Caucuses to select candidates need to end

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Martin Blank
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Caucuses to select candidates need to end

Post by Martin Blank » Tue Feb 04, 2020 3:33 am

Tonight, Iowa starts the official process of winnowing Democratic candidates not by election, but by caucus. A caucus is where people gather for hours on end, horse trading to figure out how much support there is for various candidates. Caucus-goers standing by candidates with 15% or less support at the end of a round are free to move to another candidate. Everyone knows who you support, and there's nothing wrong with cajoling someone into joining your group. In fact, it's a time-honored tradition. Also a time-honored tradition is setting up some perk for voters: Elizabeth Warren is reportedly providing child care for voters who have kids so they don't have to find sitters. That would be illegal for a state-run election, but it's perfectly legal for caucuses.

Excluded from this process are people who:
  • Have to travel today
  • Have to work this evening to make ends meet
  • Are infirm or bedridden
  • Take care of those who are
There are numerous demographic problems with Iowa going first, but I think those pale in comparison to the horribly one-sided process that is the caucus. Democrats aren't the only party that uses them. In all, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, and Wyoming use them. (American Samoa, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands also use them to send delegates, but they don't vote in the presidential election itself.)

Fortunately, there's some momentum away from it. Until the major overhaul of candidate selection processes for both major parties in the 1970s, caucuses were the norm. Washington Democrats will do away with them with the 2020 elections (Republicans switched to a primary election previously). Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Utah switched. Alaska and Hawaii are using party-run primaries, which is an improvement but not ideal. But that leaves six states running caucuses still, including one that has helped set the tone for presidential elections for decades (and which has selected the final nominee only 10 times in 18 competitive caucuses since 1972, getting spectacularly different results in 1992 when Tom Harkin pulled in 76% support and Bill Clinton got a tiny 3%).

Parties have a First Amendment right, according to the Supreme Court, to select their candidates how they want. The parties can legally hold caucuses and get the most rabid and--let's be honest--well-off supporters to come pick their favorite and try to drag supporters of other candidates to their preferred person. It's not democratic, it's elitist, and it should end.
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Re: Caucuses to select candidates need to end

Post by Deacon » Tue Feb 04, 2020 5:19 pm

Martin Blank wrote: Tue Feb 04, 2020 3:33 amIt's not democratic, it's elitist, and it should end.
I agree. There are also inherent problems with the way states like Iowa push their primaries to the front of the calendar. The oddball results can often have lasting and dramatically outsized results on the race for the nomination. The primaries are already inherently problematic in that they generally bring out exclusively registered party members (understandably) and even then mostly the fringiest looneys. That’s partly by design and partly self-inflicted (with voters being self-selected).

The whole thing is kind of a mess, even without the snafu that’s got the results all fubar in Iowa right now.

Looks like The NY Times has an article examining whether Iowa can continue to defend its strange demographically skewed position in the primaries. ... delay.html

“For that privilege, Iowa has found itself — more this year than ever — in the position of defending its perch. Why should a state so disproportionately white take such a leading role, especially for a Democratic Party that prides itself on its diversity? Why is a hodgepodge of gatherings in school gymnasiums the pinnacle of American democracy?

On Monday evening, as the byzantine system left results unreported well after state Democrats had predicted being able to lend some clarity, Iowa’s precarious standing appeared to take another hit.“
The follies which a man regrets the most in his life are those which he didn't commit when he had the opportunity. - Helen Rowland, A Guide to Men, 1922

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