Superdelegates Are Basically Dead in the Democratic Party

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Superdelegates Are Basically Dead in the Democratic Party

It would have been very easy to miss this on the day that Anthony Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court, opening up a seat for whichever nightmarish replacement Trump chooses from the bowels of hell. And yet, that day brought some good news too. Not so good that it came anywhere close to the significance of the Kennedy disaster, but good nonetheless: The Democratic National Committee voted to essentially kill the superdelegate.

For those who missed the frustrating drama of the last democratic primary, a quick primer: Superdelegates are “unpledged” delegates—mainly party dignitaries of various stripes—who can vote for whoever they want regardless of how ordinary citizens in their states vote. It was a source of major controversy in 2016, since the overwhelming majority of superdelegates supported Hillary Clinton. To those who didn’t understand the system—and really, you shouldn’t have to be schooled in the byzantine inner workings of the DNC to understand a simple primary—it looked she had an enormous lead even before the first caucus was held in Iowa. The situation reached an absurd climax before a major set of primaries in April, when the AP decided to declare Clinton the presumptive winner by adding up a bunch of superdelegates and adding it to her pledged delegate (ie, democratic vote) total. It was a complete embarrassment to journalism, but it was even more embarrassing to the DNC, who were running an obviously corrupt system that affected the trajectory of their race and tilted the scales to the establishment candidate.

The most telling moment, though, came after just the second primary, when Bernie Sanders’ victory in new Hampshire gave him a shocking lead over Clinton in actual votes. Instead of writing about a surprisingly close race with huge upset potential, the media threw the superdelegates into the mix and reported that Clinton led 431-50. And they were only kinda wrong.

You think that had any dampening effect?

Now, happily, the superdelegates are dead. Sort of. In fact, the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted 27-1 to change the…rules and bylaws…so that superdelegates can no longer vote on the first ballot at the convention. That means they’ll only ever have an impact if a presidential candidate isn’t nominated on the first ballot and the chaos of a contested convention ensues. That’s almost never going to happen. It’s happened before, in 1952, but in the current format, when candidates drop out and throw their support behind those that remain until the field is reduced to two, and the whole thing is based on popular vote anyway, it’s exceedingly unlikely.

Crucially, this also means the media will report the race based on actual results from the voting public, free of corruption from the hypothetical unpledged vote of a former mayor from San Diego, or the DNC electrician, or whoever. It’s a purer form of politics, and it’s a victory for both the Unity Reform Commission and the DNC itself, who recognized that a change needed to be made and got it done.

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