State Rep. Diane Russell of Portland, a Bernie Sanders supporter who sparked a nationwide move to end the Democratic Party’s superdelegate system in presidential primaries and caucuses, said Saturday that a last-minute compromise will give her side some of what it wanted.

Russell and others had hoped to eliminate superdelegates – current and former elected Democratic officials and party leaders – as part of the nominating process. While they weren’t able to get that proposal through the Democratic National Convention’s Rules Committee, Russell said what she called a “unity compromise” will result in the elimination of two-thirds of the 716 superdelegates before the next presidential election cycle.

Russell said shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday that a commission will be set up to change the system. The proposal must still be passed by a majority of the delegates when the convention opens Monday, but she said that’s likely now.

“We just won and we won big,” Russell said.

Earlier Saturday, it looked like the effort had fallen short, although Russell said she felt that the arguments of those pushing to change the system had made an impact.

“We may have lost the vote count today, but we sure have won the debate,” Russell said in a statement earlier Saturday.


Sanders’ supporters have been critical of the system since last year, when the Vermont senator launched his long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination. He has since endorsed Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee, but Russell and others are looking to change the system for the 2020 race.

Clinton racked up a big lead among the superdelegates early in the race and enters the convention with 602 superdelegates supporting her to Sanders’ 48, The Associated Press reported. She also won more pledged delegates from state primaries and caucuses, but Sanders’ supporters say the early support from dozens of superdelegates gave her an unfair head start in the race and created a sense of inevitability for her nomination.

Russell barely managed to get inside the committee meeting in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon to push for an end to superdelegates.

Russell said she and other Sanders supporters brought up a half-dozen potential compromises for committee votes that would have reduced, but not eliminated, the role of superdelegates. But, she said, Clinton’s supporters refused to budge.

One such compromise would have allowed only sitting governors and members of Congress to be superdelegates, which would have cut the number of superdelegates about in half. Russell said she and others looking to change the system viewed that as a marginal improvement over the current system.

Russell headed the move to abolish superdelegates at the Maine Democratic State Convention in May when the party agreed to award the state’s total delegate votes at the national convention based on the results of the state’s presidential caucus or primary starting in 2020. Maine has five superdelegates this year and 25 pledged delegates.


About 20 other states followed Maine’s lead and adopted similar measures.

Changing the superdelegate system could be a significant issue for former Sanders supporters who are unsure whether to back Clinton, Russell said.

“We need to be able to deliver something for those folks, and a win for democracy would be a good thing,” she said.


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