No, our voting system is not rigged

As I mentioned yesterday, Donald Trump is busy looking for an excuse for his impending defeat. God forbid that he should blame himself and his unsalable positions. Anyhow, he has found one, claiming that the vote will be rigged.

To use one of Joe Biden’s favorite words, this is malarkey. His supporters will probably believe it but you should not. Our voting system is remarkable for its fairness in that it will faithfully and accurately report the votes of those who showed up to vote. The Russians, the DNC, the RNC and not even a bunch of evil Trump employees can do much to change its integrity. Checks and balances are built in.

Has Trump even voted in person? I have to think maybe not. Maybe to the extent that he has voted it’s been done with an absentee ballot. I’ve voted in four states over the years and it’s always been the same. I enter the precinct and go to a table to check in. Two people greet me and they sit amicably next to each other and eventually check my name off an official list. One is a Democrat and one is a Republican. I get my ballot and vote privately. When I check out I go to another table where two other people (a Democrat and a Republican) verify I exited the voting booth and check my name off their list. I then place my ballot into a scanner and it drops into a large and sealed container. The container is important because it allows all votes to be recounted and is evidence of the vote. A total recount based on auditing all results may not happen. However, at a minimum a week or so after the election there will be spot checks of votes at precincts to make sure the audited vote is consistent with the reported results. If there are errors, depending on how often it is found, a full recount may be ordered by the chief election official or a local judge.

If some Russian hackers managed to change the reported results, it would likely be caught, maybe not immediately but within a week or two afterward. Most vulnerable of course would be voting systems that do not leave a paper trail. These are relatively rare now. Issues like hanging chads that dogged the 2000 election in Florida are behind us. In any event a result that looks wildly at odds with traditional voting patterns will probably trigger a challenge and an audit could ensue. Audits are usually mandatory for any result where one candidate wins by less than one percent.

In addition there is no national system for voting. It’s delegated to the states, which is both good and bad. It’s bad because it would be great to have uniform standards. The extent to which federal law can influence this is limited, and for sure the U.S. constitution delegates to the states the administration of voting. The good of course is that if one state’s results can be hacked, that’s one out of 49. In practice though states push voting management down to counties and municipal governments, setting uniform standards perhaps but not controlling the process in your precinct. So don’t believe this malarkey.

Granted there is plenty that politicians do try to restrict those who can vote. To the extent this happens today it’s usually Republican legislatures that are making it harder for people they don’t like to vote. (Democrats can take blame in the past, particularly in cities like Chicago and New York.) These include voter ID laws, prohibiting ex-felons from voting, tightening up absentee voting periods and times, and putting fewer voting machines in minority and poorer neighborhoods. There are also blatantly illegal things that are routinely done in presidential years: intimidating or misleading robocalls or harassing voters as they enter their precincts.

Of course there are other tricks too, such creating highly gerrymandered districts, which is likely the only reason Republicans control two thirds of state legislatures and the House. As I noted recently, the whole Electoral College system is biased. It discounts votes for third party candidates because in 48 out of fifty states whoever gets a plurality of votes for president gets all the state’s electoral votes. It’s constitutional, but it doesn’t pass the sniff test. This is because voters who do not vote for their state’s presidential pick effectively never have that vote count. How democratic is that?

It’s possible but unlikely that the press indirectly skews the election by reporting more stories about one candidate than another. In Trump’s case though he still gets a majority of the news stories compared to Clinton, they’re just usually not flattering. Maybe most of these stories are biased somehow but few openly lie like Trump does. They may highlight one candidate’s opinions over the other. It may seem unfair, but it’s freedom of the press. You have to deal with it.

And of course the whole business of persuading people to vote for a candidate can be less than uplifting. Trump is the poster child here too by pandering to racists, classists and the prejudices of whites without college degrees. It sure smells rotten to most of us, but it’s perfectly legal. It’s better than having the thought police deciding who will run for office and what they can say.

In short, Trump’s rationale for his impending loss has no currency and is the weakest possible tea from a candidate without a winning message.

