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Vermont Democrats Poised To Overhaul Superdelegate System

Kristina Barker
Sen. Bernie Sanders, seen here at an event in Rapid City, S.D. and his campaign have brought tensions around the role of superdelegates to the forefront. Now, some in the state Democratic Party want to change how they're doled out in Vermont.

The issue of unpledged delegates, or superdelegates, as they’re called, will be hotly contested at the Democratic National Convention this July. But here in Vermont, Bernie Sanders’ supporters are ready to take matters into their own hands on the superdelegate front, even if the national party isn’t willing to act.

Right now, party rules call for the Vermont’s 16 pledged delegates to be doled out proportionally, based on of the results of Vermont’s primary vote. But there also 10 so-called superdelegates and each of them gets to choose the candidate they want, regardless of how the state voted.

Critics of the system say it gives an outsized role to the pillars of establishment that tend to control those superdelegate votes. And Sanders supporters within the Democratic Party have helped draft a resolution that will go up for a vote at the convention this Sunday that would overhaul that system.

Scott Garren is among the people leading the push for the resolution. He hasn’t given up hope that Sanders will emerge as the Democratic nominee for president.

“But whether he does or not the Democratic Party establishment, partially embodied by the DNC, needs reform,” Garren says.

Garren is a 66-year-old Rutland resident who’s running this Sunday for a spot as Vermont’s next Democratic National Committeeman. And he says that the reform should begin with the way delegates are allocated to candidates.

"But whether he [wins] or not the Democratic Party establishment, partially embodied by the DNC, needs reform." — Scott Garren of Rutland

The resolution says that if the Democratic National Committee fails to reform the rules governing unpledged delegates this summer, then Vermont will adopt a system that ensures all of its delegates, pledged or not, will be divvied up such that they reflect the proportion of the popular vote in the primary.

“It’s a very serious thing to change all the rules around this to make it fair, but clearly there’s a lot of people who think it isn’t,” says Essex Rep. Tim Jerman.

Jerman is one of the 10 Vermonters with a superdelegate vote. He announced months ago that he’ll be casting his for Sanders. But Jerman says it’s clear that many Sanders’ supporters feel that the superdelegate system has given Hillary Clinton an unwarranted advantage over her rival.

Clinton leads Sanders in the delegate count even without counting superdelegates.

“The general sense of sending the message that we really need to look at the whole system is a good one,” Jerman says.

The resolution on tap for this Sunday wouldn’t take effect until the 2020 nominating convention, and it wouldn’t impact the allocation of delegates even if were in effect right now.

Sanders won all 16 of this state’s pledged delegates since he took more than 85 percent of the vote in the primary. With only four of Vermont’s 10 superdelegates choosing Clinton, the resulting 22-4 allocation mirrors precisely the proportion of the vote in March.

"I think the delegate selection plan is a bit overly complicated, and we need everybody to understand it and feel comfortable with it. And if that's not the case, we need to address it." — Conor Casey, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party

John Tracy is the state director for Sen. Patrick Leahy; his boss is one of the four superdelegates voting for Clinton. Tracy, who’s running against Garren for the committeeman post, says he won’t offer a position on the superdelegate resolution until he sees its final wording.

But Tracy, who’s among the 14 percent of Vermont Democratic primary voters who supported Clinton in March, says the decades-old nominating rules do need a makeover.

“Whether people pass a resolution or not, I think it’s clear that action is going to be taken,” Tracy says.

Conor Casey, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, says the convention is an appropriate place to consider the resolution. Casey says the state committee has already adopted a similarly worded resolution.

“I think the delegate selection plan is a bit overly complicated, and we need everybody to understand it and feel comfortable with it,” Casey says. “And if that’s not the case, we need to address it.”

Democrats will meet at the Old Labor Hall in Barre on Sunday.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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