Sen. Bernie Sanders Praises DNC's Superdelegate Changes

Sep 16, 2018

At the urging of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic National Committee has taken steps to reduce the influence of so-called "superdelegates" in the party's presidential nomination process.

Most delegates who attend the party conventions to help nominate presidential candidates are bound by the results in their state's primary. But superdelegates can vote as they choose.

Under the new rules pushed by Sanders, superdelegates will now vote only if no candidate wins on the first ballot.

One of Sanders' major goals following his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 was to make significant changes to the party's use of superdelegates.

There are roughly 700 superdelegates; they are party leaders, including members of Congress, as well as many state officials.

In 2016, many of these superdelegates — including Sen. Patrick Leahy — were early supporters of Hillary Clinton.

"It is absurd that ... one candidate could start with 500 superdelegates supporting her before the very first ballot in a real caucus or primary was cast," Sanders said. "That's wrong. I think it's indefensible, and that's what the DNC concluded."

"It is absurd that ... one candidate could start with 500 superdelegates supporting her before the very first ballot in a real caucus or primary was cast. That's wrong. I think it's indefensible and that's what the DNC concluded." — Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders said there's no question that the superdelegate system had a negative impact on his presidential bid in 2016.

"It creates the feeling of inevitability," Sanders said. "So you had all of these superdelegates, and the superdelegates will end up raising you a whole lot of money, and people kind of say, 'Well, you know, ... the process is really over before it even began.' "

Norwich University political science professor Ted Kohn said the Democrats embraced the superdelegate system in the early 1980s after a number of their presidential candidates, including George McGovern and Walter Mondale, were soundly beaten.

Kohn said the Democrats turned to superdelegates to stabilize their nomination process.

"Here's a group of people who are really willing to put their money where their mouth is — they are people who have the long-term interests of the Democratic Party at the national level in mind," Kohn said.

And Kohn said making changes to the superdelegate system raises an important question for the Democrats: Do they want people with long ties to the Democratic Party to participate in their nomination process, or do they want to encourage more independent and activist voters to get involved?

Kohn thinks the new change favors the activists.

"The pendulum has swung back to a time where we're going to have, inside the Democratic Party, nominees who are picked by a very small group of party activists.," Kohn said. "People who represent a very certain wing of the Democratic Party."

"The pendulum has swung back to a time where we're going to have, inside the Democratic Party, nominees who are picked by a very small group of party activists." — Ted Kohn, Norwich University political science professor

As far as Sanders is concerned, reducing the role of superdelegates is a winning strategy for the Democrats.

"Right now what you're seeing all over this country is that working people, young people, are standing up and saying: 'You know what? We do not necessarily want more conservative representation. We want leaders who are going to take on the big money interests,'" the senator said.

Kohn noted that the Republicans don't use a superdelegate system, and he wonders if now-President Donald Trump would have emerged as the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2016 if the GOP had given more delegate power to its party leaders.

"Would this have been a group of people, a group of party elders, who had the Republican Party's best interest at heart, who might have been a temporizing, moderating influence on the populist primary vote who simply voted for the most famous person or the loudest person on a stage of 17 Republicans?" Kohn said.

Sanders is often listed as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, but he insists that he's not thinking that far ahead — but if he were to run for president, the new rules could energize his candidacy.