Ari Berman: No, the Democratic primaries were not ‘rigged’


Ari Berman of The Nation is one of the premiere election reporters in the nation. Berman has a lengthy analysis at The Nation debunking the silly conspiracy theory that the Democratic primaries were “rigged.” I would encourage you to read the entire piece. Here are the highlights. The Democratic Primary Wasn’t Rigged | The Nation:

Screenshot from 2016-02-11 12:39:46Hillary Clinton won the Democratic presidential primary by 387 pledged delegates and 3.7 million votes.

Despite this large margin, some of Bernie Sanders’s most strident supporters have attributed Clinton’s lead to foul play, alleging that the Democratic Party’s nominating rules cost Sanders the nomination and the Clinton campaign deliberately suppressed pro-Bernie votes. These claims, which have circulated widely online, are false. My colleague Joshua Holland, who supports Sanders, has extensively debunked many of these conspiracy theories, but I want to add more detail now that the primary is over. (I’ve been neutral throughout the race and do not endorse candidates.)

Secondly, the Clinton campaign did not intentionally try to suppress the votes of Sanders supporters. Some Sanders supporters point to Arizona, where there were five-hour lines in Phoenix’s Maricopa County during the March 22 primary, as a glaring example of malfeasance. But those lines occurred because Republican clerk Helen Purcell cut the number of polling places from 200 in 2012 to just 60 in 2016—a decision made possible by a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act and ruling that states like Arizona no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government.

Clinton strenuously criticized that decision and sued Arizona over the polling place closures, a lawsuit the Sanders campaign joined. Latino voters in Maricopa County, who were most affected by the long lines, strongly supported Clinton and she won the state overall by 15 points. Why would she disenfranchise her own supporters?

* * *

The latest controversy surrounds California, where Hillary leads by 12 percent, 438,000 votes, but Sanders supporters are still claiming he can win the state based on 1.4 million unprocessed absentee and provisional ballots, even though Clinton has won 52 percent of the 800,000 votes counted after Election Day so far.

I could go on and on, but the point is that the outlandish claims fall apart when subjected to closer scrutiny.


“To the extent that the nomination was rigged in the sense that there was illegal activity going on that was directed by the Democratic Party or the Clinton campaign to sabotage Bernie Sanders’s chances, I’ve seen no credible evidence of that,” says law professor Rick Hasen of the University of California–Irvine.

There were problems in the primaries, without a doubt, and Sanders is right that the nominating process should be reformed. He’s called for open primaries, same-day registration, and abolishing superdelegates—worthwhile ideas that merit more discussion.

Yet not all of these reforms would benefit a future Bernie Sanders. Open primaries, for example, tend to produce more moderate candidates for local offices and can be an impediment to progressive insurgents like Sanders.

Moreover, it’s hypocritical for Sanders to call for more democracy in the Democratic Party and ignore the role of caucuses, which are the most antidemocratic part of the nominating process.

* * *

The eight states with the lowest voter turnout in 2016 were all caucuses, according to political scientist Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, with an average turnout of 8.4 percent. Turnout was three times lower in caucuses than primaries in 2016. Yet Sanders has refrained from criticizing caucuses because he won 12 out of 18, compared to 28 of 38 primaries for Clinton.

“The caucus is the most voting suppressive system we have,” says Hasen. “The fact that this is off his list makes me question his integrity in making these reforms.”

The bigger danger facing Democrats are not their own rules, but new GOP voting restrictions aimed at depressing the vote among Democratic-constituencies. “What is happening is a sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people and young people from one end of our country to the other,” Clinton said in a major speech on voting rights in June 2015, at the beginning of her campaign. Clinton emphasized this issue before Sanders, and lawyers affiliated with her campaign have filed lawsuits against GOP voting restrictions in key battleground states.

Both campaigns can unite on this issue. Clinton supporters should join Sanders in reforming the Democratic Party, while Sanders supporters should help Clinton combat obstacles to the ballot box like strict voter ID laws, cutbacks to early voting and restrictions on voter registration.

But there also needs to be an honest discussion separating fact from fiction. Crying wolf about rigged elections, like some Sanders supporters have done [–you know who you are–] undermines the legitimacy of documented cases of voter suppression resulting from GOP-passed laws in states like North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin, which pose a real and urgent threat to American democracy.

What Berman said.


  1. Did anyone see the Politico story on Wall Street warning Clinton that donations will dry up if she pick Warren to run for VP?

    Wall Street and the DNC getting what they want doesn’t need to be done by “illegal” means.

    Illegal and rigged are not the same, but whatever, this is a dead horse.

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