Superdelegates may be a thing of the past if Democratic Party leaders take former DNC chair Tim Kaine’s words to heart.
The practice of using unpledged delegates (superdelegates) in the nomination process has haunted the Democratic Party in recent elections, causing a stir in both the elections of 2008 and 2016. Now, Clinton running mate and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) has added his voice to the growing chorus calling for the process to be abandoned.
“I have long believed there should be no superdelegates. These positions are given undue influence in the popular nominating contest and make the process less democratic,” Sen. Kaine wrote to current Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez in a letter obtained by Politico.
The superdelegate influence on nomination has generated no shortage of opinion pieces decrying the process as undemocratic, and their unpledged nature added an extra dimension to the drama of the Democratic nomination in 2008 where many changed their stated allegiance over the course of the election.
The current nominating process was borne out of the scandal of the 1968 nomination of Hubert Humphrey which lead to riots at the Democratic convention. Superdelegates were added in to the modern nominating process in the 1980s, in part to stop ‘outlier candidates’ from being nominated.
Superdelegates are made up of party officials and insiders and are expected to represent the best interests of the party. The Republican Party uses superdelegates as well, but GOP superdelegates have far less influence over the nominee’s selection than Democratic superdelegates.
Sen. Kaine supports a new attempt to revise the nominating process, known as the Unity Reform Commission consisting of people appointed by Sanders, Clinton and Perez. Kaine encouraged the commission to eliminate unpledged delegates from the process.
Failing that, Kaine called on other people appointed to be unpledged delegates in the future to promise to vote to nominate the candidate their state votes to nominate.
Getting rid of the superdelegates has proven controversial. Some have argued that without unpledged delegates certain parts of the Democratic base would be marginalized or under-represented. The Unity Reform Commission has considered a number of alternative approaches to handling the controversy caused by unpledged delegates, including Kaine’s suggestion of binding those delegates to the way their state voted.
Katelyn Kivel is a journalist and political scientist in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.