Hoping for no clear winner

Since I announced that I will be voting for Barack Obama, you would think that I would be bummed by the result of last week’s New Hampshire primary, which was unexpectedly won by Hillary Clinton. Far from it. I am glad that Clinton won the primary. I hope she wins some more primaries. I hope Obama does too and I even hope (although it seems an unlikely hope) that John Edwards wins some state primaries.

I have many motivations. First, I am tired of not having my vote count. It is bad enough that since I live in conservative Virginia its electoral votes will go for the Republican candidate for president. (This year may be an exception, since Virginia may be becoming a swing state.) Since I live in Virginia, my primary falls after Super Tuesday. Typically, after Super Tuesday the party’s nominee is clear. This means that unless the remaining states suddenly breaks ranks and decide en masse that they prefer someone else, whoever is leading after Super Tuesday has a lock on the nomination. This year, when I vote on February 12th, my vote may actually be meaningful.

I also think that candidate competition is healthy for the election process. Granted that the nomination process is grueling on the candidates, but you learn a lot about a candidate when they are under stress. In some ways, running for president is far harder than actually being president. The stress of a campaign tends to expose flaws in our candidates, which is a good thing. How many of us Democrats, after John Kerry had locked up the nomination, subsequently had buyer’s remorse? I know I did, particularly after Kerry later said rather inept things. With the competition of a longer primary campaign, perhaps these sorts of statements would have come out earlier. Thus better informed, we could have selected another candidate.

Given that the presidency is such an important position and given that Obama, Edwards and Clinton are all excellent candidates, I could be happy with any of them as our nominee. While I intend to vote for Obama, who knows? Perhaps he will make a misstep or I will learn something new about Clinton or Edwards that changes my mind. Democrats in New Hampshire learned something new about Hillary Clinton when she choked up last week. They apparently learned that underneath her often-icy veneer was a vulnerable woman. Some found comfort and felt fraternity in the revelation. It may have made the difference that led to her win.

Therefore, I will keep my fingers crossed that Super Tuesday will leave the picture of whom our nominee will be muddled. Perhaps a few of the candidates will even deign to pay visits to Northern Virginia where I live, so I can hear them speak live and form my own impressions.

In fact, I did meet Hillary Clinton once, in 1992. I happened to be in Atlanta at a conference at the time. The Clintons and Gores were in town to be seen working with Jimmy Carter on a Habitat for Humanity project. It was also apparently an opportunity to do some fundraising. Bill, Hillary, Al and Tipper all came out the hotel where the fundraising was planned. I shook all of their hands. However briefly it was nice to meet the candidates in person. Why should the residents of New Hampshire and Iowa get all the face time? If I get anything, it will simply be campaign commercials.

It is unlikely but the result may be the first brokered Democratic convention in living memory. This would certainly make for an exciting convention. If so, I hope to be there to blog about it. In that unlikely event though, Hillary Clinton will have the edge. As I mentioned, superdelegates also get to vote. Presumably, they would favor the status quo, which would mean that Hillary Clinton would likely be the party’s nominee.

Meanwhile, let the campaign continue and may it remain murky for some time to come. Just once, I want my primary vote to mean something.

Caucuses are still undemocratic

It has been four years since the last Iowa caucuses. I am hoping that like four years ago C-SPAN will show the caucus process live on national TV. It was quite an eye opener for me in 2004. It did not leave me with a nice, comfortable feeling that our democracy was in good hands.

In summary, here is what will happen tonight. A likely tiny share of Iowa’s voters, probably less than ten percent and likely about five percent (those who do not mind skipping the Orange Bowl or traveling in subfreezing weather) will show up at their neighborhood caucus. They had better show up promptly at 7 PM because that is when the caucuses start. There is no mailing in of absentee ballots. Moreover, if you are handicapped or are required to work that evening that is just too bad. In addition, if your favorite candidate does not garner at least 15% of the vote in your Democratic caucus, they will receive zero delegates. So among those who attend, a fair number will actually vote for their second choice.

