The Torturous California Democratic Party Endorsement Process Explained

A Guide for CDP Delegates

As the 2018 primary season approaches, candidates for all sorts of offices will be seeking the endorsement of the California Democratic Party.   To receive it, they will need to convince enough CDP central commission members/delegates to vote for them.  Who and where gets to vote depends on the type of office.  The following is an explanation for CDP members – and anyone else who is interested – on how the endorsement procedure works.

The California Democratic Party has a state central committee that consists of about 3,300 members/delegates.  These members are mostly either directly elected by voters at assembly district caucuses which take place in January of odd years, selected by county central committees or appointed by the Democratic elected officials.  They get to vote on the endorsement of candidates for statewide office, as well as for candidates for Congress, State Senate and State Assembly for the district where they live.  In every county in California, there is also a Democratic Central Committee – the members of which vote on the endorsement of candidates for local offices.

State-wide endorsements

All 3300 members/delegates of the California Democratic Party vote on the endorsement of state-wide candidates.  The vote happens at the CDP’s annual convention, which this year will take place on February 23-25 in San Diego.   In order to vote, delegates must register for the convention and credential.  If they are unable to attend, they can have another eligible registered Democrat carry their proxy.  They must also register for the convention and get their credentials.

The vote itself usually takes place on Saturday afternoon.  Delegates stand in line to get their ballots, which they then cast.  Delegates can chose to vote “no endorsement”.

A candidate needs 60% of the votes cast to win.  Votes of “no endorsement” count for the total, blank ballots do not.   If no candidate reaches 60% of the vote, then no candidate is endorsed.  If a candidate reaches it, s/he becomes the officially endorsed candidate of the California Democratic Party.

Only candidates considered by the Chair of the CDP to be “viable” are able to stand for the endorsement.  To be considered “viable” in this election, a candidate must

– Have been previously elected to public office in a jurisdiction with a population of over 50,000  (Democratic central committee does not count)  OR

– Have fundraised at least $250K OR

– Be polling at least at 6% on the polls OR

– Get the physical signatures of at least 300 delegates.

In addition, candidates must pay an application fee of $1,000.   While this is not a hindrance for large campaigns, it is a significant investment for protest candidates who are unlikely to receive the endorsement in any case.

I believe these will be the endorsement candidates for statewide races. In parenthesis, I’ve written how I intend to vote.

State Senate: Dianne Feinstein, Kevin De Leon, Alison Hartson, Pat Harris (no endorsement)

Governor: Delaine Eastin, Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa, John Chiang (Eastin)

Lt Governor: Ed Hernandez, Jeff Bleich, Eleni Kounalakis (no endorsement)

Attorney General: Xavier Becerra, Dave Jones (Jones)

Secretary of State: Alex Padilla (no endorsement)

Controller: Betty Yee (Yee)

Treasurer: Fiona Ma (no endorsement)

Insurance Commissioner: Ricardo Lara (undecided)

Superintendent Public Instruction: Tony Thurmond, Marshall Tuck (TBA)

Board of Equalization
District 1: N/A
District 2: Cathleen Galgiani, Malia Cohen (no endorsement)
District 3: Tony Vazquez, Scott Svonkin (NOT Svonkin)

It is very difficult for a non-incumbent candidate in a contested race to get the party’s endorsement – and this is particularly true when there are multiple candidates with a following.  In 2016, Kamala Harris was able to obtain the endorsement over rival Loretta Sanchez, but in 2014 no candidate for Secretary of State or State Treasurer was able to get it.  In my estimation, no candidate for Governor or Lieutenant Governor will receive the endorsement.  It is also likely that there will be no endorsement in the US Senate or the State Attorney race, though in the latter I wouldn’t be surprised if Dave Jones won it.

In the past, incumbents without serious competition did not seek the party’s endorsement in the primary, knowing that as the only Democrat in the general, they would automatically receive it.  Alex Padilla and Betty Yee may still take this approach.

Endorsement of Candidates Running for Congress, State Assembly and State Senate

Endorsements for candidates for Congress and the Legislature can be relatively simple in non-contentious races, and very complicated in contentious ones.  In summary, it is up to the delegates that live in the district of each candidate to place them in the Party’s endorsement consent calendar, but the whole body gets to vote on their endorsement according to the rules below.  Key issues to remember is that outside the Convention floor, delegates can only vote for candidates running in their districts.  At the Convention floor, they can only vote to 1) remove specifically challenged candidates from the endorsement consent calendar and 2) adopt the endorsement consent calendar.  Given that a vote to not adopt the endorsement consent calendar would mean that no candidate would be endorsed, this pretty much will never happen.  If you are on the consent calendar by the Sunday of the convention, you are endorsed.

Any registered Democrat is eligible to run for the Democratic endorsement – there are no viability tests in these races – but they must pay an application fee of $250 to $500, depending of the office they seek.

The CDP has produced a helpful table that summarizes the information below as well as a narrative overview of the entire process.

