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DNC Unity Reform Commission: A Victory, An Outrage, or An Eye-Opener?

by Tiani X. Coleman, published

Though the DNC Unity Reform Commission (URC) hasn’t garnered widespread headline press coverage, the reporting it has received has either been outright scathing or outright congratulatory, akin to most of our current politics.

Was it a victory, an outrage, or an eye-opener?

The 21-member commission (with 10 appointed by Hillary, 8 by Bernie, and 3 by DNC Chair Tom Perez) finalized their recommendations at their final wrap-up meeting Dec. 8-9. After attending and writing about their first meeting, I must say they accomplished more than I initially thought they would.

Their less-than-open process didn’t inspire confidence. Though I directly gave them my contact information to receive notices, they never sent me anything.

They encountered progressive protests because, although their meetings were technically open to the public, they didn’t fully publicize meeting times, locations, or agendas more than a day in advance, making it difficult for the public to attend.

They also didn't give the public the ability to make comments at the meetings, and the online comments submitted by the public were never given to the URC members to review.

In spite of this flawed process, they agreed to recommend, primarily:

(1) A significant (about 60%) reduction in superdelegates, binding most automatic delegates to the votes of their states;

(2) Same-day voter registration, including same-day party registration;

(3) More accessible caucuses, allowing for absentee ballots; and

(4) Increases in diversity, accountability, and budgetary transparency with other party reforms, among other things.

Most of their final votes were unanimous, showing reconciliation amongst a deeply divided party.

But what they didn’t agree to might be as telling as what they did agree to. They didn’t agree to publicly admit to undue influence in the 2016 presidential primary race; they didn’t agree to abolish all superdelegates, and they didn’t agree to fully open their primaries to independent voters.

Furthermore, these recommendations are just that. They now have to be approved by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, which is more heavily comprised of Hillary supporters (the Establishment).

And then, the full DNC governing body (400+ members), must approve.

Even assuming those two bodies pass the URC's recommendations, some are out of the party’s control.

While parties can determine whether or not to open their primaries (in this case, they’ve chosen not to), state legislatures get to determine most rules surrounding state-sponsored primary elections, such as whether or not to have same-day voter registration, and thus, same-day party registration.

While each party may voice its support, if the state legislature is dominated by an opposing party, that support may not do any good.

In addition, the national party has more leverage over state parties when it comes to rules governing the presidential nomination than it does when it comes to rules governing nominations for elections to state offices, meaning they can’t solve all problems and inconsistencies.

So, in a sense, the URC outcome is a victory – opposing intra-party sides willingly came together to recommend some sweeping changes that, if applied, would have greatly improved the 2016 primary process, even if still flawed.

On the other hand, the URC is an outrage – we don’t know if their recommendations will ever be implemented, and even so, isn’t maintaining any superdelegates still an affront to our democracy?

And when more voters are registered independent than either Democrat or Republican, how is it fair to require those voters to register with a party in order to participate in a state-sponsored primary, when, in many states – due to gerrymandering – the outcome of the primary is more determinative than the general election?

Many independent voters are opposed to registering with a party as a matter of conscience, but they still want a say in each round of the election process.

In New Hampshire, the parties have made it a little more palatable. Rather than requiring voters to register up front before voting, independent voters simply pick a party’s ballot and vote. However, the voters are then automatically registered in the party whose ballot they selected, unless they unregister again either on their way out the door, or by the deadline before the next election.

Nonetheless, shouldn’t independents demand greater equality in the primary election process, instead of being satisfied with the crumbs they’re thrown in a system dominated by an unpopular duopoly that’s given favored treatment?

And speaking of gerrymandering, it appears that the URC is hoping the Democrats will do some in 2020. When discussing party reform recommendations, the URC emphasized running and winning local elections in order to wrest control of the redistricting process.

Shouldn’t we be demanding an end to gerrymandered districts, instead of positioning our preferred team to control the process?

Rather than looking at the URC as either a victory or an outrage, I hope it will serve as an eye-opener that the system itself needs reform.

The URC did about as well as one could expect, given the immense power the State hands over to parties in our electoral process.

The Framers of our Constitution weren’t so concerned with the details of the laws themselves, as they were with providing for checks and balances on power. In the latest net neutrality brouhaha, for example, the issue we should all be looking at is the immense unchecked power held by 5 to 7 members of administrative agencies such as the FCC . . . or the FTC, FEC, FERC, FEMA, etc.

Likewise, we should be looking at the immense unchecked power given to political parties. Whether or not parties are abusing their power isn’t the seminal issue, so much as the fact that they can abuse it.

One administration might rein in their corruptions, but the next is free to reverse any gains that have been made. That’s why we need to support reforms that give more power to the people, including independent voters.

Reforms – such as redistricting changes, the People’s Veto in Maine, RCV bills (including in New Hampshire), and initiatives in other states, or advocating for “nonpartisan primaries,” as is shaping up in Florida – improve the balance of power.

While it makes sense that party members shouldn’t have to allow non-party members to have a say in their nomination process; so too, it makes sense that their nomination process shouldn’t be paid for by taxpayers in a so-called (illusory) public primary, nor should its outcome get favored, near-exclusive status on the public general election ballot.

After witnessing the 2016 primary elections, and the unpopular candidates who emerged, the URC discussion is but a further eye-opener that we need more than band-aids; we need fundamental reform.

Photo Credit: Joseph Sohm /

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