Democratic Convention Resolutions Require More Pre-Convention Deliberation

The South Dakota Democratic Convention considered 31 resolutions from delegates Saturday… or was it 33?

Delegates to the state convention were able to submit resolutions until 3 p.m. Friday. South Dakota Democratic Party staff compiled the documents and e-mailed them to all delegates just a few minutes before midnight. We took up the resolutions for debate during the final open session Saturday morning, which began at 9 a.m. with the hotly contested national committeeman election (Bill Walsh beat Tom Cool), the uncontested national committeewoman election (Deb Knecht replaces Sharon Stroschein), the nomination of Henry Red Cloud for PUC, and our elector election. With those elections out of the way, we had until noon to tackle those 31 (or 33) resolutions.

These resolutions were not platform planks; those were handled in a committee review process Friday morning and full session review and approval Friday afternoon. These resolutions were simply expressions of the party’s sense on a variety of issues.

Each resolution was displayed on the two big screens at the front of the hall while members of the resolutions committee read the Resolved clauses aloud. The chair then opened the floor to brief discussion and motions.

Eventually we reached Resolution #22… which turned out to be Resolutions 22.1, 22.2, and 22.3, all on one sheet:

Resolutions Regarding Superdelegates


Whereas; presidential primary superdelegates publically declaring their voting intentions results in some media reporting of the superdelegate’s stated intentions as of that was a pledged vote,

Whereas; superdelegates may publically declare their voting intentions before all candidates in primary have declared or have advanced campaigns very much,

Whereas; inappropriate  and not properly reported media coverage of super delegate’s intentions, influences public belief about who is “winning” and may influence public voting

Be it resolved; that the SD Democratic party supports a national rule change that prohibits superdelegates publically declaring how they will cast a super delegate
vote, before the primary or caucus is held in their own state.


Whereas ; 15% of the vote in presidential primary is cast by “insider” super delegates,  a non-insider candidate may  need to get 66% of the popular vote to override insider vote and this makes the Democratic party too much like an oligarchy

Be it resolved; that the SD Democratic party supports a national rule change, that the superdelegate system is revoked


Whereas; 15% of the vote in presidential primary is cast by “insider” super delegates,  a non-insider candidate may  need to get 66% of the popular vote to override insider vote and this makes the Democratic party too much like an oligarchy

Be it resolved; that the SD Democratic party supports a national rule change, that the superdelegate system is limited to 5% of the vote in deciding the winner of the presidential primary [Nancy Hilding, resolutions submitted to South Dakota Democratic Convention, 2016.06.24].

The resolutions committee was going to read all three of these items as one resolution and have us vote on them as a package. The author pointed out that Resolution 22.2 excluded 22.1 and 22.3. The author indicated she was open to changes but did not make an explicit motion. Amidst that muddle, a motion to table won quick support, and the resolution(s) disappeared in the dust of Robert’s Rules.

I did not poll the entire convention, but delegates I chatted with after the convention felt this year’s resolutions process ill served the interests of the delegates, the party, and open debate. Resolutions came to the floor without any prior review and deliberation. Sorting out a muddle like Resolution #22.1–3 should take place in committee, not on the convention floor, with a committee that works with the author to refine the resolution to best express her intent.

To improve out resolutions process, I look to our Lutheran friends in the ELCA. Their annual South Dakota Synod Assembly addresses resolutions from member congregations. Congregations around the state bring resolutions to their church conferences, associations of multiple congregations. Each conference discusses the proposed resolutions and decides whether or not to propose those resolutions for discussion at Assembly. Assembly delegates can access resolutions and all other Assembly documents before the meeting on the Synod website; online documents are updated throughout Assembly. ELCA members can bring resolutions on the Assembly floor—and one member did essentially that this year, offering a substitute motion to defang an ultimately successful resolution condemning payday lending and supporting Initiated Measure 21’s 36% rate cap—but writing and vetting happen largely before the convention.

The South Dakota Democratic Party could easily adopt a similar process. Delegates could bring their resolutions to their county parties before convention. The county parties could meet to review, discuss, recommend changes to, and ultimately vote to advance proposed resolutions to convention or block them. Resolutions would bear the names of the approving county parties, not an individual author.

The SDDP could also create Resolutions Wiki (forum, Facebook group, whatever technology trips your trigger) where all resolutions could be submitted for review by all delegates and party officials. An online Resolutions Wiki would allow delegates, county parties, and convention planners to check for duplicate or overlapping resolutions and recommend combining resolutions and sharing sponsorship.

Whatever method is used for pre-convention review, discussion, and submission, the SDDP could require that to be considered on the floor of the convention, any resolution must be available for delegate review at least 48 hours before floor debate. If some pressing issue arises that seems to demand the Party’s attention (but remember, we’re only talking about resolutions here, not actual legislation that’s going to fix anything), convention delegates would still have the option of offering germane amendments to existing resolutions or suspending the rules (requiring a two-thirds vote!) to introduce a new amendment.

I do not suggest these changes to limit debate. I suggest these changes to add useful deliberation pre-convention to catch small problems in wording, clarify intent, and inform more substantive debate at convention. No resolution should come to the floor without many eyes having reviewed it. Many eyes mean fewer messes like Resolution #22.1–3. The process I suggest would improve resolutions, discussion, and statewide participation in the party convention process.

