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Lack of Transparency Surrounding Working Families Party's Warren Endorsement Raises Concerns

"Last I checked, transparency isn't a radical idea."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks during a rally in Washington Square Park on September 16, 2019 in New York.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks during a rally in Washington Square Park on September 16, 2019 in New York. (Photo: Bauzen/GC Images)

The Working Families Party, a subsidiary of the Democratic Party that pushes progressive policies and candidates, endorsed Sen. Elizabetth Warren for president on Monday—but some rank-and-file members and outside critics have questioned the process as WFP leadership continues to resist sharing vote totals from the decision.

When the party endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 campaign, the totals in that process were released following the vote—a double-standard that has drawn specific scrutiny.

"Publicly releasing the tallies for the committee vote and the member vote is perfectly consistent with what the WFP did in the past," Sanders spokesman Mike Casca told the Intercept's Ryan Grim. "Last I checked, transparency isn't a radical idea."

While WFP declined to provide a breakdown of the votes, it did release a statement announcing that "the two highest vote-getters were Senator Warren with 60.91 percent of the vote, and 35.82 percent for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders" in the party's ranked choice vote.

It was a decisive win that put Warren over the top on the first ballot. The party was also considering Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), former Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

"The WFP’s decision to endorse distinguished it from the majority of progressive groups and unions, which are waiting to make choices between Warren and Sanders, and the several other contenders who lay claim to the progressive mantle in 2020," The Nation's John Nichols wrote.

Not everyone in the party was in favor of the decision, however, with some taking to social media to make their preference for Sanders known.

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The controversy stems from the weighted approach to voting used by WFP. The party had two groups vote for the endorsement and weighed both equally. One was the party's national committee, 56 people. The other was the party's members and grassroots supporters, who number in the thousands.

For results of the leadership vote and the membership vote to be weighed the same struck some observers as an example of the WFP adopting the Democratic Party's "superdelegate" system to overrule the will of the people. 

"It appears clear from the numbers, and the reluctance to release them, that Sanders won the membership vote, but WFP leadership sided with Warren by a sizable enough spread to lead to an endorsement of Warren anyway," Grim wrote at his Bad News newsletter.

People's Policy Project founder Matt Bruenig made the mathematical case for why WFP may have made the decision at Medium on Tuesday:

They won't release the member vote because they don't want to release it. If they wanted to release it, then they would, as they have in years past.

But why don't they want to release it? You hate to speculate about such things, but the only answer is because the member votes went for Sanders while the leadership votes went for Warren, and the organization is embarrassed to reveal the degree to which the leadership overruled the membership.

Despite the concerns raised by its allies over the WFP process and the result, the Sanders campaign has refrained from getting involved in the dispute.

"We look forward to working with the Working Families Party and other allies to defeat Donald Trump," Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement to The Hill. "Together, we'll build a movement across the country to transform our economy to finally work for the working class of this country."

WFP did not respond to a request for comment. 

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