Automatic Endorsement of Incumbents (Unless)

Incumbent Democratic Assembly members, State Senators and Congressmembers are automatically put on the endorsement consent calendar, unless 20% of eligible voters at the pre-endorsement Conference file an objection at least 10 days before this conference.  In 2018 the deadline to file this objection is January 17th at 5 PM.

This process is made more difficult as there are reports that regional directors are not sharing the list of eligible voters with delegates that want to challenge incumbents, making it harder to surmise how many signatures you need to reach 20%.

If 20% of eligible voters file this objection, the incumbent and any other Democratic candidate that has applied for the endorsement will appear before the pre-endorsement conference.

Pre-endorsement Conference

On January 27th or 28th, each region (an administrative subdivision of the CDP which includes 4 assembly districts)  will have a pre-endorsement conference where eligible voters will vote on the endorsement of Assemblymembers, State Senators (if running) an Congressmembers.

At the pre-endorsement conference, eligible candidates come and give a 2 minute speech.  After all candidates for all races in all districts that fall in the relevant region have spoken, voters vote and then ballots are counted.  Voters can choose to vote for “no endorsement” in every race.   A candidate needs to get 70% of votes cast to be put in the consent calendar for the Party’s endorsement. If no candidate receives 70%, but at least one candidate receives 50% of the vote, the endorsement goes into an endorsement caucus at the convention.  All candidates that are registered Democrat are eligible to participate in the endorsement caucus for their district, if one is held.    If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, there will be no endorsement for this race in the primary.

To be eligible to vote in a given race you must be 1) a CDP member/delegate from the relevant district or 2) a regular central committee member living in the relevant district or 3) a representative of a Democratic club with its main membership in the relevant district.

Eligible voters can either vote in person, or can mail their votes to the regional director (or even e-mail them), but they must arrive by the time of the pre-endorsement conference.

Challenge Opportunity of Pre-Endorsed Candidates

Any incumbent that was not challenged before the pre-endorsement conference or candidate that received 70% of the votes at the pre-endorsement conference, is put in a consent calendar for endorsement at the Convention.  Their name can be removed, however, if an objection to this endorsement is filed by 20% of the CDP delegates in the district in question OR 666 CDP delegates from any districts (20% of the total number) 10 days or more before the convention (Febuary 13 in 2018).  Note that at this level only actual CDP delegates are eligible to object and only delegates are counted to determine the 20% needed to do so.

If an objection is appropriately filed, the endorsement vote goes before an endorsement caucus at the Convention.

(Note: the bylaws are not explicit about whether incumbents who are automatically placed in the consent calendar can be removed from it.  In my opinion, however, the language on the bylaws suggest that they should be.  However, the leadership of the Party disagree with that reading. Therefore be advised that if no one objects to the endorsement of an incumbent 10 days before the pre-endorsement conference, that incumbent will not be able to be able to be removed from the consent calendar and the will almost assuredly be endorsed).

Endorsement Caucus

At the Convention in San Diego, there will be endorsement caucuses for races in which 1) a pre-endorsed  candidate (i.e. the candidate who was put in the endorsement consent calendar) was challenged or 2) no candidate got 70% of the vote at a pre-endorsement caucus, but at least one candidate got 50% of the vote. All candidates who participated in the pre-endorsement caucus in the latter case will be eligible to compete for the endorsement.

To be put in the endorsement consent calendar at the endorsement caucus, a candidate must receive 60% of the vote. Once again, “no endorsement” votes are counted, but blank votes are not. Delegates cannot vote by mail, but can send a proxy. Only credentialed delegates/proxys can vote. A quorum is 50%+1 of delegates.

If no candidate receives 60% of the vote, there is no endorsement in that race. There is no second ballot.

Challenges after the Endorsement Caucus

If a candidate receives at least 60% of the vote but no more than 2/3 of the vote at the endorsement caucus, his endorsement (or rather, his placement on the endorsement consent calendar) can be challenged by obtaining the signature of at least 300 CDP delegates on a particular form.  All delegates, regardless of where they live, are eligible to sign.

If he receives 2/3 or more of the vote, there is a more complex method to challenge it which includes 10 delegates from the relevant district filing a petition and a group of Bauman appointees deciding whether to accept the challenge or not.

If this happens, the endorsement goes to the floor of the convention where all delegates present will vote to either approve the challenge and remove the name of the pre-endorsed candidate from the consent calendar or not.  In the case his name is removed, he will not be endorsed.

Endorsement of Local Candidates

Candidates for local office, which in California are all non-partisan, can still apply for the Democratic endorsement.  This endorsement, however, is granted by the Democratic Central Committee for the specific county the office is sought.  In the cases of candidates running for district boards that cover more than one county (e.g. the Bay Area Rapid Transit District), candidates may have to seek the endorsement of multiple Democratic Central Committees.

While there is some intersection between members of county central committees and members of the state central committee, these are not necessarily the same.  Endorsement rules vary from county to county, as the county central committees are independent bodies.

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