Democrats strip superdelegates of role choosing 2020 candidate

Party leaders and activists will no longer have outsized role after complaints about their influence in choosing Clinton over Sanders in 2016

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, march during a protest in downtown Phildelphia on July 24, 2016, ahead of the Democratic National Convention there. (AP/Alex Brandon)
Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, march during a protest in downtown Phildelphia on July 24, 2016, ahead of the Democratic National Convention there. (AP/Alex Brandon)

CHICAGO, Illinois — The Democratic National Committee voted Saturday to reduce the influence of so-called superdelegates in choosing a presidential nominee, in a move intended to bring greater fairness and transparency while healing the wounds of a contentious 2016 primary season.

At the party’s presidential nominating convention that year, superdelegates — elected officials and other party leaders and activists — were able to add their influential votes to those coming from individual states’ primary contests.

Supporters of left-leaning senator Bernie Sanders complained bitterly that superdelegates, unbound by state-level results and so not necessarily reflecting the popular will, threw the nomination to the more establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Even without the superdelegates’ votes, Clinton won the majority needed for nomination. But Sanders supporters said the superdelegates’ influence had unfairly made Clinton’s candidacy appear unassailable. She went on to lose to Donald Trump in a stunning upset.

DNC members in a voice vote stripped superdelegates of the ability in future to cast polls during the first round of balloting, which has nearly always been decisive.

They will retain voting privileges on other Democratic business, such as the party platform.

Signs of support for Hillary Clinton and protest signs are seen on the fourth and final day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 28, 2016. (AFP/Robyn Beck)

In a Twitter message, Sanders welcomed the DNC’s decision as “an important step forward in making the Democratic Party more open, democratic and responsive to the input of ordinary Americans.”

Many superdelegates strongly opposed the change, saying the party activists who worked hardest to boost Democratic causes deserved special consideration.

But DNC chair Tom Perez defended it as a major reform that will “help grow our party, unite Democrats and restore voters’ trust by making our 2020 nominating process the most inclusive and transparent in our history.”

The field of Democratic aspirants for 2020 is wide open, and in the face of the intensely polarizing and often chaotic presidency of Donald Trump, Democratic leaders hope to bind up intraparty wounds well ahead of time.

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