The Nevada Democratic convention was overwhelmed by utter turmoil on Saturday after the chair adopted a controversial set of new rules and disqualified 56 Bernie Sanders delegates from participating, handing rival Hillary Clinton a majority of the state's delegates.
This occurred after the Democratic frontrunner lost the state's county level caucuses in April.
The chaotic convention, organized and run largely by Clinton supporters, was yet another instance of what many observers have decried as the party's rigging of the primary process in favor of the establishment candidate.
The party's blatant bolstering of Clinton's candidacy, critics say, has been obvious from the outset—and only grows more transparent as the election continues. They point to the following prior instances as evidence of a rigged process:
- The primary debates were scheduled at inopportune times, a move that many interpreted as protecting Clinton from scrutiny and attempting to prevent Sanders from gaining attention.
- The Democratic Party's superdelegates, a large majority of whom declared their support for Clinton long before voting occurred, are largely seen to have insulated her from Sanders' insurgent popularity among voters.
- The DNC has exploited a fundraising loophole to funnel funds raised for state-level candidates to the Clinton campaign.
- Widespread disenfranchisement in the Arizona and New York primaries, which went to Clinton, earned accusations of voter suppression from many observers.
- Sanders himself wrote to DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz (D-Fl.) to point out that the committee in charge of deciding the party platform and rules at this summer's national convention is "stacked" with "Clinton loyalists."
For many, Nevada's tumultuous state convention over the weekend was yet another demonstration of the party's efforts to preserve the establishment.
Although Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and international relations at the University of San Francisco, argues in a Facebook post that the party's actions are not a conspiracy orchestrated by Clinton supporters, but rather the result of a party system designed to preserve and bolster the establishment, to the detriment of so-called "outsider" candidacies. "Indeed," Zunes writes, "the system has been that way for years."
Sanders Supporters Decry NV DNC's "Temporary" Rules:
The background behind the convention requires some explanation, as Nevada has an unusually complex primary process: Clinton won the local caucuses in February, while Sanders won the county caucus in April. The state holds a tiered primary process, concluding with the state convention that took place on Saturday.
The trouble began brewing weeks earlier, when the executive board of the Nevada Democratic National Committee, in the wake of Sanders' win in the state's county caucuses in April, passed a set of new temporary convention rules (pdf) that awarded convention chair Roberta Lange, a Clinton supporter, nearly unilateral control over convention proceedings than the chair had held at prior conventions. There was no venue to challenge Lange's decisions under the new rules.
Sanders supporters immediately protested and filed a lawsuit to stop the new rules from being enacted, but a state court dismissed the case, saying it wouldn't be involved in party proceedings. A Change.org petition to throw out the new rules earned nearly 2,000 signatures, and also argued that the executive board had passed the rules improperly.
Sanders supporters prepared petitions against the rules to circulate before the convention began and a vote was taken to decide on whether the temporary rules would become permanent. However, the credentials committee conducted a preliminary vote to determine a delegate count at 9:30am, before the convention's official start time at 10am and before the petitions had been fully circulated—to much of the crowd's dismay.
A video shows one convention attendee's emotional appeal for the party to rescind the preliminary vote, allow the petitions to circulate, and hold a recount, which Lange ignores. Instead, no one from the DNC looks at the petitions and Lange goes ahead and holds a voice vote on the rules—and while the "nays" in video footage sound much louder than the "ayes", Lange decides that the measure has passed:
Sanders supporters erupted into cries about unfairness and deception.
Former Ohio state senator and Sanders campaign surrogate Nina Turner then got up to speak and urged Sanders supporters to stay at the convention, stay calm, and remain committed to fighting for the Vermont senator. After Turner's spirited speech, the convention grew relatively quieter as delegates moved on to consider state-level board seats and seats and the national convention for the next several hours, an attendee reported.
Over 50 Sanders Supporters Disqualified, Awarding Majority to Clinton:
Later that evening, the delegates reconvened and the total number of delegates for each candidate was reported. It emerged that 56 Sanders delegates had been disqualified for things such as not being registered as a Democrat by the party's May 1 deadline, and for problems with their registration, meaning the party was reportedly unable to verify information such as their names and addresses. Eight Clinton delegates were disqualified for similar reasons.
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With the disqualification of 56 Sanders supporters, Clinton won: the former secretary of state had 1,693 delegates to Sanders' 1,662, a difference of only 31.
The results mean that Clinton was awarded 20 delegates to the national convention in Philadelphia, and Sanders received 15. There were 12 delegates up for grabs at Saturday's convention, and Clinton won seven of them. Eight superdelegates from Nevada have also said they will support Clinton in Philadelphia.
The credentials committee members who determined delegate qualifications were chosen solely by Lange under the new rules, and included a majority of Clinton supporters.
Leslie Sexton, a Nevada Democratic convention credentials committee co-chair, filed a minority report challenging the count. "Without the opportunity to be heard, no delegate should be stricken," Sexton said.
"The actions of the credentials committee violates the spirit of the Nevada state delegate plan which encourages full participation in the democratic process, and it violates the spirit and values of our state and our nation," she added.
Party Officials Dismiss Crowd:
Earlier that evening, Clinton supporter and California senator Barbara Boxer addressed Sanders supporters, who had voiced their dissatisfaction with the process throughout the day. Boxers told the crowd, "Keep on booing and boo yourselves out of this election."
"Let's hear it for Hillary Clinton! We have the votes, we have the voice, we have victory!," Boxer said. "I'm for Hillary Clinton, and she's for all of us."
Meanwhile, during a discussion of the party platform, one delegate's call for Lange to step down was not only ignored—his microphone was cut off in the middle of his statement.
Later that evening, the lights were dimmed and the sound turned up—a move that many attendees interpreted as an effort to drown out their voices and compel them to leave.
Armed Guards Called, Convention Chair Unilaterally Puts an End to Proceedings:
After the delegate count was announced, the convention devolved into further turmoil as party officials were drowned out by the booing crowd. Security was called and armed guards lined up in front of the podium, blocking the crowd from approaching.
— Amir (@aminiaamir) May 15, 2016
As the crowd chanted, "Recount! Recount! Recount!" Lange ignored the appeals and held a voice vote to accept the delegate count and conclude the convention—slamming her gavel to the podium and ignoring the "nays" before stomping off stage:
Democratic Party officials were subsequently and quickly ushered off the stage by security guards through a back door.
Activists protested in front of Nevada DNC headquarters on Sunday, with one protestor rallying the crowd to push for change: "Let this light your fire!"