The DNC Just Made A Historic Reform to Its "Superdelegates"

Created: 27 August, 2018
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read

Democrats at the DNC voted overwhelmingly on Saturday by voice vote to approve historic measures that will limit the role of its so-called "superdelegates" in future Democratic presidential nominating contests.

Unlike those electors who represent voters in their electoral college district and are bound to vote as their constituents have directed them to, these superdelegates are members of the Democratic National Committee, high-profile elected Democratic officials, and distinguished Democratic Party leaders.

Comprised of the elite leadership at the top of the Democratic Party political machine, superdelegates have historically been free to vote for any candidate they choose at the DNC's nominating convention.

They made up around 15 percent of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 2016, giving party leaders an outsized influence on the election results.

The new reforms, approved Saturday, will drastically limit the role superdelegates will play in future Democratic Party presidential nominations, by barring them from voting on the first ballot at the convention if a candidate has already secured the nomination with a majority of delegates from state caucuses and primaries.

Superdelegates will now only be allowed to participate if there is no clear winner and a second ballot is necessary to determine the nominee, though it's an unlikely scenario as the last time this happened for the DNC was in 1952.

DNC Chairman Tom Perez wrote a letter to DNC members explaining the purpose of this reform is to address a "perceived lack of transparency in our presidential primary process," as well as, "perceptions of undue influence in favor of particular candidates."

That was a reference to the disenfranchisement of millions of Democratic voters who backed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for president in 2016, who lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton in a remarkably close contest, with Clinton enjoying the overwhelming support of party leadership and the superdelegates.

Democrats hope the move will make their nominating process more, well– democratic, and help to heal the contentious Clinton-Sanders divide in time to mount an effective challenge to Donald Trump in 2020. "It's time to make a clear statement to people who share our values that we trust you and we are going to take some bold measures to earn your trust so you will join our party and join our fight to take back our democracy," Perez said.

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Here are some reactions:

US Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted out the following statement:


However, some supporters of his presidential campaign don't agree. The Movement for a People's Party, formerly Draft Bernie for a People's Party, released a press release, suggesting that the change doesn't actually fix anything:

"...the media and search engines like Google will continue to add to a candidate’s running delegate count during the primaries. This creates the perception that the establishment candidate is leading and reduces turnout for progressive candidates. Because the party establishment controls the Rules and Bylaws Committee, the party reserves the power to force a second ballot at the convention too, allowing the superdelegates to vote on the presidential nominee and defeating the purpose of the rules change."

Less noted in the package of party reforms made by the Democrats this weekend, is an overhaul of the caucus system for nominating candidates in states like Iowa, often described as chaotic for both parties, but even more so for the Democratic Party than the GOP.

Caucuses favor whichever candidate has the most passionate and dedicated supporters on the ground in the caucus state, willing to show up to the caucus, remain there for a long time, and give persuasive speeches encouraging other voters to caucus with them. As an underdog with a devoted base, Barack Obama used this system to his advantage in Iowa, perhaps catapulting his campaign all the way to the White House because of his Iowa win.

Under the new reforms, voters will be able to participate in caucuses by absentee ballot, allowing those who are away from home or unable to devote the amount of time and energy to participate in the lively caucus process to have a meaningful impact on the result.