About reforming caucuses out of existence. (Updated for Poll)

This diary has come out of a discussion about caucuses, but my response has become too long for a response so I have changed it into a diary.

http://www.mydd.com/story/2008/6/4/17544 3/8888

1.  Forcing a reform of this nature will not be received well in states that are used to holding primaries and caucuses by their own rules, and their respective ties to historical precedent.

2.  Caucuses are not in and of themselves elitist.  Caucuses are not a measure of the same thing that a Primary is.  This is the fundamental flaw with trying to consolidate the caucus results and the primary results.  Caucus measure excitement/activism for a candidate.  Primaries measure overall support for a candidate.  A candidate needs both overall support, and strong activism to win.

The Caucus is a valid measure for whether a candidate will be a good candidate in the GE since it is the strong activism (people that caucus) that will be most active in supporting and furthering the cause of the candidate during the campaign leading to the election.  This is true above and beyond what most people who vote in a primary would be willing to do (i.e. not get involved beyond the final vote).

There are really a series of complicated issues that need to be dealt with when reforming the primary system.

1.  Popular vote doesn't mean anything in the current system.

For good or bad, this is the case due to the mixed nature of the primaries.

Options for fixing this issue:

a.  Eliminate Caucuses entirely. (Mentioned above and with reservations)

b.  Eliminate Primaries entirely.  (Same sort of objection as above)

c.  Make every state run a binding caucus and primary (like Texas).

Option c. allows every state to retain their traditional selection type while allowing delegates, superdelegates, party insiders, and the country at large to gage both popular vote and activist support for each candidate in each state in an apples-to-apples comparison.  In order for this to work some delegates from each state would have to be won under each contest.

2. Popular vote tallies and contests are not consistent because the contests allow people to participate in different levels.

Primaries allow the following:

a.  Only Registered Democratic voters

b.  Only Registered Democratic voters that voted democratic in the last contest.

c.  Only Democratic and Independent voters

d.  Any voters

As you can see, this variety again imposes an uneven standard to the popular vote and makes the comparison between the votes impossible.  This is just like trying to add fractions without figuring out the common denominator and normalizing them so that they can add up correctly.

The solution, again, is to force one methodology on all of the states so that the contests can be compared evenly.  States will have the same objection to this as they will to other changes (like dropping the caucus system all together), but unfortunately there is no other way to fix this issue without a national standard.  I propose that it become a part of the Democratic Party Charter and that all states vote on the method thought to be most in line with Democratic principles.  This way all states would then have to comply (or suffer the fate, sanctions, of a state that has violated the rules).

3.  US territories that have no effect on the election of a president (since their states command not electoral votes) get greater representation than states that do.  The problem with allowing this is that since the election is won on electoral votes, the party is handicapping their possibility of winning by giving such a large say to territories rather than emphasizing the wishes of those whose votes do count towards the election of a president.

These territories have no reason to come into the fold of the US if they can enjoy the same or greater privileges in terms of candidate selection as do states (and DC) who have to play entirely by federal rules as states.  If they want a say they can join a state, or become a state.  Perhaps have a reduced voice, but this voice should never be larger than states that command actual electoral votes as they are the ones (at this time) that decide the president.

4.  The Number of Superdelegates, and their influence needs to be put into check.  The party has a rightful place in helping to select the best candidate. This becomes necessary from time to time under extreme circumstances.  However, as we have seen in this primary, their influence is far too great.

a.  SDs can give one candidate a lead before any voting has occurred.  This is undemocratic and should be admonished by the party.

b.  SDs comprise 20-25% of the total delegates.  This outsizes and outweighs the legitimate choice of the electorate.  The SDs do not like the role they were forced into this year.  They don't want the power to decide who the nominee is above what the electorate has chosen.  So why are we giving them such a strong say in the decision, it makes no sense.

c. SDs votes are always non-binding, but they cannot effectively be locked in at any time before the convention allowing the present situation to occur again.  That is to say, encouraging a bitter convention floor fight that will doom the party's chances to win the election.