The Democratic Party caucus system in Iowa does not allow for a secret vote. You declare your support openly and in front of your neighbors. If you are an easily intimidated type, you may end up supporting a candidate you do not prefer. Since many of those in the room are likely your neighbors, you have to weigh your vote against your need to get along with them after the caucus. In short, peer pressure may have an effect on your vote. Moreover, if you need to leave early because Jimmy is suddenly running a fever, well, your vote will not count. If you are susceptible to changing your mind, expect to be lobbied in ways that may make you feel like a Congressman. Your neighbor may agree to buy you lunch every day for the next week for your vote. These tactics are legal.

While the Democratic Party caucus system in Iowa disenfranchises lesser-known candidates, if you attend a Republican Party caucus then whoever gets the most votes at your caucus gets all of its allocated delegates. In other words, it is a “winner takes all” system, reminiscent of our Electoral College. On the positive side Republicans at least get to have a secret vote. They scrawl their favorite on a piece of paper. The caucus chair sorts through them and determines the winner. If you cannot spell Mitt Romney’s last name correctly, just write “Mitt” and hope the caucus chair will decide you meant Mitt Romney.

Moreover, as this article points out, the caucus system in Iowa is biased in favor of urban voters. Twenty seven percent of voters select 50 percent of the delegates, and those 27 percent live in the more densely populated areas. It can also be helpful to your candidate to make sure the “temporary chair” of your caucus supports your candidate. As “temporary chair”, he will have a disproportionate ability to influence undecided or wavering voters.

In short, it is a bad system. Yet, the Iowa caucuses do matter. Recent history (since 1972 or so) suggests that if you win the Iowa caucuses, you have a 2/3 chance of winning the party’s nomination. If you are a Democratic candidate, you have a 2/9 chance of winning the general election and a 1/3 chance if you are a Republican. With a better than 50% odds that you will win the party’s nomination by winning in Iowa, it is no wonder that more than a year ago potential candidates were trolling for votes there. Winning in Iowa is not a sure thing to winning either the nomination or the presidency, but it provides real momentum.

Do Iowans represent America? I guess it depends on the demographics you are looking at but clearly, America is no longer primarily an agrarian economy. Iowa comes close to Utah in being the nation’s premier Wonder Bread state. Iowa’s primary role in the presidential race is to clear the field, so it may give Caucasians disproportionate early influence. If you do not come in at least third, you are likely out of the game. Expect tomorrow to see a number of candidates drop out. I bet Dodd and Biden will drop out tomorrow. Richardson and Kucinich will likely say adios also. They will have spent their wad and will have little in the way of resources to compete in the remaining states. Richardson might well command ten percent of the vote in Iowa, but he will likely not pick up a single delegate there. Of course, it is the number of delegates pledging a candidate that ultimately choose the party’s nominee.

The nomination process also favors the party establishment. A few weeks ago out of curiosity, I decided to learn how I could become a delegate to the Democratic Party National Convention in my state of Virginia. Our February 12th primary is used to select delegates to a Virginia Democratic Party convention held in June. Fortunately, delegates at that convention are proportioned by candidate based on their primary results. 85 delegates go to the Democratic National Convention but only 54 of those delegates are chosen based on the February 12th primary. The remaining 31 delegates are chosen at the state convention. There is no assurance that those chosen at a state party convention will proportioned based on the state’s primary vote. However, Virginia Democratic Party rules allow 18 others to become “automatic” delegates, meaning Virginia will actually have 103 voting delegates. These include top party leaders, including our governor Tim Kaine. So in the best case 82% of my state’s delegates will be chosen based on primary results. In the worst case, only 53% of my state’s delegates will be chosen this way. Consequently, in the event of a brokered convention, you can expect that the current political establishment, rather than the voters will wield the real power.

I hope voters in Iowa and elsewhere are smart enough to realize that the caucus system works against them and demand a primary-based system. In addition, I hope both parties will eventually reform the delegate selection process so that delegates are truly proportioned based on primary results.

