Winograd Commission (Democratic Party)

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In 1975 the U.S. Democratic Party Winograd Commission[1] was formed to challenge the State of Wisconsin's long standing Progressive centerpiece reform, the direct open primary election.

Election of 1948

In the 1948 Wisconsin Democratic primary two names appeared on the ballot, the incumbent Harry Truman, and a progressive challenger, former Vice President Henry A. Wallace.[2] At the Democratic convention, delegates who were allocated to Wallace voted for Truman.

In early January 1949 when the Wisconsin legislature met, this was a high priority - the disenfranchisement of progressive voters who voted for Wallace. The state legislature acted, binding by state law the primary election results upon delegates in both parties - that delegates must vote at the convention in accordance with the will of the voters at the primary election ballot box.

DNC challenges the will of the voters

Morley Winograd, Chairman of the Michigan Democratic party was asked to chair the commission. Its specific concern was to disannul the voting rights of crossover voters among unaffiliated non-partisan voters and traditional Republican voters.

The commission focused on Wisconsin's unique direct open primary which had a considerable body of law behind it since inception in 1905, and was the model the McGovern-Fraser Commission reforms used to expand primary elections to 25 states in 1972. The commission sought to limit participation in the candidate selection process by outlawing open primaries it felt interfered with the national party’s associational rights.[3]

As a result of the commission, the Democratic National Party sued the State of Wisconsin over a 1949 law which required that party delegates pledge to vote at their conventions in accord with open primary results.[4] The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling Wisconsin Democrats won over the National Democratic party in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Wisconsin Democrats were forced to abandon their 80 year old direct primary election because it conflicted with the national party's 14th Amendment associational rights – the requirement participants in a primary make a public declaration of affiliation as revised by the Winograd and Mikulski Commissions. State party bosses had to amend the rules for the 1984 presidential primary to make the people’s vote a non-binding "beauty contest". A “presidential primary election” became a “presidential preference primary”, and a “voter” became a “participant” who expressed a non-binding “presidential preference” rather than a vote. National delegates were again selected in closed caucuses, the same system that existed before the LaFollette reforms.

The Winograd Committee's chief recommendation adopted by the Democratic National Committee for its presidential nominating convention is Rule 12D, a voter's choice is a “nonbinding advisory presidential preference” that “shall not be considered a step in the delegate selection process”.[5]

See also


  1. Not to be confused with 2006 Israeli commission of inquiry of the same name.
  3. The Winograd Commission found that in 1968, crossovers were 28% of voters in the Wisconsin Democratic primary. 48% of those who said they were Democrats voted for Sen. Eugene McCarthy, while 39% voted for President Johnson. A vote for Johnson, who dropped out just days before, was an expression of the "Uncommitted" stance which became increasingly popular among Democrats for the next decade.
    Of the crossovers, 70% voted for McCarthy while only 14% voted for Johnson. Participation of crossovers increased McCarthy's margin over Johnson by two and one-half times.
    In 1972, crossovers amounted to 34% of voters. 51% of self-identified Democrats voted for McGovern, while only 7% voted for George Wallace. Of the crossovers, however, 33% voted for McGovern while 29% voted for Wallace. The study figures the Winograd Commission used indicated 2/3 of Wallace's support came from crossover voters and concluded with proportional allocation, "crossover voters will . . . alter the composition of national convention delegations."
    Cross-Over Voting and the Democratic Party's Reform Rules, David Adamany, American Political Science Review, 1976.
  4. Geyh, Charles G., "It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To": State Intrusions upon the Associational Freedoms of Political Parties -- Democratic Party of the United States v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette" (1983). Articles by Maurer Faculty. Paper 877, p. 5 pdf.
  5. U.S. Supreme Court Democratic Party v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette, 450 U.S. 107 (1981).