To Bernie Sanders supporters, the idea that Democratic superdelegates — elected officials and other party elites who can vote however they wish at the convention — could tip the nomination to Hillary Clinton seems terribly undemocratic.
And so, they’re trying to convince superdelegates, officially known as unpledged party leaders and elected officials, to change their allegiance.
There are several several online petitions. One calls for the elimination of superdelegates all together. Another asks superdelegates to align their choice with regular voters not party elites, and it has more than 200,000 signatures.
At the moment, more than halfway through the primary process, this would favor Clinton, who leads the popular vote by more than two million votes and has a more than 200-pledged-delegate lead (that is, delegates who align with the results of state primaries and caucuses).
But Sanders supporters point to the senator’s string of recent wins and figure by the time the last vote is counted in California, he will have the popular lead. And then, under this scenario, it will be up to superdelegates, who make up roughly 15 percent of total convention delegates, to decide who gets the nomination.
“No one is going to arrive in Philadelphia with enough delegates to win the nomination,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager. “And the superdelegates don’t vote until you actually get into the convention process. So there’s been a lot of talk about how the Republicans are going into an open convention. Well, the truth of the matter is, it looks like the Democrats are going into an open convention as well.”
It’s true that no one will likely have the 2,383 delegates needed for the nomination strictly out of the pledged delegates. But that’s also because that number is a majority of all the voting delegates, which includes — superdelegates.
The Sanders campaign still has its focus on winning as many pledged delegates as possible in the states still yet to vote, like New York, Pennsylvania and California and the campaign is trying to direct supporters looking to help to volunteering or organizing in those states. In fact the campaign’s website lists hundreds of organizing events, many posted by volunteers, but the campaign has moved to remove any events related to reaching out to superdelegates.
But this hasn’t stopped Sanders enthusiastic supporters from taking matters into their own hands. This week, a Sanders fan named Spencer Thayer created the “Superdelegate Hit List,” a website to compile and share the contact information of superdelegates, so they can be persuaded. It is not affiliated with the Sanders campaign, but a campaign spokesman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Thayer, who answered questions over email, later changed the name simply to “Superdelegate List.”
“The intent of the branding was to parody the famous Clinton Hit List, this was a tongue–in–cheek attempt at parody which I thought would encourage resharing,” Thayer said. “The branding began to detract from the campaign’s purpose, so it wasn’t a hard decision to make the change once it was clear it wasn’t working.”
Thayer’s goal with the site was to make it easier for voters to get in touch with superdelegates.
“The superdelegate system is rigged to protect establishment politicians and shut down populism,” Thayer said. “Superdelegates, by their very nature, diminish the value of the vote by giving an elite constituency of representatives, party leaders, and even lobbyists extra power. The Superdelegate List exists to help voters challenge this undemocratic system. Contacting our elected representatives and party leaders and holding them to account is an American tradition. This is the only way to keep the voter base from being patronized or ignored.”
Superdelegates have been hearing from Sanders supporters for months — and it’s not always pleasant. Akilah Ross Ensley is with the Young Democrats of America, and she’s a superdelegate, who plans to support Clinton. She has to check her professional Facebook page several times a day to deal with all the messages and posts.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Ensley reads from a recent Facebook message she received. “Maybe you will do some soul searching and have some integrity and think about the decisions you’re making and its implications.”
Ensley said she’s been called names, and there have been expletives.
“They said, you know, you should go to hell,” said Ensley, describing another message. “How dare you vote against your own interests as an African-American woman. I expected you would be smarter than that.”
When Clinton-backing super delegate Joyce Elliott heard she was on, what at the time was called the Superdelegate Hit List, she was taken aback.
“That is, that is very interesting,” Elliott said after laughing uncomfortably. “As far as I know, this is probably only the second time I’ve been on a hit list, and the other one was not pleasant.”
Elliott is a state senator in Arkansas and the last time she was on a hit list, it was over legislation she had introduced. That time, she said, the FBI got involved. This list isn’t as scary. Although, she has heard from 20 or 30 Sanders supporters, trying to get her to switch.
“Some of them will tell me, you know, how awful Hillary is, therefore, I should support Bernie, and then tell me how great Bernie is,” said Elliott, who has known the Clintons since the 1970s. “And that’s the kind of thing I think that is not helpful.”
For Ken Martin, the chairman of the Minnesota Democratic Party, the flow of messages is constant, 20 a day, he said. His state went for Sanders in its caucuses, and the pressure to switch from Clinton to Sanders is intense.
“Someone received my cell phone number, and they posted that, and so I’m getting calls on my personal cell phone from people all over the country,” Martin said.
When Thayer, the the creator of the superdelegate list, was told people were feeling harassed and unpersuaded, here’s what he said:
“It’s likely that most callers are actually polite. If a few people contacting superdelegates are being obscene they’ll of course drown out reasonable voices and harden opinions. However, it’s useful to look at what’s causing some of the anger and outrage we’re seeing.
“Voters know they are being disenfranchised by superdelegate influence and these privileged voters are a reasonable target for frustration. And, let’s be honest, if superdelegates aren’t prepared to deal with the public, they shouldn’t be party officials.”
But all this freelance lobbying may be unnecessary. It has been the tradition of superdelegates, even in contentious primaries, to ultimately vote at the convention for the candidate with the most popular votes and pledged delegates.
Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Sanders’ campaign, was actually involved in the creation of superdelegates, as a way to get party officials more involved in selecting the Democratic nominee.
“That was always done with the understanding that the voters would determine the outcome of this process, and I think they’ll do it this time,” Devine said back in February when the superdelegate controversy was flaring up after the New Hampshire primary.