On October 28, Democrats Abroad France in partnership with Our Revolution France welcomed Larry Cohen to Paris. Cohen is co-chair of the DNC's Unity Reform Commission (URC), and chairman of the board of Our Revolution. He reported on the URC's work, the proposals it will introduce, and their prospects to an audience of more than eighty people.
Cohen outlined the four major areas that the commission has been working on over the last several months.
First, with regard to superdelegates, the URC will propose that 2/3 of any state's superdelegates be bound by the results of the primary election in the state they represent. They can support, endorse, and campaign for whichever candidate they want, but they must vote for whomever the voters of the state tell them to vote for. Concretely that means that in 2016, about 500 of the 700 superdelegates would have been bound to state results. Were that rule applied to Democrats Abroad's superdelegates, it would have meant that five of the eight would have been required to vote for Bernie Sanders, based on the results of DA's primary elections. If one does the math, that rule probably would not have changed the results of the nominating process in 2016, but it will have an impact on 2020, not least by making superdelegates accountable to each state's primary electorate.
Second, caucuses would be required to have an official head count, and to adopt a "firechouse caucus" model, wherein voters get checked in, receive and cast a ballot, and then leave. Currently, caucuses involve arcane rules, lots of milling around, which brings with it the potential for all sorts of dirty tricks, some of which were reportedly seen in 2016. If this reform is adopted, caucus results will no longer be "estimates" based on a show of hands, but instead concrete, verifiable, balloted results.
Primaries are also slated for reform. Cohen pointed out that Democrats Abroad has a very good model for a primary given that it is a global organization. Democrats Abroad held its Global Primary over a week at both designated voting stations and by email, allowed same-day party registration, and made considerable effort to publicize its rules and procedures. It was also the only state party that saw a dramatic increase in participation -- up 50% in 2016 compared to 2012. In contrast, some other states have already closed registration for their 2018 primaries (eleven months ahead of the scheduled election) and thus have already excluded independents and other potential new members of the Democratic Party from participating. The URC will propose reforms for primaries that include greater openness, easier party registration, and more inclusive practices -- all of which Democrats Abroad already practiced in its 2016 Global Primary!
Finally, Cohen said a fourth area of recommended reform includes a whole raft of proposals to reform party operations, especially with regard to transparency (of money), party building, and a lot of wonky stuff. He noted that "Christine Pelosi introduced a proposal that the DNC not take money from various actors, both corporations and individuals, whose interests were at odds with the party's as stated in the platform, and it was approved unanimously. This is a step in the right direction, and a sign that the party is ready to make the kinds of reforms that will be proposed and need to be made."
Cohen was optimistic about many of the reforms winning final approval, but cautioned that there was still a long way to go. There will be be a final meeting and discussion of the commission in December, before they submit their proposals to the Rules committee, where some could be defeated. "But I think we'll get most, maybe even all of them through the Rules committee," he added optimistically. The DNC will then vote on the reform proposals at its Spring meeting.
The only minor disappointment expressed by Cohen was that in most cases these reforms won't be in place in time for the 2018 elections. "The process is slow and deliberate, which is how it needs to be if we are going to get it right," he said. Some individual states, however, are already moving to adopt several of them within their own bylaws. "Superdelegates are not an issue in 2018, but fair and open access to the ballot in primary elections is, and some state parties are already working to address that issue on their own."
Cohen took several questions from the audience about the work of URC, but also took a few minutes as the Chairman of the Board of Our Revolution to address press reports about a "purge" at the DNC. "I don't know where they came up with that idea," he said, "but what happened was that five people who'd been at-large delegates for years were not renominated by the chair. And there were 75 people nominated, including a bunch of new people who are good progressives. The media loves to tell a story of internal strife and drama and dissension, but when I read those reports, I wondered if I was at the same meeting."
Cohen concluded the discussion by noting that he was very optimistic about the direction of the Democratic Party. "We're not all the way the yet, but we are getting there. We're all working towards the same goal, and that's electing democrats up and down the ballot, and returning to our root, core values."