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If you recall the bitter primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016, then you probably already have a strong feeling on the topic of unpledged delegates, often called “Superdelegates,” within the Democratic Party presidential nomination process. In 2016, the Superdelegates helped put Hillary over the top and secured her the nomination despite falling just short of required number of “pledged delegates” needed to win the nomination solely from primaries and caucuses.

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This was the scenario in 2016 which has created the current battle today within the party for how Superdelegates should be handled in 2020, as The Hill reports:

In 2016, there were more than 700 superdelegates out of the 4,763 total delegates at the Democratic National Convention, meaning that they accounted for nearly a third of the 2,383 delegates needed to win the party’s presidential nomination.

That prompted complaints from Sanders and his supporters that the senator’s odds of winning the Democratic nomination were stacked against him.

Clinton came up just short of the 2,383 needed to secure the nomination, but her support among superdelegates ultimately pushed her over the threshold.

Here is the chart from our 2016 Democratic delegate page to illustrate the point about Superdelegates:

2016 Democratic Delegate Count Sanders Clinton

As you can see, Superdelegates pushed Hillary over the line which created a hostile environment at the DNC convention and some anger among Bernie fans at the “rigged” system.

As a result, the Democratic National Committee has been working hard to figure out a solution to this problem before the hotly contested 2020 Democratic primary rolls around. The last thing Democrats will want, when trying to unseat Donald Trump, is a portion of the party angry over the way the nomination is awarded.

Politico reports on the current proposal to fix the system, by keeping Superdelegates out of the early process, and away from early tallies or the pledged delegates being award from primaries and caucuses:

The current proposal, a priority of Sanders and his supporters since the Vermont senator’s defeat two years ago — a result of the Unity Reform Commission established at the 2016 national convention — would prohibit superdelegates from voting on the first presidential nominating ballot at a contested national convention, reducing their influence in a nominating process.

Its approval would allow Democrats to finally put one of the bitterest feuds of the last presidential primary behind them.

“If the DNC rejects this, it basically rejects the will of the convention,” said Mark Longabaugh, a senior adviser to Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. “The left wing of the party would be outraged.”

However, as with any compromise, some people are still not happy with the proposed changes:

Yet opposition to the proposal appeared to pick up steam in recent weeks, when Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond argued publicly that the plan would disenfranchise elected officials who serve as superdelegates.

“There should be enough room in the process to include the perspective of local party activists and officials, and Members of Congress,” Richmond said in a letter to Perez. “One group should not be harmed at the expense of the other.”

Richmond, a Louisiana congressman, argued the rule change is “a solution in search of a problem,” adding that “unelected delegates have never gone against the will of primary voters in picking Democratic presidential nominees.”

Every DNC member seems to agree the Superdelegate systems needs to be reformed, but they can’t quite agree what that reform should look like. Sounds a lot like most problems on Congress, quite frankly.

Bloomberg cautions Democrats to consider the ramifications of weakening the Superdelegate system, which was put in place some 40+ years ago to prevent a “dud” candidate from taking the nomination:

Then there’s the possibility that two candidates finish the primaries and caucuses in a virtual tie. As we saw in 2008, it’s quite possible that both of them will have claims to being the choice of the people — even in the Democrats’ proportional representation delegate allocation system, it’s very possible for one candidate to win the most votes and the other to have a few more delegates. In that situation, supers might be able to break the tie decisively, allowing the winner to be known well in advance of the convention so that the party could begin to reconcile. That’s pretty close to what actually happened in 2008, with the supers switching to Barack Obama, who had the pledged delegate lead, even though he was something of an insurgent candidate.

By removing the ability of supers to vote on a contested first ballot, the new rules would make the second scenario — the supers help save the party from a dud candidate — impossible. It could also reduce the benefits of super intervention in the deadlock or virtual tie situations, because it might be at least somewhat less likely the losing candidates would accept the outcome in advance.

The party perceives an advantage, however, in reducing the role of those automatic delegates because they seem illegitimate to some.

In essence, this is a debate over whether the aptly named “Democratic Party” believes that their members should be solely trusted with selecting a candidate, or if party bosses need to have the “final say” before some crazy guy like Bernie gets in there. That is the crux of the argument and the source of the anger from party activists who feel their vote only matters to an extent, and may be negated if their candidate loses the nomination because Superdelegates threw in with the “safe” choice.

The Chicago Sun-Times is live-blogging the DNC Summer Meeting since it’s taking place in the Windy City. We’ll have a report next week on the outcome of the Superdelegate battle.

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Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.

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