Here is how to really end the war

According to an email I received today from, approximately a hundred thousand antiwar protesters descended on Washington on Saturday in a mass protest to end the Iraq War. Most likely, the actual number was half this but it is hard to say for sure. While the crowd was undoubtedly large, it did not exactly fill the Mall. In addition, as usual the main targets of their protest were out of town. Bush was likely at Camp David. Cheney was at his usual undisclosed location. Most of Congress had vacated by Thursday anyhow, which is when their weekend usually begins. So the antiwar crowds demonstrated peacefully with largely only police and a small collection of noisy counter protesters to hear them. A few hundred protesters were arrested for sitting of the front lawn of the Capitol. While press articles about the rally were plentiful, they generally appeared well inside the A section. The demonstrators themselves apparently felt a little let down by the lack of a larger turnout.

Where were the Vietnam War era crowds? Yes, there was noise. Yes, there were speeches. Yes, there was Cindy Sheehan and Ramsey Clark at the podium. There were people from International ANSWER who had organized the protest and many mostly preprinted protest signs available for protesters to hoist and wave. Yet somehow, rather than seizing the nation’s attention the event was felt more like a footnote.

I did not to attend. I retrospect I should have, but frankly it dropped off my radar. I probably get a dozen emails like it a day and for some reason this rally did not stand out. From the sound of it, the protest was somewhat smaller than the march I did attend nearly two years ago. Many of the same speakers were at both rallies. Cindy Sheehan, then someone brand new to the protest movement, spoke passionately about the pointless loss of her son Casey in an unwinnable war. Ramsey Clark spoke eloquently about the need for Bush’s impeachment for his war crimes. There was certainly energy in the crowd on that day two years ago. I suspect the same was true during Saturday’s rally. Yet two years later, this and other rallies are not enough. While the tide has turned in the court of public opinion, the war drags on. It continues even though the people who want to end the war now control Congress.

Perhaps that is how these things go. Large antiwar protests during the Vietnam War did not materialize in size until 1968 or so. While I was too young to attend these rallies, I did watch them on the news. By the standards of that era, Saturday’s protest was simply anemic. Perhaps as a consequence today’s protests seem to have less impact.

Why is that? Is it that people are less upset with the Iraq War than the Vietnam War? Is it because the movement still has not developed a full head of steam? Vietnam did not involve troops in any sizeable level until 1963 or so. In that sense today’s antiwar protesters are faster and more agile. They are able to mobilize sizeable crowds much more quickly. Tools that were unavailable back then, like the Internet, no doubt have helped.

Still, the antiwar protests to date have paled in comparison to those of the Vietnam War. It is not as if some Iraq War protests have not come close. A protest shortly before our invasion nearly filled the Mall. Downtown Manhattan was overwhelmed with protesters during one major antiwar protest. These rallies though were the exception rather than the rule. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, campuses were regularly overtaken over by protesters. Protesters barricaded the Pentagon. Workers literally had to step on them to get to work.

The Vietnam War though had a few crucial differences compared with the Iraq War. Draftees largely fought the Vietnam War. This war is being fought entirely by volunteers. Moreover, these recruits come disproportionately from rural and conservative areas. During the years of the Vietnam War, people you knew personally died over there. Mostly people who did not want to serve fought the war.

When only those who choose to fight a war are sent, it is harder to feel the pain. I read in the newspaper of people in my county who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they are rare. I do not know one of them personally. Of the people I encounter regularly, I know of only two who have sons serving in these theaters. Although the more than three thousand American soldiers killed in over four years in Iraq in a sobering number, these numbers are relatively small compared with the number of soldiers who died in Vietnam. Thankfully, today we are better at saving the lives of the wounded.

While there are exceptions like Cindy Sheehan, most of those who are marching to oppose the war are doing it on ideological grounds, and not because they have been personally affected by the war. While polls show that a majority of Americans want the war to end, feeling this way and actually by taking action to end it are two different things. Because I live near Washington, attending that rally two years was not that big a deal. Had I lived a bit further out I am not sure that my outrage would have been large enough to find the energy to attend.

