Are You Ready For A Reformed Nominating Process In 2012?

Monday, Governor Tim Kaine, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, announced the 37 member Democratic Change Commission, which will recommend changes to the Democratic Party's rules for the 2012 presidential nominating and delegate selection process. Governor Kaine also announced that he has named Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri as Co-Chairs of the Change Commission.

"This Commission will focus on reform that improves the presidential nominating process to put voters first and ensure that as many people as possible can participate," said Kaine. "I want to thank all the members of the Commission who have agreed to serve, including Congressman Clyburn and Senator McCaskill who have graciously agreed to serve as co-chairs."

Governor Kaine went on to say that he hopes to work with the Republican National Committee on a common approach that puts voters first.

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Rethinking the Secret Ballot

I've been watching politics for quite a few years and I've been pondering voting systems and how they affect things in general. I remember learning in school about the necessity of secret ballot elections. The problem of violent and sociopathic types attacking those they disagree with -- recently emphasized by a rash of anti-Liberal violence in Guelph. Yet, the secret ballot wasn't a solution to improve how well elections are administered, but rather a solution to deal with those  who do not understand that, in the long run, the goal of democracy should be to work together towards a common good. It doesn't matter if you are conservative, liberal, socialist or other. Democracy is an attempt to avoid being in an endless, and sometimes bloody power struggle and perhaps even accomplish something good for society along the way.

In the perfect world, these people would not exist (or at very least would be banned from participating in the process until they matured). Elections would not be a secret affair, where we hide behind a curtain, vote quietly and pray that our vote will be counted and actually matter in the end. Instead, they would be a more social system, where neighbours, families, coworkers and colleagues can sit down together and talk openly about all of the candidates. Thus, they would give everyone a chance to hear perspectives and thoughts which are unfiltered by the traditional media or highly sterilized party spin.

Then after everyone votes the first time, give everyone a chance to change their vote and evolve as the results come in. (IE. if I vote for person A and they receive less than a certain percentage, I can switch to someone else accordingly.) This would be a system where the ideas of community, cooperation and the social good were inherently incorporated; where you, as an individual, will have a vote, but everyone's votes are shared openly, explained, and understood. A system where, if you were abusive, antisocial, violent, or in any way threatened someone else's freedom of choice, you would be banned from voting or participating in the process in any fashion.

These ideas may sound awfully familiar to some people, since it's very similar to the caucus system which some US states have attempted during the primary season. While I was in attendance at any caucuses and thus could not discuss firsthand how things worked out, I did hear about a plethora of problems and complaints with both the primaries and the caucuses. These ranged from improperly prepared staff at the caucus locations to too small of venues for the turnout. However, to me, these problems do not seem inherent in the caucus system itself, but rather in simple misjudgments such as a complete lack of interest for one party or far more people turning out to caucus than anyone expected for the other party. The Texas Democrats seem to believe the system only needs tweaking and some argue that the party caucuses in the states had the effect of party building. Perhaps they could have a similar effect of building nationalism and a sense of community if used for general elections.

I do believe that, with some effort, these problems could be overcome. Through caucuses, a major conflict in our political discourse may be resolved by forcing people who want to be involved in the political process to come out, discuss maturely, compromise as necessary and eventually find common ground with their political allies and, more importantly, opponents. A interactive democracy could exist where people are not digging their heels in like babies having a tantrum, but rather working towards some common social good like mature adults.

Eventually, this system can be formalized in a way where cities would build large public fora where thousands can gather every year to vote, and discuss the issues that matter to them and the candidates they support for office. It could turn into a process where people can see how the winds of change are really blowing and adjust their vote accordingly to ensure that representative who most represents them is actually elected. A system where people don't view politics as a blood sport to be won at all costs, but a cooperative effort to try to find the best direction for their city, county, province, state or country.

I acknowledge that this idea is inherently idealistic and likely places too much faith in our common nature to be willing to work with each other towards a common social good. Any realistic process would have to incorporate some of the cynical and individualistic aspects from the secret ballot system, simply to avoid mob rule or outright violence. even with strict laws to prevent coercion and intimidation within a caucus system, other benefits of secret ballot cannot be entirely ignored.

Yet, as I have discussed in previous stories, democracy is failing in many countries around the world, not because people don't want democracy, but because people fail to realize the two most fundamental aspects of a good democracy: One, if based on the agreed-upon rules your candidate loses, you and your supporters will agree to stop fighting and instead will regroup for the next election. Two, the ruling party cannot change the rules without some super majority process in which a significant portion of the population can show its informed consent.

This failure of democracy is partially due to the cutthroat nature of Rovian politics during the last decade, and partly due to the lack of any polite dialogue between opposing parties. Parties are more obsessed with chopping the other person down and gaining power, than working towards any goal to help the community and nation improve and grow.

Perhaps by incorporating something like a caucus system into our elections process, this caustic environment can change and liberal democracy can be revitalized.


