Some Wyoming Democrats want the party’s four superdelegates to ditch their publicly-stated pledge of support for Hillary Clinton to more accurately represent the outcome of the party’s April 9 caucus.
The party’s 14 delegates up for grabs in Saturday’s Democratic caucus were split 7-7 between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, despite Sanders taking 56 percent of the statewide vote. That’s because the party’s caucus formula awards votes proportionately among three categories in each of Wyoming’s 23 counties rather than based on the statewide totals.
The Albany County Democratic Party passed a resolution Tuesday in response: “Albany County Democrats, in recognition of the popular vote locally and statewide, encourage our statewide unpledged delegates, commonly known as ‘superdelegates,’ to reconsider their stated commitments in order to more accurately reflect the popular presidential preference vote.”
Other county level parties may follow suit. The four superdelegates — technically titled “unpledged” delegates — posted a note on the party’s website on April 18, stating “whichever candidate arrives at the national convention with the most pledged delegates will have our support as Wyoming’s ‘superdelegates.'” (Read more below)
“It might be a longshot to ask people to un-pledge a pledge they have made,” Albany County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Pete Gosar said. “But I think you have a really good opportunity to say [to voters] ‘Your vote counts. It does matter.’”
The Wyoming Democratic Party has a total 18 delegates in the nomination of the Democratic candidate for President of the United States. Four are so-called superdelegates, and they technically remain “unpledged” until the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.
Prior to the state party’s April 9 caucus, however, all four superdelegates volunteered their choice for the U.S. president — and all four voiced their support for Clinton.
Tempers flared as results of Saturday’s caucus were read across the state. Bernie Sanders supporters, who clearly outnumbered Hillary Clinton crowds at some county caucuses, were surprised and chagrined to learn that the candidates would split the 14 delegates.
With the four superdelegates already promising to support Clinton at the national convention, that means Wyoming would commit 7 delegates to Sanders and 11 delegates to Clinton, even though Sanders won the statewide caucus vote by 12 points. That’s why some are urging the party’s four superdelegates — Wyoming Democratic Party Chair Ana Cuprill, Party Vice Chair Bruce Palmer, National Committeeman Mike Gierau, and National Committeewoman Mary Hales — to rescind their pledges for Clinton and shift the delegate votes toward Sanders.
“There’s a sense of fairness,” Gosar said. “Whatever the deal is, we just want a fair deal.”
The county-by-county delegate formula isn’t new to the Wyoming Democratic Party. Still, there was widespread confusion over caucus results, and many Sanders supporters cried foul. A few even made threats toward state party officials on Facebook, which prompted Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) to post a plea for civility:
“Wyoming Democrats,” Rothfuss posted to Facebook Wednesday, “It is totally unacceptable behavior to threaten, insult or harass our Executive Director because you are unsatisfied with an outcome which was based entirely on a set of predefined rules that were scrupulously adhered to by our volunteers and party personnel throughout the state.”
Further adding to confusion and frustration in the Democratic caucus was the introduction of “surrogate” or absentee balloting. Sanders supporters far outnumbered Clinton supporters at some county caucuses Saturday, but in some cases absentee ballots helped tilt the scales toward Clinton, causing confusion and leading to claims of a “rigged” caucus.
“My sense of it is it’s in the boiling stage,” Albany County Committeeman Bern Hinckley said Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know if it will calm down or not.”
Clinton won 1,551 votes via absentee ballots and Sanders earned 1,294 absentee ballots, according to Wyoming Democratic Party Executive Director Aimee Van Cleave.
Van Cleave wrote in a blog post Wednesday:
“Of the approximately 42,000 registered democrats in the state, nearly 7,200 participated in this year’s caucus — about 18 percent. That number is up from 15 percent in 2008. Of the votes in this year’s Wyoming Democratic Caucus, 2,848 were via surrogate forms — 40 percent.”
The purpose of allowing absentee voting was to enable people who might be working, studying abroad, serving in the military, homebound or otherwise unable to attend caucuses in person to participate. “Ultimately it’s a way to make caucuses more open and accessible to a variety of voters,” Van Cleave told WyoFile.
Several state parties now include surrogate voting in caucuses. Wyoming’s process is modeled after one used in Washington. It’s part of the state party’s Delegation Selection and Affirmative Action Plan updated and passed by the Wyoming Democratic Party Central Committee in April 2015, and approved by the Democratic National Committee in September.
University of Wyoming professor of history Phil Roberts said he doesn’t recall surrogate or absentee balloting in Wyoming Democratic caucuses since he first became involved in the party in 1968.
“Our caucus has become neither a caucus or a primary,” Roberts said. “The theory of a caucus is people to get together and discuss theories on an issue [in person].”
There’s an immediacy and interactive aspect of having a group of people in the same room exchanging ideas and trying to convince one another about which candidate best serves the party, and who should move forward as delegates to the state convention, Roberts said. He worries that absentee balloting may change the dynamics of the caucus, giving campaign staffs a chance to best one another on who can get absentee ballot forms into voters’ hands.
Van Cleave said the state party notified party members of absentee balloting, and made the forms available online. Likewise, both the Sanders and the Clinton campaigns notified their likely voters of the opportunity to fill out absentee ballot forms. It’s just one more part of the ground campaign as candidates try to mobilize potential voters, she said.
“Overwhelmingly, the response we’ve gotten so far is that voters are thrilled they got to participate when they might not have otherwise,” she said.
Next, the Democratic State Convention will be held May 28 in Cheyenne, while the GOP State Convention begins today in Casper.
UPDATE, April 18, 2016: Wyoming Democratic Party superdelegates posted a note today on the party’s website regarding the status of their support for the Democratic nominee for president.
“Currently our ‘votes’ and pledges are meaningless,” the superdelegates wrote. “In 2008, a number of superdelegates switched from Clinton to Obama once it became clear that Obama had won a majority of pledged delegates. And in the end, whichever candidate arrives at the national convention with the most pledged delegates will have our support as Wyoming’s ‘superdelegates.'”
Read the Wyoming Delegate Selection Plan for the Wyoming Democratic Party: