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Democratic unity disrupted by battle over Bernie Sanders-backed superdelegate plan

by Alex Seitz-Wald Saturday August 25, 2018    7:59 AM

CHICAGO — The Democratic National Committee is set to vote this weekend on a Bernie Sanders-backed plan to weaken the influence of superdelegates in what has become a contentious showdown between factions at a time when the party is trying to project unity.

After two years of work on the controversial issue, a delicate compromise that emerged from a labyrinthine reform process has encountered last-minute opposition before the crucial vote here Saturday at the party organization's summer gathering.

"We're fighting it, we're picking up support, we're creating a lot of doubt," said Bob Mulholland, a DNC member from California who opposes the change.

The proposed change would not abolish superdelegates, but would potentially greatly diminish their influence by preventing them from voting for the presidential nominee at the party's convention — unless the convention deadlocks, which hasn't happened since 1952, or the outcome of the vote is already a done deal.

Tensions were running high as DNC members, nearly all of whom are superdelegates, gathered at a hotel in downtown Chicago to set the rules for the 2020 Democratic presidential contest. Officials are bracing for a potentially noisy floor fight Saturday, which could undermine the sense of unity the party has been hoping to project as it heads into the November midterms.

The fight over superdelegates — the DNC members, congressmen, governors and other party leaders who can vote for whomever they want to nominate in a presidential primary — has scrambled the establishment-progressive internal split, with DNC Chairman Tom Perez aggressively pushing a reform package to weaken superdelegates that has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Image: DNC Chair Tom PerezDemocratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez listens to a speaker as he chairs an executive committee meeting at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Summer Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, on Aug. 23, 2018.Daniel Acker / Reuters "It is really kind of bizarre to actually be on the same side as Perez on this one," said Selina Vickers, a activist from West Virginia who is on the sixth day of a hunger strike in support of the change.

"They're doing this very strategically because they want to win," Vickers added of Hillary Clinton-wing DNC members who support the change. "When people feel like their vote doesn't count, they're not going to turn out to vote."

Superdelegates overwhelmingly sided with Clinton over Sanders during their 2016 primary, with Vickers noting that Clinton won more delegates from her state of West Virginia even though Sanders won every single county in the primary. Clinton secured more delegates because every superdelegate from the state backed her.

The system, which was created in the 1980s as a failsafe to prevent the party from nominating a critically flawed candidate, has been controversial for years.

Critics say it gives too much power to a small group party insiders who could theoretically overturn the will of voters, as expressed in state primaries and caucuses, although that has never happened.

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