Few things proved more controversial during this Democratic primary than superdelegates — the elite class of Democratic presidential delegates who are not bound to vote the way their states voted in primaries and caucuses, and may vote however they choose.
Superdelegates — which make up 15 percent of all Democratic delegates — are congressmen, governors, and Democratic Party officials. (Party VIPs, like former presidents and vice presidents, are superdelegates too.)
The system was instituted in 1984, partially to insulate the party from a primary process that had resulted in the nomination of candidates considered unelectable and overly liberal, like George McGovern. Some Democrats have found merit in the system, since it prevents top Democratic elected officials from having to run for delegate slots against their constituent, rank-and-file Democrats.
Now, it seems as if the pendulum has swung the other way. Thanks to a compromise brokered by supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over the weekend, superdelegates may soon be a thing of the past. They agreed to establish a “unity commission” that will make recommendations on the role superdelegates will play in future elections.
Both sides mostly agree that superdelegates should be a far less significant part of the process. The commission is expected to recommend that top elected officials like governors and members of Congress be permitted to remain unbound to any candidate, while lower-level party officials should be bound to candidates.
For Sanders supporters, superdelegates became a flashpoint over the course of the primary. They grew to believe that giving the governors, congressmen, and Democratic Party brass who fill the superdelegate ranks the privilege of voting however they like ensured that Sanders never had a real chance — even though it became clear Clinton would have won the nomination with or without the superdelegates.
Despite that, in the waning weeks of the Democratic primary, the Sanders camp undertook an organized effort to convert superdelegates to their side, arguing that Sanders was better positioned to defeat Trump.
Minnesota is a good example of how the superdelegate process frustrated Sanders supporters: Of the North Star State’s pledged delegates, 46 are bound to Sanders, and 31 are bound to Clinton, reflecting the Vermonter’s 23-point win on caucus night.
Of the 12 superdelegates present at the convention, 11 — the governor, senators, members of Congress, and delegates to the Democratic National Committee — voted for Clinton. One superdelegate, Rep. Keith Ellison, voted for Sanders.
They helped make the final Minnesota delegate count much closer: 47 for Sanders to Clinton’s 42.
Time for change
Minnesota superdelegates from both sides largely seem happy to see the system, as currently constructed, get the ax.
Ellison said he sees both sides of the issue. “I agree with Bernie supporters — it’s pretty discouraging that Clinton was pretty much spotted 400 delegates before anything even started,” he said.
At the same time, Ellison said it was clear that Clinton would have won the nomination even if superdelegates didn’t exist and all results were linked to how the states voted.
Ellison added that the superdelegate system has some value: “It allows me to not have to go try to compete with a member of the Democratic Party who’s not a public official” for a spot as a convention delegate. “I don’t want to go do that.”
Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, Clinton supporters, welcomed the commission and its work.
“I’m very open to the idea that we should make changes,” Klobuchar told MinnPost. “I think they acknowledge that the general focus would be that statewide officials and members of Congress would continue in that role, but maybe we have too many people in that role, and that if we are going to auto-designate some of the other leaders in the party, that they follow where their states are.”
In a statement, Franken called the commission “a productive step forward. … Going forward, we will all have to take a close look at reforming the primary process — including our superdelegate system and the caucuses — to ensure that our democracy is functioning in the most inclusive way possible.”
One Clinton superdelegate, if he had his way, would just do away with the whole thing. For Javier Morillo, a member of the Democratic National Committee and president of the Minnesota SEIU, the whole thing was a headache.
“We should absolutely get rid of all of them, excluding congresspeople,” Morillo said, echoing Ellison’s comment that it wouldn’t quite work to have lawmakers compete against their own constituents for delegate spots. “I think we should bind all the delegates by the results of the primary and that’s it, end of story.”
Morillo is vocally pro-Clinton on Twitter, and often criticized Sanders supporters’ arguments on superdelegates, delegate math, and the whole process.
“It’s not worth the heartache,” he said. “I mean, today, I’m still getting deluged with people asking me to vote for Bernie,” even though the campaign formally gave up the effort to persuade superdelegates to vote Sanders some time ago.
Morillo’s term as a Democratic committee member is coming to a close. He’s not sad to see his superdelegate status end.
“After this, who the hell wants this?”