The Thinker

Caucuses are Undemocratic

I realize not many people watch C-SPAN. Perhaps they should. It can be an eye opener. Not only do you get to see politicians live and unfiltered, but occasionally I see something very disturbing. This happened Monday night when C-SPAN broadcast live from one of the Iowa Democratic caucus precincts. It was enough to convince me that the caucus system has to go.

The way the caucus system works is that on caucus night you visit your local caucus and find others like yourself who support your candidate. You essentially declare your support for a candidate openly. You then have to listen briefly to statements from groups supporting each candidate. You then might choose to move from your candidate’s group to another candidate’s group. This might be the one virtue of the caucus system. This differs from, say, the Chicago political machine where your local alderman’s friend gets you down to the polling place and gives you a suggested list of people to vote for. At a caucus you are required to hear a differing point of view. I assume this dates back to an agrarian time when newspapers were hard to come by and many voters might go to a caucus having little or no knowledge about the candidates. Clearly this is not an issue in the 21st century.

But here is where the caucus system breaks down. In Iowa (and I assume many other caucus states) only “viable” candidates count. You know your candidate counts if your candidate is actually awarded delegates from your precinct. In Iowa if your candidate (say Dennis Kucinich) doesn’t make a 15 percent threshold, sorry, he gets zero delegates. You are effectively disenfranchised. Across Iowa it is possible that a candidate could get 14 percent of the vote but won’t get a single delegate. This is not democracy. It’s a variation of Animal Farm where “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Oh, but it’s not over. Since the 15 percent don’t count, they have the opportunity to throw their allegiance to some other candidate who is viable. Heck, anyone can change their mind up until the final count and move from candidate group to candidate group. Eventually though a final count is called. Those who were marginalized out of the process may have picked an alternate candidate. Or they may have given up in disgust and gone home.

Delegates are broken down proportionately based on the final count of viable candidates. The candidate coming in second for a particular caucus though may get awarded an extra delegate. In Iowa the rules say that if the delegate count doesn’t break down proportionately, the highest candidate drawing less than 50% gets the extra delegate. So strike another blow against democracy.

The caucus system is really a delegate selection process that disenfranchises marginal candidates, inflates delegate counts for the “viable” candidates and may award a special silver medal for the second place candidate for a particular precinct. You have no secret vote, and your can change your candidate affiliation as many times as you want before the final vote, perhaps wending some personal favors for your vote.

It’s a stinky process. It needs to go. Thank goodness next Tuesday the voters in New Hampshire have the opportunity to vote in a real primary. Those who choose to vote for Dennis Kucinich will know that their votes actually mattered. Voters won’t effectively be tapped on their shoulders and offered advice in the voting booth. They can make their choices secretly and anonymously.

The caucus system may have made a certain amount of sense at one time in very rural states where people are few and far between. But those days are long gone. We have cars. We have modern telecommunications. We know how to do a secret ballot. Abolish these absurd and undemocratic caucuses!


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