The downside of fighting a war with volunteers is that you do not necessarily have enough soldiers to fight the war on the scale needed to accomplish the mission. Yet there is an upside. Aside from likely having a better class of soldier, because citizens are less vested in the war it can be harder to stop. When the War on Terror started, President Bush told us not to change our habits. He told us to spend and act as if the terrorists had never hit us. We took his advice to heart. The images of the burning Twin Towers soon faded. The War on Terror become more of an abstraction that a reality. Supporting the troops meant putting stickers on the back of your car and of course not raising your taxes to pay for the war. If you had to pay additional taxes for the war, you might have felt more attached to its outcome. Instead, only the patriotic or desperately poor had to actually put their lives in danger.

This war can be stopped, but it will likely require much more direct engagement from those of us who are against it. Contribute what you can in money. Regularly write your senators, representatives and newspaper editors to let them know how you feel. When they are in your district, take time to attend events where you can question them. Speak to power.

These things, however good, are simply not enough. Take the time to attend antiwar rallies. You need to feel vested in changing the course of the war, and you will not feel that way writing checks to Not all of you can make it to the nation’s capital, but there are likely rallies closer to home that you can attend. By attending rallies, not only will you find strength in numbers but also you will find motivation to keep fighting to end the war. You will understand that there is strength in numbers.

Only our politicians can end this war. Politicians will not end it until they believe they must end it or they will be voted out of office. An opportunity to vote them out is about a year away. In the meantime, they can demonstrate right now that they are willing to end the war. There are three ways this can be accomplished. First, Congress can rescind its war authorization. Second, it can pass a bill specifying a date by which all combat troops must be withdrawn from that theater. Or third, it can refuse to fund the war. Any of these actions can be thwarted by a presidential veto. Regardless they demonstrate real commitment from those who can do something about it. Sorry, but passing a bill requiring the president to come up with a plan for withdrawing troops indicates spinelessness, not commitment.

In short, the war will end when we hold accountable those who keep it going. No matter how much you may like your representative or senator here is what you have to tell them: I will vote you out of office unless you end it.

The Message of the Youth Vote

Young adults, who seem to vote in fewer and fewer numbers in recent years, reversed course significantly in the 2004 election. At first blush the statistics don’t suggest very much. In 2000, the youth vote made up 16.4% of the total vote. In 2004 the youth vote was 18.4% of the vote.

But a look behind the statistics tells a different story. It’s not a matter of percentages; it’s a matter of turnout. In 2000, 16.2 million votes were cast by young adults. In 2000 this number rocketed up to 20.9 million votes. Do the math. That’s means that in four years nearly 30% more youth went to the polls than in 2000.

But it means more than just this. In 2004, 4.7 million new youth voters went to the polls. These are 4.7 million new voters out of a total voter pool of 115.9 million voters. Put another way, 4% of the voters in 2004 were new youth voters. Kerry captured 54% of the youth vote (compared with 48% of the youth vote for Gore in 2000.) Overall the youth vote added 3.51 million votes for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 compared with 2000.

The statistics only looked bad at first blush because turn up for all groups was up substantially this year. But among all the groups that voted the youth vote grew the most. Arguably it was because they had the furthest to rise. But perhaps they turned out in such force because they had such a stake in the election. It’s unlikely many of the older voters will have to fight America’s wars against terrorism.

The question now becomes whether this was a one-time event or whether we will see in future elections more and more young voters. And toward which party will they tilt? It is unlikely the evangelical vote will vote more red in 2008 than they did in 2004. But the youth voted more Democratic in 2004 than in 2000. If this is a trend then the youth vote might well decide the next presidential election. And since the youth vote tends toward the Democrats it might be premature for Republicans to think they have a permanent lock on any branch of government.

