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Democrats debate primary changes

From NBC's Ali Weinberg
Flaws in the Democratic primary system were exposed in last year's nominating process. States jockeyed for position and influence, and the arcane and complex system of "superdelegates" overwhelmed voters and dominated conversation.

Democrats, aiming to avoid that kind of confusion in subsequent elections, began on Saturday in Washington to try and streamline the process. Ideas from members of the Democratic Change Commission -- a 36-member commission of elected officials, consultants and activists created by the Democratic National Committee at President Obama's request -- included encouraging states to move back the dates of their contests, reducing the number of automatic unpledged delegates (i.e.  "superdelegates"), and drafting a standardized list of best practices for the 18 states that vote for a Democratic nominee through caucuses.

Commission members agreed that too many states hold their primaries too early in the nominating season, potentially breaking up momentum between the primaries and the general election. There was broad consensus that last year's Super Tuesday elections on Feb. 5, in which 23 jurisdictions held their nominating contests, hurt all the campaigns because candidates couldn't hit all the states.

Members of the commission discussed ways to get states to spread their primaries out, including offering more convention delegates proportional to how far back a state pushed its primary. But some committee members, including co-chair Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), said more delegates was not enough to "sweeten the pot" to get states to move their primaries back.

Instead, Clyburn suggested offering better hotel accommodations at the Democratic National Convention to delegates whose states moved back their primaries in 2012. Meredith Wood Smith, chair of the Oregon Democratic Party, even floated the idea of promising more presidential visits -- assuming the Democratic candidate won -- to states after the general election.

The commission also debated several ways to reduce the number of superdelegates in deciding the party's presidential nominee. Bill Carrick, a Democratic media consultant, echoed the sentiment of most committee members, saying that superdelegates are "a horrible political message for grassroots" activists, as their unpledged vote suggests the superdelegates' ability to reverse the outcome of the election by voting against the will of the public (whose votes are translated into pledged delegates).

Members discussed groups of current superdelegates whose unpledged status could be revoked, including half of the DNC members or all of the add-on delegates. They suggested offering incentives to get superdelegates to voluntarily give up their vaunted status. Clyburn said he knew a lot of people who would give up their status "in a skinny minute" if given the title of "honored guest" at the convention.

Finally, members discussed the best practices for states holding caucuses. One issue, broached by Larry Gates of Kansas, was making caucuses more easily accessible to voters in rural areas who might have longer to travel than urban residents. The committee resolved to enact one of two options: 1) either draft and suggest a list of best practices to the 18 caucus states, or 2) submit the drafted list to the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee and charge the committee with enforcing the rules.

The commission's next meeting, where members will decide on how to implement the changes discussed, will take place Dec. 4th and 5th.