Sanders’ Problem as an Independent

By Jim Ellis

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — an Independent, not a Democrat

Feb. 22, 2019 — A day after announcing his entry into the 2020 presidential campaign, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders jumped off to a strong start, raising a reported $6 million in just his first 24 hours as a repeat candidate. But, a technical problem also looms in the distance.

Last year, the Democratic National Committee adopted a new party rule that states any future presidential nominee must be an official Democratic Party member or, if an office holder, must have served as a Democrat. Sen. Sanders meets neither requirement.

Vermont has no party registration, so he is not a party member in that regard, and has continually, including during the present time, represented Vermont as an Independent. In fact, when offered the Vermont Democratic senatorial nomination for his re-election campaign in 2018, Sanders turned down the overture.

The fact that Sanders is still not a Democrat is confirmed when looking at the list of unpledged delegate slots, those commonly referred to as “Super Delegates.” An unpledged delegate is one who can vote as he or she pleases and is not subject to any binding vote law their particular state may have enacted.

Those who qualify as Super Delegates are Democratic National Committee members (430), every elected Democratic US senator (45), the two District of Columbia “Shadow” senators, all elected Dems in the House of Representatives (235 at the present time), the four Democratic delegates to the US House (District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and the US Virgin Islands), and all of the party’s elected governors (26, including the District of Columbia mayor, and the territorial governors from American Samoa and Puerto Rico).

Additionally, the DNC recognizes 22 former stalwarts as Distinguished Party Leaders. This membership category is limited to past presidents (Carter, Clinton, Obama), vice presidents (Mondale, Gore, Biden), former congressional leaders (ex-Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid and George Mitchell, ex-House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, etc.), and previous national and general Democratic Party chairs.

Looking at the Vermont roster, only Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) is included as an unpledged, automatic, or “Super” delegate. Therefore, if Sen. Sanders does not qualify as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, then how can he meet the requirement of being an official Democratic Party member in order to be awarded the presidential nomination?

All of the rules can be changed before the convention, but it is interesting to note that, again, one of their major candidates is not even officially a Democrat. Though the party officials claim that putting the new rule in place was not designed to target Sen. Sanders, there is really no one else who falls into his situation.

While former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, also likely to join the Democratic presidential fray, served as a Republican after leaving his original party, his situation is different. Bloomberg is a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned Independent-turned Democrat again, but he resides in a state with party registration. Therefore, he merely needs to register as a Democrat in New York to become an official party member.

The complexity of the party rules will play a major role in the upcoming presidential nomination contest and the campaigns will devise many strategies to make them work for their particular principal. The Sanders potential disqualification situation is unique — and it should be minor — yet it underscores some of the obstacles a complicated rules package can bring forth.

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