The Caucus is an arcane feature in the presidential nomination process… And the Democratic Party has the worst version possible. Another issue is that Iowa, the “trendsetter” for the primary season, is the most egregious example of all.
In order to understand why the caucus is so bad, let’s start with how the caucus works. And since Iowa is the most important and the worst of the lot, we will focus on that.
A caucus is convened at a specific time, such as 7pm and can last up to two hours. When a person arrives, they check in, and they divide up into “camps” with the others that support their candidate. Then they “caucus,” which really means that they try to convice others to support their candidate. The voting happens with their feet. The people litterally cross the room to change their vote and join one of the other camps. At the end of the caucusing, then the people voting for each candidate are tallied, and the delegates distributed proportionately.
Ok, so now that we know how it works… why so bad?
1. It destroys one of the basic electoral principles and rights… the secret ballot. This is the reason why there are no caucuses in the electoral process. The Supreme Court has ruled again and again that every citizen has the right to a secret ballot. If this is true, why is this not the case for the party nominating processes?
2. The lack of the secret ballot allows for pressure and intimidation. This particularly effects the votes of women and the elderly.
Maybe this has something to do with it:
In my Seattle caucus today, overwhelmingly for Obama, us Hillary supporters were older, and less aggressive than the Obama supporters. … Intimidation is a factor in caucuses. It’s something the democratic party has to deal with which is why I want the democratic party to do away with them completely. The last thing democrats need when trying to build party unity is one half winning votes by scaring the other half.
Someone has also emailed me private accounts of older female Hillary supporters who reported being intimidated, shouted down, and outright bullied by younger male Obama supporters while caucusing. (Shades of the virtual world, in which female Hillary supporters have been effectively run out of dKos.) There were also reports of male McCain supporters who showed up claiming the specific purpose of intimidating female Hillary supporters.
(And why not? When everyone’s free to take shots at Hillary without serious consequence, it doesn’t exactly send the message that anyone will care if her supporters are treated as fair game for sexist bullying, too.)
3. It disenfranchises several groups of people… single parents, active military, the infirm, the working class, those that are out of town… the reason why is that in order to caucus, you have to be at your specific polling place on a specific date, at a specific time, for the allotted period. There are no absentee ballots, there is no early voting, and there is no quick vote. You must be at THAT location, at THAT specific time and you must spend at least a couple hours there. Otherwise, no vote. Because of this system, the votes of caucus goers are the equivalent of hundreds and even thousands of primary votes in other states.
4. Then here is where it gets weird… and undemocratic as hell. Let’s say that a precinct has 7 delegates and 100 people show up to caucus. What happens if there is a tie? How do they break it? How do they decide who gets 4 delegates and who gets 3? Each precinct has different proceedures that range from allowing for the tie, to continued deliberations, to FLIPPING A COIN! Are you friggin kidding me? A coin? Some precincts have even been known to draw straws… Could this system be any more flawed? Really?
5. The caucuses also allow for corrupt Tammany Hall style tactics (a snarkier person would have said Chicago style, but I am a bigger person than that… ROFL.)
Christopher Hitchens notes in an article on Slate that:
It is quite astonishing to see with what deadpan and neutral a tone our press and television report the open corruption—and the flagrantly anti-democratic character—of the Iowa caucuses. It’s not enough that we have to read of inducements openly offered to potential supporters—I almost said “voters”—even if these mini-bribes only take the form of “platters of sandwiches” and “novelty items” (I am quoting from Sunday’s New York Times). It’s also that campaign aides are showing up at Iowan homes “with DVD’s that [explain] how the caucuses work.” Nobody needs a DVD to understand one-person-one-vote, a level playing field, and a secret ballot. The DVD and the other gifts and goodies (Sen. Barack Obama is promising free baby-sitting on Thursday) are required precisely because none of those conditions applies in Iowa.
HOLY GOD. Seriously?
If we are to return democracy to the Democratic Party, then we MUST get rid of the caucus system. It is undemocratic in every way possible, leads to voter intimidation, bribery, corruption, and a skewed representation of the will of that state/district’s people.
The Caucus Must Go.
I want MY party back!
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