How to Make the Democratic Nominating Process Actually Democratic

A Sanders campaign advisor lays out 3 proposals.

Larry Cohen

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In late July, delegates to the Democratic National Convention will gather in Philadelphia, not only to nominate a president and vice president but to debate a reform agenda for the party itself. Bernie Sanders’ call for a political revolution is centered on democratizing U.S. politics, including the Democratic Party, and his delegation will number at least 1,700. Big money out and voters in” should be their rallying cry; spending on the 2016 election is on track to exceed the 2012 record of $7 billion.

Structural reform inside the Democratic Party needs to be coupled with a much broader democracy movement outside the party.


As Jesse Jackson’s delegates did in 1988, Sanders’ delegates are likely to demand a significant reduction or elimination of the role of superdelegates in the nominating process. If the Democratic Party wants to broaden its base, it must move toward populism and away from control by the financial establishment. That starts with elected delegates controlling the party and the nominating process. The Democratic Party should, ironically enough, follow the lead of the Republican Party, in which superdelegates can’t vote as they please — like elected delegates, they must abide by their state’s popular vote.


The Democrats need to lead by example. While most Democratic voters would decry Citizens United or McCutcheon v FEC, most Democratic candidates are using wealthy donors as the mainstay of their fundraising — even in nominating contests, where there can be no excuse of matching Republican opponents’ spending. If nominees are to gain the trust of working- and middle-class voters, step one is to pledge, as Bernie Sanders has done, to reject the loopholes that allow the wealthy to control the nominating process and the outcome of the general election. Candidates should pledge to oppose the formation of super PACs during the nominating process.


Much of the Democratic caucus and primary system is also rigged and obscure. For example, in Iowa, the state Democratic Party does not reveal the number of people caucusing in each precinct for each candidate. There were clearly irregularities and much evidence that at least in some precincts, numbers were reversed, or worse. In New York, the size of the primary electorate was diminished by rules that required a voter to be registered as a Democrat more than six months before the primary. It’s time for a new look at the entire process, much like the 1981 Hunt Commission but with the focus on transparency, democracy and inclusion.

Structural reform inside the Democratic Party needs to be coupled with a much broader democracy movement outside the party. More than 1,300 leaders and activists were arrested in April in Washington, D.C., demanding action on voting rights and getting big money out of politics.

The political revolution has begun.

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Larry Cohen is board chair of Our Revolution and the past president of the Communications Workers of America. He has been on the Democratic National Committee since 2005.

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