Skip to content

Superdelegates: A Modest Proposal

After the 2016 election, the newly-elected Democratic National Committee (DNC) will take a hard look at the role of automatic, unpledged delegates or “superdelegates” (ADs) for the next cycle. Options range from expanding the number of ADs by, e.g., adding the highest ranking elected Democrat in states that lack a Democratic governor, to eliminating them entirely. I suggest not changing the US status of Distinguished Party Leaders (former presidents and the like) and governors/congress people, but converting DNC members to automatic but pledged delegates, reflecting the state’s presidential vote, with some modifications to avoid a situation where delegates do not support the candidate to whom they are pledged.

Why automatic unpledged delegates? The point of adding ADs to the convention mix was not to overrule the pledged delegates and prevent the party from making a horrible mistake by nominating someone like Donald Trump. Part of the reason was to provide some flexibility to respond to changing circumstances and allow the convention to act as a deliberative body in cases where the voters’ choice was unclear. But the main reason for ADs was that between 1972 and 1980, the Democratic Party lost two of three presidential elections, and by landslides. At the same time Democrats had many elected governors and members of Congress – those elected Democrats, however, did not participate in the conventions. Having elected officials – and later DNC members – participate in the convention, without having to run against their constituents for delegate spots – was a way to unify the components of the party and build a stronger campaign, nationwide.  The Congressional Black Caucus has also made clear its support of ADs.

In 2016, there are a total of approximately 739 ADs out of approximately 4,508 total delegates. Including elected officials in our nominating process strengthens our party and its campaigns. So, I would recommend no change as to the Distinguished Party Leaders (25 people) and Governors/congress people (approx 249). They would remain automatic, unpledged delegates. The 446 DNC members (including about 112 state party chairs) could be allocated according to the state’s vote as reflected in the state primary or caucuses. The problem with this approach is the one that the Republican Party is currently facing – having delegates pledged to a candidate who do not support that candidate. For example, Donald Trump won the most delegates in the Virginia primary, but Ted Cruz’ people controlled the delegate selection process and elected numerous “Trump” delegates who are really for Cruz. One even filed a lawsuit arguing that State law and party rules should not require him to vote for Trump. It makes no sense for the candidates or the delegates to build that kind of dishonesty into the process.

So we could allocate the DNC members according to the primary to the extent it reflects the each DNC member’s preference. As suggested by the 2009 DNC Change Commission, we could call those positions National Pledged Party Leader or Elected Officials (NPLEO). If a DNC member does not want to support a candidate – or the candidate disapproves that DNC member, the member can run for an At Large Pledged Party Leader or Elected Official (PLEO) delegate position pledged to the candidate she supports or attend the Convention as a non-voting delegate. For example – assume a state has six DNC members – five support candidate Jefferson, one supports Burr. But the state voted 2/3 for Jefferson (4 NPLEO positions) and 1/3 for Burr (2 NPLEO positions). Four of the DNC members become NPLEOs for Jefferson; one for Burr. The remaining DNC member Jefferson supporter can become a Burr NPLEO delegate – if the Burr campaign accepts her – or run for a regular PLEO for Jefferson (displacing a non-automatic delegate candidate) or become a non-voting delegate. If the later, the number of the state’s automatic delegates is reduced from six to five. Allocating the ADs in way, however, more closely reflects the primary vote, without forcing a DNC member to support a candidate she does not support or forcing such a DNC member on a candidate.