The commission formed by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to review the Democratic nominating process is presenting its final report to the party’s rules committee this weekend. But party officials are still working to resolve their differences over key changes such as caucus rules and superdelegates.
As officials gather Friday and Saturday in Washington for a meeting of the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, one Clinton adviser is circulating a petition asking Democrats to reconsider a proposal aimed at favoring primaries over caucuses.
The Democratic operative and Clinton staffer, Adam Parkhomenko, released the petition on Friday, pointing members to a proposal that would require states with both caucuses and state-run primaries to use the results of the primary, not the caucus, to decide the number of delegates allocated to each candidate.
The proposal, an amendment introduced last month by former Clinton operative David Huynh, set off a granular but contentious debate at the final meeting of the Unity Reform Commission, formed by Clinton and Sanders allies at the 2016 Democratic convention. Huynh, one of the members of the 21-person Unity Reform group, argued that his amendment adhered to the commission’s founding “mandate,” the document outlining the group’s mission and goals, including one to “make recommendations to encourage the expanded use of primary elections.”
Clinton and Sanders allies had already worked out a compromise on the topic in advance of the meeting. The agreed-upon rule, requiring states that hold a primary to use the primary to allocate delegates rather than a caucus, would have only applied to states with five or more congressional districts, excluding small states such as Idaho and Nebraska. Huynh’s amendment, proposed at the end of the lengthy meeting last month in Washington, sought to eliminate the exception for those small states.
“The mandate currently asks us to make recommendations on the use of primaries, and this is what my amendment does,” Huynh said at the meeting. “If we’re looking to include more people in the process, then we have to use primaries over caucuses.”
A number of commission members immediately raised objections to the amendment. Jane Kleeb, the Democratic Party chair in Nebraska, argued that the decision should be left to Nebraska Democrats. “There are problems with the caucus system. We acknowledge that,” Kleeb said. “But it is not our role as a Unity Commission to tell a state that they have to choose one or the other.”
Another Democrat from the crucial caucus state of Iowa, Jan Bauer, argued that in small, rural states — often controlled by a Republican governor or state legislature — caucuses are the best vessel for building a strong Democratic Party. “We’re talking about small rural states — states with voter rights being eroded every day.”
“So I’m with Jane,” Bauer said. “Hands off, David.”
Members of the commission have already come up with a set of sweeping proposals meant to make the caucus system more fair, accessible, and flexible. These include measures to require absentee ballots, total public vote counts, and same-day voter and party registration.
Huynh’s amendment was ultimately “tabled” indefinitely and never raised again.
As a result, according to members, neither the amendment nor the original language around the rule was included in the Unity Reform Commission’s final report, which can be viewed online.
The petition circulated by Parkhomenko, currently serving as an adviser to Clinton and her new PAC, Onward Together, takes issue with the chair of the commission, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, who was appointed to the role by Clinton and cast the deciding vote in tabling the amendment at the end of last month’s meeting.
O’Malley Dillon, Parkhomenko’s petition reads, cast “the decisive vote to table an amendment that would address one of the most important aspects the Unity Reform Commission.” The 500-word petition continues as follows:
“We are the Democratic Party and use the mechanism that best takes into account the most Democratic voices. Therefore, we the undersigned urge the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee and the full DNC to live up to the mandate of the resolution to ‘expand the use of primary elections’ and require that states with state-run presidential primary to use their respective primary over a caucus system to allocate the state’s national delegates when a state-run presidential primary exists. Such a rule would also forbid state parties from reverting back to caucuses when a state-funded presidential primary already exists.”
After last month’s meeting Parkhomenko, a fierce Clinton loyalist, rallied supporters on Twitter and elsewhere to lobby O’Malley Dillon to explain and reverse her vote. O’Malley Dillon did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Clinton herself, two associates said, was also monitoring the meeting and vote.
Members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, meeting over the weekend in Washington, are expected to take up the issue themselves, two members of the committee said this week. That body has about six months to review the Unity Reform Commission’s proposals and put forward their own suggested changes.
Aside from the exact rules on caucuses and primaries, another remaining issue of contention among DNC members at larger is what to do about superdelegates.
Under the current system for choosing a Democratic nominee, candidates amass a number “pledged delegates” tied to their performance. Apart from the delegates decided by voters, a group of about 700 people, or superdelegates — a group made up of DNC members, Democratic elected officials, and former leaders — get their own “unpledged” delegate to award to the candidate of their choosing.
Last month, the Unity Reform Commission proposed to effectively eliminate about 60% of superdelegates. Under their suggested changes, the superdelegates who are DNC members — there are currently 447 — would keep the title of superdelegate, but their votes would be bound proportionally to the vote count in their states on the first ballot of voting at the convention. The rest, the elected officials and distinguished leaders, would remain unbound. (In the case of a second ballot of voting at a convention, all superdelegates would be unbound.)
The idea is the same one outline in the 2016 mandate, a document that DNC members already approved unanimously on the floor of the convention.
Still, whether members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee propose as aggressive a change already appears to be a tenuous proposition. The committee, stacked with many longtime Democratic officials, may put forward a less ambitious proposal.
And even then, for the change to become final, DNC members would have to approve it by a two-thirds majority vote — meaning that most of the 447 DNC members, superdelegates themselves, will have to vote to strip themselves of power.