clinton voters who abstained or voted McCain in 2008.

    In practice there’s always going to be some disgruntled folks after the nomination, but usually less lost votes due to that than due to a strong third party candidate. I suspect that’s the math that is leading to getting rid of super delegates.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kylopod: You really don’t have a clue how political parties operate, do you?

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:


    Yes, but the problem with that is popular third party candidates draining votes

    This is true, there is a risk, but letting him compete in the DEM primaries gave him a platform he never would have had if DEMs had just said, “No. You have been going your own way for decades Bernie and that’s the way you wanted it. Keep on going your own way and if you get elected we will be happy to work with you on those things we agree upon.”

    How many votes in the general would he have gotten then? Maybe enough to make a difference, maybe not, there is no way to tell for certain. But without the DEM primary platform to speak from people would probably be saying “Bernie who from where?”

  18. Mikey says:

    Democrats Move Forward With Plan To Make Superdelegates Irrelevant

    While the Republicans move forward with their plan to make elections irrelevant.