We are at the tail end of the process of selecting the Democratic nominee for president, and while there are no serious flaws with the process there are some things that can be done to improve it. The biggest problem that needs to be fixed is a perception problem, especially with the Super Delegates. The world is run based on the perception of reality and not reality itself (e.g.: If I was walking down the street with Ronda Rousey and a mugger who didn’t know who she is approached us, the mugger would perceive her to be the easier target since she is more than a half foot shorter and a hundred pounds lighter than I am. He would act based on that perception, and the reality that I would be a much easier target would be irrelevant). So, fixing the perception problem, and tweaking other imperfections, will enhance confidence in the process and ensure that we fight over a whole new set of issues four years from now.
Super Delegates have never overturned the result of the Democratic primaries and caucuses. The leader in Pledged Delegates has been nominated every year since Super Delegates were introduced into the process back in the 1980s. Super Delegates also ensure that more Democratic activists get to attend the national convention. If a member of Congress wants to go to the national convention, they could easily win a Pledged Delegate slot and therefore make one less slot available for everyone else in most cases. There are already more worthy activists than there are delegate slots to the national convention, so reducing the number available to party activists would be counterproductive. A better solution is to simply institute a new rule about who Super Delegates are allowed to vote for.
One simple rule would fix the perception problem of the Super Delegates. That rule is that Super Delegates are only allowed to vote for the presidential candidate who either won their district (if applicable), their state, or was the leader in Pledged Delegates after all the contests concluded. Including the leader in Pledged Delegates is important so that Super Delegates who live in a state that may have voted for a favorite son, who didn’t win much else, could support the consensus nominee (e.g.: Tom Harkin in Iowa in 1992). This would still give Super Delegates some autonomy, which their status of being elected officials and party leaders should afford them, but would all but guarantee that the Super Delegates would be unable to overturn the will of the people.
A more major change is the elimination of caucuses. All caucuses, except possibly Iowa, need to go because they are undemocratic and often chaotic processes. Nebraska and Washington (where Sanders won the caucuses and lost higher turnout primaries) are prime examples of how unrepresentative caucuses can be. States generally decide whether primaries are open, semi-open, or closed. That being said, the Democratic Party should aggressively push for processes that illustrate our principles of encouraging voter participation and inclusiveness. It is perfectly appropriate to only allow Democrats to vote in primaries as most every organization limits voting rights to members. To be more inclusive, though, anyone should be allowed to register as a Democrat, up to and including Election Day, and be given primary voting rights immediately after they do so.
The last part of the process that could use some tweaks is the primary calendar. While Iowa and New Hampshire have earned their outsized role in the process they are not demographically representative of the Democratic Party as a whole. One way to fix that would be to combine the first four contests into one day. Have Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and a western state (Nevada, Colorado, or New Mexico) all start the process. That way everyone will have an initial say. Further, the rest of the process should be split into four regional (Northeast/Mid-Atlantic, South, Midwest, and West) primary days1. Those contests can rotate their order every cycle so one doesn’t have a permanent advantage. Having one primary day a month, in addition to the other proposed changes, will streamline the primary process and instill more confidence that we Democrats are the party of the people.
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Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state, and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.
- This is a version of a proposal that I first heard posited by Chuck Todd.