The Phlip Side: Proposed Democratic Presidential Primary Changes

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.

(Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas, or hate mail to

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.

  1. This is a version of a proposal that I first heard posited by Chuck Todd.


  1. David Jones · ·

    Voting hours in all counties within a state should be uniform. In New York,counties in close proximity to Wall Street as well as counties on Long Island and in Hillary Clinton’s home county of Westchester, the polling places were open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m.for the presidential primary. Polling places in all other areas of the state except Buffalo, were only open from noon til 9 p.m. Coincidentally, Bernie Sanders was polling favorably in the counties that did not afford voters the opportunity to cast a ballot before noon. Bear in mind that New York does not have early voting nor does it have ‘vote by mail. Add to this the fact that an unprecedented 126,000 voters were purged from the voter enrollment list in Brooklyn, where Bernie Sanders lived for 18 years and any objective person would concur that the New York election was deeply flawed. Moreover, a reasonable person very well could conclude that allegations of officials tampering with the process should be subjected to an independent investigation. Senator Sanders carried 50 of the 62 counties in New York State, yet Hillary Clinton was awarded 179 delegates, while Sanders received 108.


  2. David Lutrin · ·

    There should be NO superdelegates. The author states that superdelegates have not overturned the will of the voters, yet. There should be no chance for political insiders to overturn the will of the people so there is no need for their existence. One person, one vote, period.


    1. Getting rid of the Super Delegates would mean that those same people would simply get elected as Pledged Delegates in their district, which would take away slots from activist Democrats. My proposals would all but guarantee that Super Delegates cannot overturn the will of the voters.


      1. David Lutrin · ·

        Not necessarily. I can tell you that I would vote for a good party activist before I would ever vote for my congressman as a delegate. It appears that you still believe the Dems need an insurance policy of super delegates “just in case”, otherwise you would agree with the accepted American principle of one person, one vote. What makes insider elected officials so special and so smart? Have you taken the time to track votes of these special insiders to see what they do on a daily basis other than dialing for dollars (3-4 hours of call time) to pay for their next election? I do and see first hand that there are only a handful or two of truly special ones. One of the truly special ones just happens to be running for president from the great state of Vermont. Unfortunately, he is running against the biggest insider in American political history. The thought of her as president, as well as the illusion of American democracy makes me ill.


  3. Ron Baldwin · ·

    Hillary Clinton looks to be the presumptive nominee because of the early voting in deep southern states. Those states, with the possible exception of Florida, are almost guaranteed to not provide even one Electoral College vote for her in the November election. Say hello to President Trump.


    1. Clinton was swept the 8 most populous states that have voted so far, and won many of them by double digits. She has won by every imaginable metric. These aren’t my opinions. These are the facts.


      1. Ron Baldwin · ·

        Sean, I am sure your “8 most populous states” swept by Clinton included Texas and Florida. Does that mean that Clinton will win Texas in the November election? If so the FAA should issue a warning for all airlines to be alert for flying pigs. As to Florida she might have a chance of winning, but the number of Florida NPA voters might include many disgruntaled Bernie supporters who could not vote in the Democratic primary.

        Facts don’t lie but sometimes do not tell the whole story.


      2. Obama won 6 out of those 8 states at least once, and won a majority of those 8 states in both 2008 and 2012.


  4. David Jones · ·

    She has not fared well with independents, who outnumber Democrats and Republicans. She has failed miserably in caucuses, which are a good measure of how committed and spirited the participants are. However, she has done quite well in respect to improprieties that have played out in her favor.


  5. janl65 · ·

    A primary election that is not honestly conducted by election officials and poll workers (who collluded with party officials) in several if not most states so far, but which is rigged in myriad ways for the party favorite (HRC) does until damage to party unity! As has played out, the overwhelming favorite popularly is Bernie Sanders. Thus party interference in the primary has given us the disaster: Alienation of Bernie supporters and HRC negatives that make her success with ALL voters very unlikely in November! Party operatives have a month and a half to wake up and smell the coffee: Nominate Bernie and keep the White House, or act like a herd of mules and LOSE it to a dangerous, failed political party!


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