Crossposted at

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Progressive Democrat Newsletter Issue 179

Last week I had a huge influx of readers interested in my piece on Eric Cantor. Seems I'm not the only one thinking McCain might just pick Cantor. I think it's a longshot, but possible.

Things are getting very hectic personally. This may be the last newsletter for a few weeks or more. We will be on vacation in California for a couple of weeks and I will have Grand Jury duty after that. Plus work is exploding for me and Joy's dissertation is overdue. Even politically, I will need to put some extra effort into my friend, Devin Cohen's primary election September 9th. But this newsletter I cover some pretty critical stuff.

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Detailed caucus-primary statistical report

Peniel Conin, President & CEO of Global Basic and, has written a detailed 13-page statistical report and analysis of caucus vs. primary results from the 2008 Democratic nominating campaign.  (This has been reported at Talkleft here and here and here.)

Conin suffers from a disability resulting from a car accident 40 years ago, which left her wheelchair bound at  a time when there were no curb cuts or ramps and many places were inaccessible.  That is what fueled her passion about caucus information.

Among the information available in the report:

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Why is Clinton Really Objecting to the DNC's Decision?

I write here not to open wounds but to begin to find a way to move on. It is very difficult to accept a loss in a long and competitive campaign, but it is virtually impossible if one believes that his or her candidate was treated unfairly. Talk of Clinton having won the popular vote leaves this impression. People are led to believe that this may be Florida in 2000. It isn't.

The DNC reached a compromise yesterday (May 31st) on Florida and Michigan. It is fair and prudent. The Clinton camp appears satisfied with 50/50 split in Florida, but unhappy about the resolution in Michigan. From the Clinton camp:

"We strongly object to the Committee's decision to undercut its own rules in seating Michigan's delegates without reflecting the votes of the people of Michigan.

The Committee awarded to Senator Obama not only the delegates won by Uncommitted, but four of the delegates won by Senator Clinton. This decision violates the bedrock principles of our democracy and our Party.

We reserve the right to challenge this decision before the Credentials Committee and appeal for a fair allocation of Michigan's delegates that actually reflect the votes as they were cast."

Are we really supposed to believe that Hillary Clinton, after stating publicly that the election in Michigan would not count--an election in which her opponent was not on the ballot--is now in a position to claim that the decision of the DNC has undermined democracy? Does she really believe this? Is she actually outraged?

I believe that there is outrage in Hillary's Camp. Just listen to some of the reports about what went on at the DNC meeting. And I also believe that Bill and Hillary may actually be outraged. The DNC's decision results in four more delegates for Obama than Hillary would have awarded him. In terms of the delegate count, four delegates can't be the source of the outrage. The practical consequences are nil and genuine outrage over principle is suspect. So if there is outrage, what is its source? Here is my hypothesis.

Hillary's Camp has been playing the metrics game for several months now. She has grown especially attached to is the so-called "popular vote" metric. However, any statistician or pollster worth his or her salt will tell you that you can't combine votes from caucus and primary states, for the former simply have many fewer "voters" involved. It is a classic case of apples and oranges. If you did combine them, the citizens of the caucus states could claim that they were being disenfranchised. Further, the primaries had different rules, some allowed independents to participate, some even allowed Republicans to cross over, while others were solely for Democrats.

The problem with the DNC's Michigan decision is that it undermines the plausibility of counting Michigan's votes in a popular vote total. According to the DNC, giving Obama the "uncommitted" votes is an inadequate solution to the Michigan problem. No one knows for sure how the vote would have gone. So it simply took the request of the Clinton Camp, and the request of the Obama Camp, and split the difference, awarding Obama four "additional" delegates. This is meant to make a statement. It shows that the state's popular vote is not to be construed as decisive or legitimate, for the delegate count does not match the "popular vote" (which in fact is non-existent since Obama wasn't on the ballot). The compromise was one over delegates, and the way that the delegates were handled signaled that Michigan's popular vote should not be counted.

The outrage from the Clinton Camp is real, but to be more exact, it is really fury at the DNC for undermining its case about the popular vote. It is not clear how she wants to use the latter at this point, but whether it is for posterity, for the VP slot, or for her next run for the presidency, the popular vote total remains very important to the Clintons. The problem, however, is obvious. By insisting on this false metric, they are undermining Obama. They are making it appear that she somehow won the election, as did Gore, and then had it taken away from her by an unfair system. But the analogy to Florida in 2000 is specious. Hillary and her Camp will have to take responsibility for any damage done to Obama's chances by continuing to "strongly object" to the DNC's reasonable compromise.

I hope that we can get past the "popular vote" and move on to the general election, asap.

To this end, I offer something to Obama and Clinton supporters who also happen to be BSG fans. I offer you the twelth cylon as a way to get going in the race against the Republicans.

"The Twelfth Cylon Revealed"

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