DNC Unity Reform Commission Finalizes Recommendations  ...1 of 6 >

Dec. 9, 2017 - The Democratic National Committee's Unity Reform Commission, formed in the wake of the contentious 2016 presidential primary battle between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, met and finalized recommendations for changes to the primary process including a significant reduction in the number of unpledged superdelegates.  The Commission also recommended changes  to improve transparency and effectiveness of the party. 

The Commission is the result of a resolution passed at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July 2016.  On April 17, 2017 DNC Chairman Tom Perez announced the 21 members of the Commission, ten chosen by Clinton, eight by Sanders and three by Perez.  Its charge was "to review the entire nominating process" and recommend changes to ensure "the process is accessible, transparent and inclusive."

The Commission held five meetings:

May 5-6 ...Washington, DC  [video]
June 2-3 ...San Antonio, TX  [video]
Aug. 25-26 ...Chicago, IL  [video]
Oct. 18-21... Las Vegas, NV  [video]
Dec. 8-9 ...Washington, DC  [video]

The Commission's report and recommendations will go to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee no later than Jan. 1, 2018.  That committee will take up the recommendations starting with a meeting in late January/early February, and will forward finalized proposals to the full DNC no later than summer 2018.

Jeff Weaver, who managed Sanders' 2016 campaign, described the the Commission's recommendations as "a huge step forward" and "a great victory for [both] reformers and institutional players within the party."  Weaver added, "This process is not over...there's still a long way to go."  Commission member Elaine Kamarck, who has participated in other such commissions including the 1981-82 Hunt Commission (which created the superdelegates), was more measured, describing the changes as tweaks.  press releases

Four Buckets
The Commission divided its work into four areas (buckets): delegates, party reforms, primaries and caucuses.

The major delegate issue, and the subject which attracted by far the most attention from observers and the media, was the question of the unpledged superdelegates, comprising party leaders and elected officials (PLEOs) as well as the 440-plus members of the DNC.  In 2016 the superdelegates accounted for 15 percent (712 of 4,763) delegates voting at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.  The overwhelming majority of them backed Clinton, and they went to her early in the process, giving her an advantage ("inevitability narrative") that rankled Sanders and his supporters.  Sanders pointed to a number of states he won, sometimes by sizable margins, yet when the superdelegates were added in Clinton came out even or ahead in the number of delegates (+). The Commission's recommendation is to keep the PLEOs as superdelegates, but have the DNC members be pledged on the first ballot in accordance with primary or caucus results.

One can recall a number of problems from 2016 primaries and caucuses.  For example, in Washington State (+) allocation of Democratic delegates in  was determined by a caucus process that began with precinct caucuses on March 26, going to Sanders by 72.7% to 27.1%.  The state also held a presidential primary on May 24, where Clinton prevailed by a margin of 54% to 46%, but that had no effect on the selection of delegates.  In New York (+) the deadline to change or declare party enrollment for the April 19 presidential primary was Oct. 9, 2015.

Commission members recommended a number of changes to primaries and caucuses including expanding the use of primaries "wherever possible;" "same day party switching for the Democratic presidential nominating process;" and requiring "states to allow voters to switch parties at least as late as the deadline for registering to vote."  The Commission did not support open primaries.  Among the recommendations for caucuses was a requirement that absentee voting be allowed.

The area of party reform generated a surprising amount of discussion and shed some insights into the workings of the DNC.  During the 2016 primaries, the Sanders campaign had charged the DNC was favoring Clinton, and those charges were given further credibility with the release in early Nov. 2017 of Donna Brazile's book Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House.  Some of the controversy centered on a joint fundraising agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC; the Commission reommended more transparency in such agreements.  The Commission also recommended that the DNC Budget and Finance Committee improve its openness and that contracts over $100,000 be subject to prior approval by the chair, officers or a designee.

Some Activists Say the Changes are Not Enough
In addition to the Commission members seated around the table in the Wilson Room at the Marriott Wardman Park, there were some very active audience members. 

In particular, Norman Solomon, national coordinator of RootsAction.org, Karen Bernal, chair of the California Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus, and Pia Gallegos, a Democratic ward chair in New Mexico, argued that superdelegates are undemocratic and "the voting power of all superdelegates must end."  They brought signs and a banner and sought to distribute copies of their recent report "Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis (+)."  They also maintained that the DNC "took steps to minimize public attendance" by not publicizing the times the meeting would be held. Although these activists disrupted the meeting several times to make their views heard, Commission chair Jen O'Malley Dillon was very tolerant, allowing them to speak and keep their signs.  Kurt Walters, campaign director at Demand Progress, aligned with the three activists as well. 

Several Sanders supporters were in the audience including Diane Russell from Maine (+), now a candidate for governor.  Selina Vickers from West Virginia, a Sanders delegate in 2016 and now candidate for the state legislature, livestreamed the proceedings. 

Jesse Shayne, digital director of Open Primaries, brought a stack of petitions (+). 

Josh Putnam, who runs the highly respected FrontloadingHQ website, also observed the proceedings and provided useful reports and observations.

DNC Chairman Tom Perez spoke at the opening of the meeting.
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