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Here's how the Democratic Party may weaken superdelegates' clout

Activists and Bernie Sanders supporters march through downtown Philly before the beginning of the DNC convention.
Activists and Bernie Sanders supporters march through downtown Philly before the beginning of the DNC convention.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — Bernie Sanders could soon score another big win over the Democratic Party this year — by reducing the role of superdelegates, the party insiders that Sanders has argued shouldn’t have a say over the party’s presidential nominating contest.

On Sunday, a new proposal emerged aimed at curbing the authority of the superdelegates by binding two-thirds of them to vote proportionally in line with the results from their state’s primary or caucus. The remaining one-third of superdelegates — including the party’s governors and members of Congress — would still be free to support whichever presidential candidate they want, according to the Washington Post’s David Weigel.

It would be a clear concession to Sanders, who has argued for months that the unelected superdelegates should not be afforded the special privilege of swaying the presidential nominating process. Should the proposal go through, it would add to Sanders’s list of concessions from the party notching up wins on the platform and pushing for the resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The superdelegates have become something of a convenient scapegoat for Sanders, who lost because he got millions fewer votes than Clinton. But the party’s willingness to diminish their role confirms what many feel: that the superdelegates amount to a hard-to-defend undemocratic piece of an otherwise democratic process.

Will this really make the process more democratic?

I should stress that this proposal isn’t guaranteed to take effect: The Post’s Weigel notes that this proposal only emerged as part of a commission that will make recommendations about the party’s presidential nominating system. And Susan McGrath, a Hillary Clinton-supporting superdelegate from Florida, told me last night that she doubted the party would approve the measure.

Moreover, while the superdelegates are going to have few vocal defenders, it’s not really clear how much of a difference this plan would make.

For one, since their creation in the 1980s, the Democratic Party’s superdelegates have never overturned the decisions made by the voters at the ballot box. They were established as a failsafe against unwanted outsider candidates, but have never taken the step of subverting the will of the voters.

Perhaps more importantly, under the new proposal the superdelegates would still be allowed to endorse and support whichever candidate they felt best represented the party’s interests. In the context of the primary, that means the superdelegates could still have endorsed Clinton — and would do little to kill the sense that the party’s "establishment" was coalescing behind its favored presidential contender.

One of the strongest arguments for the idea is it would make it clearer to the public that the voters in the Democratic primary really have the ultimate say in the party’s presidential nominee.

That may in itself be a pretty good reason to support it. The Clinton campaign has had to deal with months of complaints that the superdelegates screwed Sanders — complaints that miss the fact Clinton largely won because she also won at the ballot box.

Preventing those kinds of preemptive complaints may itself be a pretty good reason to get rid of the superdelegates and make the process look more fair from the outside.

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