California Democrats Call for an End to Both Caucuses and Superdelegates

Pushing changes both camps support could overcome resistance to any one reform. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; David McNew/Getty Images

One of the main objectives left for the Bernie Sanders campaign is to promote certain reforms in the presidential nominating process, especially an end to the use of unelected and unpledged superdelegates, and a ban on closed primaries that exclude independents. 

It’s been widely observed, however, that this “reform” agenda is a bit self-serving, aimed as it is at features of the nominating process that hurt Sanders’s prospects and helped Clinton’s. Most notably, while complaining that superdelegates and closed primaries reduce the influence of actual voters, Sanders and his supporters have been largely mute on the most anti-democratic device of them all, the use of caucuses rather than primaries.

Now that the identity of the Democratic presidential nominee is no longer in question, it should be possible for supporters of both Sanders and Clinton to consider reforms without this kind of candidacy-driven tunnel vision. That’s exactly what happened this last weekend at an executive-board meeting of the California Democratic Party:

The California Democratic Party on Sunday called for a broad overhaul of how the party nominates its presidential candidates, including the elimination of caucuses and most super-delegates.

The resolution urging the Democratic National Committee to change the nominating rules for the 2020 contest has no official power, but is a symbolic statement from the largest state Democratic party in the nation.

Many of the changes were sought by supporters of Bernie Sanders, but Hillary Clinton backers also endorsed the effort, resulting in the resolution being unanimously approved at the state party’s executive board meeting on Sunday.

The resolution specifically called for limiting superdelegates to the membership of the DNC and then binding them to actual primary results. It also called for an upending of the traditional calendar rules that have given four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — disproportionate influence. If achieved at or after the convention (Democrats tend to defer nomination-process reforms to postelection “commissions”), these changes would represent the largest reforms in the process since the 1980s. 

This reform effort represents what is often called “logrolling” in a legislative context, and it can provide powerful impetus to the achievement of big compromises when it encompasses multiple objectives of multiple interests. Partly because of California’s reputation as a trendsetter, and partly because it no longer affects the outcome of the nomination race, it’s entirely possible this combo platter of reforms could gain momentum as the convention approaches, to the probable horror of some governors and members of Congress and a lot of Iowans. 

Indeed, another compromise is readily available on the remaining bone of contention over the nomination process between Sanders and Clinton supporters: open versus closed primaries. Virtually all Democrats favor liberal voter-registration rules. The national party could support closed primaries only in those states that adopted same-day registration and reregistration opportunities. Thus the primaries would be open only to Democrats, but it would be easy for voters to become Democrats after they’ve formed the intention of participating in a Democratic contest. One of the states that provides for same-day registration right now is Iowa. Maybe it could be officially named “the Iowa reform” to mitigate the agony and grief of Iowans if their first-in-the-nation caucus is delegitimized.

CA Dems Call for End to Caucuses, Superdelegates