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Kathy Sullivan: Democrats are reforming the presidential nominating process

June 18. 2018 8:41PM

As a member of the Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee, I have attended five meetings in 2018 to discuss changes to the party’s charter and bylaws, and to establish the 2020 presidential nominating rules.

There has been no controversy regarding the primary and caucus calendar for 2020. As in past cycles, the proposed calendar calls for the Iowa caucuses to start the nominating process, with the New Hampshire primary following eight days later. The Nevada caucuses would take place 11 days after our primary.

The major topic of discussion has been a report issued by a commission established by a vote of the 2016 convention delegates. The Unity Reform Commission report reviewed the nominating process and recommended proposals to make the nominating process accessible, transparent and inclusive. The commission’s recommendations included changes in the role of unpledged delegates, commonly known as superdelegates, and party reforms. These proposals were then submitted to the RBC for our review.

The topic of unpledged delegates generated heated debate before and after the 2016 convention. These delegates are automatically selected by their status within the party: members of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic members of congress, Democratic governors and current and former Democratic Presidents, vice presidents, and DNC chairmen.

Of the more than 4,000 convention delegates in 2016, only about 712 were unpledged delegates. While the unpledged delegates did not provide the margin of victory for Hillary Clinton (and have never determined the party’s nominee at any convention,) the 2016 convention resolution called for the number of unpledged delegates to be reduced by more than 50 percent. The Unity Reform Commission proposed doing this by eliminating the votes of DNC members on the first ballot.

Many who support reducing the number of superdelegates were wary of whether the RBC would follow this recommendation. The RBC is made up in great part of party elders who also were Clinton superdelegates. Ironically, however, RBC is considering going even further than the Unity Reform Commission.

I believe the majority of RBC members would vote to take away the first ballot vote of all unpledged delegates. The possible exception would be if there is a sufficient number of pledged delegate votes to nominate a candidate on the first ballot. The RBC may recommend, in that case, that the superdelegates be allowed to vote for the nominee on the first ballot.

The RBC will have one final meeting at the end of this month to vote on the final unpledged delegate rule, which will be submitted to the full DNC for a vote at its August meeting.

The RBC also has recommended changes to maximize participation both in Democratic primaries and caucuses and general elections. These changes call for encouraging same day voter registration and party switching, resisting voter suppression and disenfranchisement, and providing resources for voter education to ensure everyone understands the rules for registration, party affiliation and running for convention delegate.

I believe our work in the area of party organizational and finance reform is critical to making the Democratic Party more open and transparent. In the past, the DNC chairman has pretty much had dictatorial authority over the party finances and decision making. No approval was needed from the party’s other officers or the party executive committee. The RBC’s recommendations will change that process.

The RBC has recommended adoption of a conflicts of interest policy, procedures regarding expenditures of more than $100,000, and a code providing for fairness and transparency with respect to information shared with campaigns and fundraising agreements between the DNC and campaigns, so that no candidate has a perceived or real unfair advantage. With this series of recommendations, there should not be a repeat of the joint fundraising controversy of 2016. The proposals also include establishment of an ombudsman committee for reviewing allegations of violations of the Charter or By-Laws by elected or appointed officers.

The goals in this process have been to make the Democratic Party more accessible and accountable to its members, and to welcome a new generation of Democrats into the party. I think we are close to meeting those goals.

Manchester’s Kathy Sullivan is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

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