12 Responses to Democratic Convention Resolutions Require More Pre-Convention Deliberation

  1. Why is the underlying assumption that all super delegates are of some hive-mind?

    One reason the GOP is in the poop-storm nationally now with their Trump nomination was that the party let the process run wild – no adult supervision. I like that the Democrats tend to start their primary process with a “party” candidate. That is not bad – to know that at least one horse in the race is vetted, sane, qualified, and in-line with the fundamentals of party beliefs. Just because one starts as the king of the hill, does not mean that they are going to end up there. in fact, that was the very story of Clinton last go around. The Senator was the front-runner-party-darling and was upset by candidate Obama. Certainly his was an up-hill battle for the nomination, but he proved it possible to do.

    Sanders is a great man. He was just not able to do what Obama was able to do eight years ago.

    I worry that with no intrinsic voice of reason in the process, the Democrats could be more venerable to a Trump nomination fiasco.

    Democracy is a great thing – it allows every vote to count; democracy is moronic – it allows every vote to count.

  2. Therein lies the profound challenge of democracy: we democrats must have faith that letting everyone come vote will not result in really stupid decisions.

  3. I agree Cory and I was one of the co-chairs of the committee. We actually has less time to review the resolutions than you reported and had no opportunity to discuss them with authors before the presentation. I’d like to see the committee have no less than 3 weeks to review resolutions in the future so we can work with the authors to improve the writing and delete any redundancy.

  4. Paul Thronson

    Maybe the most importantly in this is discussion is how do we merge together technology/social media with democracy. That is the revolution we truly seek. And using tools like wiki, blogs, and Facebook to organize is just the beginning.

  5. I am in emphatic agreement Cory. There is a significant chance that the delegates will pass something embarrassing simply because they are trying to get through all the resolutions in a reasonable timeframe and are not thoroughly reading them. The resolutions committee should have a stronger hand in forming them–perhaps in the days before the convention officially begins.

    It’s tough because–at least in my committee–we were using the resolution process as a way to re-direct some of the well-intentioned but overly specific items that people wished to include in the platform. “That sounds like an important issue but one better expressed as a resolution than as part of the platform” was a pretty common sentiment in the committee process.

    It might be better I suppose to require greater organization to get a resolution approved–it would greatly cut down the number of resolutions to consider at any rate.

  6. Brett, I heard that resolution recommendation in my platform committee, too. I’d like to be able to talk about everything under the sun, but at convention there just isn’t time. Perhaps we have to ban such relatively spontaneous resolutions completely, with the only route for a pressing idea to be suspending the rules. Fire up the Web, put the proposed platform revisions online along with the Resolutions Wiki four weeks ahead of convention, require county parties to review and advance or kill all resolutions by one week before convention, and expect delegates to do their homework ahead of time.

  7. Ah, and there’s an organizing point there. Maybe we promote party-building when we require that a resolution not be just one delegate’s idea thrown into the hat and surprising everyone. Maybe a delegate ought to be required to communicate with her county party to discuss and line up support for her idea. Maybe we could even require a “county second”: no resolution reaches the convention floor without the approval of one county party and a second from another county party. Get delegates calling and texting and e-mailing and messaging, lobbying each other, making connections….

  8. Darin Larson

    Cory, I agree with your main points. People should have a chance to consider these resolutions ahead of time. And they should be fine-tuned in committee. A chance for consideration and reflection is a good thing.

    I think the state bar association changed their rules 10-15 years ago to require resolutions to be submitted at least 30 days in advance of the annual meeting.

  9. Here is the drafting platform for the Democratic Convention as we now know. There are some very very positive directions that the Democrats have taken on populism at its best.

    I will say that if this draft holds true, and progressives have won some concessions, then Clinton will get the support she needs to put the clown back in the clown car for good.

  10. Darin Larson

    jerry, it sounds like you are coming to your senses. $15 an hour, here ya go!

  11. As Marks co-chair to the resolutions committee, I totally agree that we need to make changes. I think that resolutions should still be allowed to be submitted during convention, so that the committees have a place to put great ideas that are introduced in committee, but don’t belong in the platform. These ideas still get a chance to be heard then. But, the process needs to be addressed. We will be better next convention!!!

  12. Thanks, Deb! It is tricky balancing the need for review, the time constraints of convention, and the desire for open debate. Perhaps we can have a two-tiered system:

    (1) Use the model I propose above for resolutions to come from county parties to engage county parties more in the discussion and ensure pre-convention review, refinement, and support.

    (2) Allow new resolutions to be submitted at convention by platform committees. If an individual makes a suggestion to a platform committee that is better addressed as a resolution than a platform plank, that individual must submit that resolution in writing to that platform committee. That platform committee must then review it and vote on whether to submit the resolution for floor debate. That committee review process would work well with this year’s original convention schedule: committees meet Friday morning to consider platform planks, then reconvene for one hour after lunch, when they could hear the resolutions that authors compose based on recommendations from the morning session.

    Again, the main idea is that no resolution comes to the floor without review and support from more than one person.