Only time will tell if the youth vote will continue to grow faster than other voting groups. But young adults are picking up the voting habit. For young adults voting is becoming mainstream. Having done it once it is reasonable to think they would be inclined to do it again. If they carry their Democratic leanings into midlife and beyond the country’s future is blue, not red.

Fairfax County Turns Blue

Lost among all the election gloom for us Democrats was this story in the Washington Post. The county I live in, Fairfax County voted 53% to 46% for John Kerry. Fairfax County is a bedroom community in Northern Virginia largely outside the Washington beltway going about as far west as Washington Dulles International Airport.

What’s the big deal you ask? Simply that the last time a Democratic candidate won the presidential election in Fairfax County was 1964. Yes, it’s been forty years since my county voted yes to a Democrat in the Oval Office.

Why is this happening now in 2004? It is because this bedroom community is becoming more and more urbanized and cosmopolitan. In 1964 most of the county consisted of woods and farmlands. The only farms left in Fairfax County are run now run to show visitors what the agrarian life once looked like in the county. There is Kidwell Farm in Frying Pan Park just down the street from me run by the Fairfax County Park Authority. We also have the Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean that is run by a nonprofit organization.

Today in 2004 Fairfax County is a mixture of bedroom communities and high tech businesses. Pseudo cities like Tysons Corner and Reston draw huge numbers of skilled workers, most of who are in the technology business. There are still lots of single-family homes in my county. But what land is still available for development is more likely to be multifamily dwellings like condos, apartments and townhouses. If a single-family community is developed in my county it is likely populated with overpriced McMansions set eight feet apart. While not as expensive a place to live as San Francisco, housing is pretty pricey around here. My modest single-family house with three bedrooms would likely fetch $350,000 if I put it on the market.

But mostly the county is drawing the well paid, well-educated, highly literate and culturally sophisticated knowledge worker. You can see them all over the place in Reston. Surrounding Reston’s “Town Center” (an oxymoron, since there is no incorporated town of Reston) are increasing numbers of tall apartment buildings and condos. People are shelling out $300,000 or more for a condo within walking distance to the Reston Town Center.

And for what? For the buzz of the city I think. Yes, in many ways Reston is very much a city now. It feels like a city. The tall buildings are everywhere. We have Oracle. We have Microsoft. We have large international consulting firms. We have hundreds of national and international organizations and institutions headquartered here. Twenty years ago when I moved to Reston it was hard to get to, only half developed yet a cool place with lots of trees and walking paths in the woods. Thankfully many of the trees and trails are still there. But now there is also this significant urban presence centered around its downtown. Within easy walking distance of the Reston Town Center are all the essentials for the modern, upwardly mobile urban professional. The Starbucks are ubiquitous. In the Town Center there are trendy places to eat and drink, a first class mega-cinema, a Barnes & Noble, Best Buy as well as upscale stores and restaurants.

Fairfax County has also become a very diverse place. Forty years ago it was overwhelmingly white and largely agrarian. Today you have every hue in the human rainbow living here. Our population recently topped one million people. While we have our share of poor people they are increasingly hard to find. You have to go hunt them down along the depressed corridors of Route 1. In addition to a high contingent of WASPs we also have large numbers of Orientals, Indians, Muslims and Hispanics. I was surprised to find out that in my own community of Oak Hill nearly 10% of the residents are of Oriental ancestry.

Our increasing diversity and growing population density matters. We’ve gotten used to each other. As I mentioned some time ago I’ve become color expectant. It now feels odd for me to be in a crowd of WASPs. It is so peculiar that when it happens I feel like the odd man out, like I don’t belong, even though I grew up in a Wonder Bread community in upstate New York.

Over the course of my twenty years of living here in Fairfax County I have been forced through the course of ordinary life to encounter a plethora of different kinds of people. In the process I have gotten to know them and their various cultures. Because I live in an increasingly diverse county I am no longer shocked or surprised to find out a coworker is gay. In fact as I get to know people of different cultures, outlooks and sexual orientations I see them all as just folks. They seem entirely ordinary to me. And when I make friends with openly gay people issues like gay marriage suddenly take on new meaning. I can see with my own eyes and judge through my own daily interactions that they are no different from me in any way that matters at all. So the whole fuss about gay marriage seems increasingly bizarre to me. I don’t understand what motivates people to be upset about it. If they knew my gay friend Wilson for example like I know him they’d realize that all their fears are entirely specious. The world would not come to an end if he were allowed to marry. My marriage and no one in my community would be threatened in the least.

