WaPo’s Dan Balz reports on Barack Obama’s plans to change the Democratic Party rules. There are 3 significant ideas. The first two are about openness. He wants to reduce the influence of the super-delegates, and he wants to include absentee ballots in caucuses. The other is simply a good government reform. He wants to un-screw-up the timing of the primary calendar.
It should be noted that Obama is trying to force the GOP’s hand by raising these issues now. We pass our rules for 2012 in Minneapolis, after which point they can only be interpretted, not changed. By contrast, the Dems have well into 2010 or even 2011 to mess around with this.
But the ideas, because these are actually important. First, the delegate-super-delegate relationship:
"The number of superdelegates has gotten too large in relation to overall delegates," Plouffe said. "We want to give more control back to the voters. . . . Everyone thinks there ought to be more weight given to the results of the elections."
The commission will be encouraged to consider either reducing the number of superdelegates eligible to attend the national conventions or increasing the number of pledged delegates — those elected on the basis of caucus and primary results.
This gives more power to the voting public and takes it away from the party insiders. Recall that Obama lost the pledged delegates and won the super-delegates. He is biting the hand that fed him.
Obama also wants to open up the caucus process some:
The other major area the commission will be asked to examine is the operation of caucuses in states that choose that process rather than a primary. The caucuses drew criticism, particularly from the Clinton campaign, which said that they restricted participation and that in some states they lacked the necessary infrastructure to ensure fairness.
"We agree that we ought to make sure they’re funded properly, staffed properly and run smoothly, and even see if people ought to be eligible to vote absentee," Plouffe said.
The Democratic caucuses, outside of Iowa, included allegations of voter intimidation and fraud by both sides. Improving the operations would be important. But the really interesting part is the idea of opening up absentee ballots. Active-duty military cannot vote. Some elderly have problems. People with shift-jobs cannot (this was a big problem in Nevada). And others.
This is a move to enfranchise voters. That’s a big deal. There is some indication that Republicans are considering a similar reform.
Finally, there is the calendar, an issue of endless speculation in 2007:
The other significant change is the call to redraw the primary and caucus calendar. The 2008 calendar received significant criticism both for the early starting dates for the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary and also because so many states were crowded into the first month of what turned out to be a five-month battle.
Under the system envisioned by the Obama and Clinton campaigns, most contests could not be held before March, except for those in a handful of states authorized to go earlier — presumably in February rather than January.
Plouffe also said the commission will be urged to look for ways to avoid the bunching of states on particular days. Almost two dozen states held Democratic contests on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, and party officials hope to avoid a repeat in 2012.
My gut is that the RNC should recommend a rule like the March one, while studying the timing one. The real problem is that if the parties disagree on the timing of primaries, states parties are forced into caucuses because in nearly every state, legislatures pick primary dates and state governments pay for them.