March 01, 2018

Democrats Abroad on the Unity Reform Commission Report

Democrats Abroad’s Executive Committee and its DNC members have endorsed a series of proposals from the party’s Unity Reform Commission, in a report delivered to the DNC at the end of 2017.

The Unity Reform Commission (URC) was created at the 2016 Democratic National Convention to address concerns regarding the presidential primary process, and to ensure that this process is accessible, transparent and inclusive.

Dems Abroad leaders were able to support these recommendations in part because they so closely reflected what Democrats Abroad adopted in its 2016 Global Presidential Primary and Delegate Selection Plan.

Speaking to Democrats Abroad in Paris and Toronto, URC Vice Chair Larry Cohen has praised the organization’s high levels of openness, inclusion, and transparency in its 2016 global primary, pointing out that other state parties could learn much from their example.

Four key areas highlighted in the URC report include:

1. Same-day registration for party primaries & improved voter enfranchisement

The URC proposed various solutions to give voters greater opportunity to participate and vote in a primaries process that they trust. Most notably: same-day voter registration, a shift that could have significant impact on state parties that currently require voters to register weeks or even months in advance of primary elections.

“If you haven’t registered as a Democrat [in certain states], you won’t be able to vote in the 2018 Primary,” said Cohen. “That’s not very inclusive; that doesn’t help to grow the party. If you want people to vote for your party in the end, you can’t alienate them from the start.”

Where Democrats Abroad Stands:
“We welcome all voters, including those who may be new to voting for Democrats or voting regularly -- something we expect to see more of in 2020,” explained Julia Bryan, Democrats Abroad International Chair. “Emphasizing inclusivity and adopting same-day registration in 2016 resulted in huge growth for our membership. Voters who were excited about our 2016 candidates could have their voices heard, regardless of whether or not they had registered to vote months earlier.”

“We considered these issues when we wrote our 2016 Delegate Selection Plan,” added Will Bakker, Regional Vice Chair for EMEA. “That is why we conducted a major outreach campaign to make sure all our members who wanted to vote, could. We widely published our rules, held open informational forums, and conducted outreach online to support voting stations large and small all over the world.”

2. Reducing superdelegates by half

Today, DNC superdelegates (current and past elected government leaders and party officials who make up just under 15% of all delegates) may support any presidential candidate, regardless of their respective state primaries and caucuses.

The URC’s proposal would reduce superdelegates by around 50%, retaining autonomy for elected officials, but ensuring that others are bound to the results of their states (except in the rare case of a brokered election, last seen in 1952).  

As Cohen pointed out, “We couldn’t eliminate supers altogether, but reducing their number and influence, and binding most of them to election outcomes, was a very good compromise. The result is that the grassroots voice in the nominating process will be amplified.”

Where Democrats Abroad Stands:
“Proportional voting across our delegation received near unanimous support from the DA DNC team and the Executive Committee,” said Bryan. “We believe it is important that all of our delegate votes at the National Convention reflect our members’ choices in our primary.”

Democrats Abroad realizes that our decision could mean that we sacrifice some attention from presidential candidates following the primary. We are confident that the rising visibility of voters abroad will more than compensate for that effect, and that the decision will best serve our constituencies in the long run.

As DNC Member Martha McDevitt-Pugh pointed out, “Candidates came to us because they wanted our votes. That’s how we could get their ear for a few minutes and tell them about the key interests of Democrats Abroad. But today, we’re getting their interest just based on our pure numbers, and how powerful the vote from abroad can be. For example, in the off-year elections of 2017, Dems Abroad was approached by both Phil Murphy and Ralph Northam, candidates for North Carolina and Virginia Governor.”

3. Ensure commitment from party leaders to remain neutral during all primaries

The URC also proposed that all state party Chairs and Vice Chairs, as well as party officials involved in the execution of the state primary or caucus process, remain scrupulously neutral, with various penalties for failure to do so, including loss of delegate status and floor privileges at the Convention.

Where Democrats Abroad Stands:
As this is already a requirement for Democrats Abroad leaders and primary elections leaders, the organization does not anticipate any changes to current practices.

4. Empower Grassroots Participation

Finally, the URC also calls for the party to work more closely with organizations and allies.

Where Democrats Abroad Stands:
“Collaboration with partner organizations has already been part of Democrats Abroad’s modus operandi,” explained Bob Vallier, Secretary of Democrats Abroad France during the 2016 primaries. “In France we saw Paris for Bernie, Paris for Hillary, and even a small Paris for Martin [O’Malley] contingent. Democrats Abroad was happy to engage with everyone working toward our shared interests, and these groups were absolutely vital to the success of our primary as a result, bringing with them a lot of energy and new members to Democrats Abroad. Today, we continue to work closely with their heirs—Our Revolution, Indivisible, PAGE, among others, and that’s consistent not just across France but for Democrats Abroad around the world.”

What’s next?

While the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee now has six months to review and edit the report before sending it to the full DNC, the final recommendations are not expected to impact Democrats Abroad’s existing practices for the 2020 presidential primaries.

“By and large, these recommendations reflect what Democrats Abroad has already undertaken,” Bryan confirmed. “We were happy to offer our input when the URC approached us about this, and were impressed at how they studied our plans and took our recommendations to heart. We’re proud to be lauded by the URC for our efforts in this mission, but most importantly, we’re thrilled to see voters responding so positively. We remain just as committed as ever to ensuring that our primary is accessible, transparent and inclusive for all Democrats around the world.”