And I am not alone. My county is now full of people like me whose values have changed through exposure to a diverse culture. So really it is no surprise that in 2004 the demographics finally changed and we voted for a Democrat for president. I suspect it will be a long time before a Republican presidential candidate wins the vote in my county. Why? Because I live in a progressive county that is ten years ahead of much of the rest of the country.

And knowing this I feel better. I can see the trends and while certainly areas like the South will continue to grow, opportunities and excitement can often be found at or around major metropolitan areas like Washington D.C. Liberalism, which has its base in major cities is spreading out to suburban areas. Increasingly the red counties surrounding major cities are becoming purple, then blue. Fairfax County has joined nearby (and closer to DC) Arlington County in becoming a blue county. Much of the rest of Virginia will stay red but over time the demographics favor the Democrats. People move to places where there is energy, jobs and money. The more people in an area the more connections happen and the easier it becomes to move from job to job. This energy builds on itself. As people move in they begin to adopt many of the values of their community. The long-term prospects for us progressives are positive, and certainly not as bleak as the pundits would suggest. Come live in Fairfax County and find out for yourself.

Election 2004 Postmortem

The body is not quite cold but it is definitely cooling. If I were John Kerry and John Edwards I would not necessarily concede defeat, but I would be preparing the concession speeches.

This election was hard for anyone to call since polls were almost always within the margin of error. I stepped out on a limb in a number of entries and predicted Kerry would win the election by a comfortable margin. In June I suggested a 5% spread. Instead it looks like Bush has about a 3% margin on the popular vote. It remains possible that Kerry could win the electoral vote, but it seems very dubious. There would be a certain karmic rightness if Kerry won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote, since it would essentially cancel out the 2000 election and restore a certain sense of balance and fairness.

But yesterday was clearly not what the Democrats hoped for. In addition to likely losing a very narrow presidential race, Republicans picked up 3 seats in the Senate and sent Tom Daschle home permanently to South Dakota. In the House although a number of contests have yet to be decided it looks like Republicans picked up four seats. The Republican lock on Congress looks like it will continue and extend itself for some time.

In the Retro vs. Metro war, Retro seems to have won this round.

In trying to understand the election what puzzles me the most is how Bush could possibly win. In any other election he would have been shown the door due to his dismal performance. So I felt it was a safe bet to say he would lose. The key I think was turnout. I think that people were voting this time not so much for candidates but as a statement of their values. I really doubt that all that many Bush supporters are truly enthusiastic about the guy. I never was terribly enthusiastic for John Kerry. But I did care about projecting my values and the values of my “clan”: internationalism, peace, respect for the environment, etc. The same was true for the Republican base. When it became apparent that the Democrats were waging a very effective get out the vote effort it became clear to anyone who cared to get involved. So both sides turned out their bases in droves. That was a wrinkle I did not expect and I suspect was the main reason my predictions were off. I need to keep this lesson in mind in the 2008 election.

Personally both my family and myself are very scared. To us George W. Bush has not just been a bad president; he has been a reckless president. Now we get to look forward to four more years of the same. If the past is any guide it won’t get better.

But karmic forces remain at work. Bush cannot undo the damage he has done. Iraq will continue to be a quagmire that will defy solution. He will be fortunate if his popularity in his second term ever rises above 50%. The fundamental problems he introduced remain and the way he has tried to solve them has exacerbated our problems.

So if there is a silver lining to this it might be that in 2006 voters will be a lot more motivated to change directions. Only time will tell how long it will be before we wake up as a nation and acknowledge the disaster that is the presidency of George W. Bush.

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!