Die, Caucuses, Die!

Hey, let's never do this again! There is absolutely no reason for the Democratic Party to select candidates based on some arcane endurance test of voter enthusiasm which denies us the fundamental right to a secret ballot. Forget the debacle with the caucus app, and put aside for a moment the insanity of giving a small, white, rural state like Iowa such an outsized role in selecting our nominee. Caucuses are inherently undemocratic, they warp our electoral process, and we need to cut that shit out right now.

Supporters of the caucus system get misty-eyed over their "pure" process, which is somehow better for having lower participation than a regular primary. Take for instance this Forbes editorial on the eve of this year's Iowa contest.

When you think about it, a caucus is actually a very rational way to choose a candidate in the primary system. The fact that fewer voters turn out (turnout is expected to be only about 15-20% in Iowa vs. 60% plus a week later in New Hampshire) is a feature, not a bug. The idea is that more committed voters are more willing to devote time to greeting candidates, listen to their messages, and give feedback. A caucus system is a purer form of democracy. It looks much more like the America that the founders envisioned, long before the electronic marvels of radio, TV and the internet. A caucus is candidates meeting voters, then voters trying to persuade other voters in person.

Actually, when you think about it, bragging about making it more difficult to participate in your state's nominating contest is borderline psychotic! How is excluding voters who aren't willing and able to pony up several hours of their time to be herded around a high school gymnasium and harangued by their friends and neighbors any different from a poll tax? If Republicans bragged about a system that depressed turnout by 65 percent, we'd sue the shit out of them! And yet we continue to allow it to remain the norm in our first nominating contest.

What the hell kind of polling station has SEVEN PEOPLE?

Furthermore, why should the vote of a highly committed supporter count more than the vote of a person who has reluctantly agreed to pull the lever for the least worst choice? It certainly doesn't work that way in the general election, but that's the distortion we get with a caucus. Widespread appeal to the electorate as a whole counts less than pockets of loud enthusiasm. Which is not how you produce a nominee optimally suited to win a general election.

This will undoubtedly be read as a critique of Bernie Sanders. And, yes, of course it is. [Not official Wonkette policy, btw — Editrix] But does anyone really think that Iowa and Minnesota are so vastly different that Biden would barely have reached the threshold of viability last month if Iowa just held a vote like everyone else? Sure, Biden ran a lousy campaign in Iowa. But that doesn't negate the fact that he limped out of that state looking weaker than he was because their caucus measured voter enthusiasm, not electoral support.

In 2016, Washington ran both a Democratic caucus, for official vote allocation, and a symbolic primary. Sanders won with 73 percent in the caucus, but in the primary Clinton netted 52 percent of the actual votes. Nebraska similarly ran two contests, and came up with two different winners. Would we have gone into the Democratic convention so bitterly divided if caucus states hadn't inflated Sanders's delegate count, giving his backers the impression that somehow he might pull it out? We'll never know. But I'll tell you that, as a Maryland resident who votes late in the process, I personally resolved weeks ago to vote for whichever candidate was likely to walk into the nominating convention with the most delegates, if only to spare us the corrosive spectacle of a brokered convention. Yes, even if that candidate was Sanders. And Sanders is not my guy.

In the meantime, several states including Nebraska and Washington have ditched their caucuses in favor of just letting everyone vote like normal people. And, lo and behold, turnout is way up!

Which is excellent! And also, what the hell are we going to do about Iowa? Because that crazyass state made caucuses the law of the land, along with enshrining in statute that its nominating contest must be held "[a]t least eight days earlier than the scheduled date for any state meeting, caucus, or primary that constitutes the first determining stage of the presidential nominating process in any other state." Even if Iowa Democrats were in favor of giving up their first-in-the-nation caucus, both houses of the Iowa legislature and the statehouse are held by Republicans, who have no interest in helping Democrats tamp down the chaos in their nominating process.

It's a conundrum. The DNC could risk alienating Iowans by refusing to seat some of their delegates at the convention, as they did in 2008 to both Florida and Michigan when they defied party dictates on scheduling their primaries. Or Iowa Democrats could run a different kind of nominating contest, at the risk of possibly having their candidates left off the ballot in November.

"One of the challenges, and the reason we didn't do that in our most recent conversation about this, is that you need to pass a state law to have a state-run primary," DNC Chair Tom Perez told CNN's Jake Tapper. "And there are some states that still have caucuses where I'm not sure the Republican governor would sign the law to have the election. So, that's a challenge. If a state won't pass the law — and in those seven states that I mentioned that moved from caucus to primary, they had a bill that was passed in their legislature, and they moved forward."

Well, we've got four years to sort this shit out. Let's get to work.

[Forbes / Vox]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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