5. Last but not least, the calendar needs to be revamped so that all of the states feel they have had their fair shake at selecting the nominee, while not making things so states feel their history is trampled, and allowing for a diverse section of the populace to influence the early selection process.  This, by far, is the most difficult question politically since states get pitted against states.  I do not pretend to know what the best solution is, but here are some that I thought were interesting:

a.  National primary (everyone goes at once).  

Pros:  no one has an unfair advantage in selecting (or eliminating) a candidate from the running.  Addresses basic fairness issues about which states go first.

Cons:  Small States get overshadowed; Historical precedent for select states is trampled.  Does not allow for enough time to put campaign pressure on candidates to see if they can handle the heat (Vetting).

b.  Regional rotating primaries.  States are divided into 4-6 primary regions and each region rotates from election to election as to which goes first.

Pros:  This levels the playing field, and allows for easier travel (is less cost or wear on candidates).  Addresses basic fairness issues about which state goes first.

Cons:  Tramples historical precedent for some states.  Small states could be overshadowed.

c.  Rotating initial primaries (As we have them now before super Tuesday but with rotating states)

Pros:  Similarity to current familiar system, allows diversity into early nominee selection process.

Cons:  Tramples historical precedent for some states.  Doesn't address the basic scheduling issues and allows for an uneven campaign with inordinately long lulls and ultra-packed periods of time (which at times doesn't give states enough time to consider a candidate seriously).

d. Retain the current system.

Pros:  Familiarity.

Cons:  The current system.

Anyways what do you think?

Tags: caucus, Democratic primaries, popular vote, Super Delegates (all tags)

Comments

37 Comments

Caucuses are a great way

for insurgent candidates to compete with machine politicians. I hope more states adopt them in 2012.

by Firewall 2008-06-04 03:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucuses are a great way

Caucuses are heavily biased toward establishment candidates who have the support of unions, gov't employees and political machines.

Obama succeeded in the caucuses as an insurgent by moblizing an unprecedented # of new people and the fact that HRC failed to take advantage of her natural advantages in caucuses.

by Carl Nyberg 2008-06-04 03:36PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucuses are a great way
I think caucuses have their place, but in my state (KS), my caucus was 80 miles away (I'm in rural western KS). And of course the day of the caucus, we had snow and an ice storm, so traveling was out. Guess who didn't get to vote in the most historical primary ever?
But if they were more accessible and maybe held on weekends, I think it's a great way to get people involved and that's vital to the party.
by skohayes 2008-06-04 03:58PM | 0 recs
YUCK!

They are NOT democratic in any way shape or form!

I live in WA and they SUCK.

Please tell me how a caucus allows MORE people to vote? More people to participate? More people trust the outcome?

As a political junkie, they are great at feeding my addiction but that is it.

by kevin22262 2008-06-04 04:48PM | 0 recs
Re: YUCK!

If you live in WA, you don't have to do anything other than sign in for your vote to count.  I loved our caucus.  

by thezzyzx 2008-06-04 06:38PM | 0 recs
Not true

The "rules" change every year.

In 2004 if you left and there was a second vote, which there was, then your vote did not count.

If you are OK with less people voting and less people participating, then I guess it is OK for you.

Also, did you try and be a delegate? Did you stay and vote on who would represent you or your candidate?

by kevin22262 2008-06-04 06:47PM | 0 recs
also

read my comment to StudentGuy...

I have stated my displeasure with mail in voting and especially "early voting", only to be told by Obama supporters that I must want less people to vote and participate. (Which I don't)

But... when I also bring up about caucuses and how bad they are (they cause less people to "vote" and participate), I am told how great they are by the same people.

When we truly step outside of the campaigns and look at what is truly democratic, then we should all see that it is a primary and not a caucus that is most democratic.

If caucuses were so great, why don't we do the GE as a nation wide caucus?

Maybe we should also do a "winner takes all" in the primaries? (I don't agree with this either) If we did, then I believe Hillary Clinton would have won long ago.

So what I see is this, younger Obama supporters and people new to politics who are HAPPY with how the caucuses turned out for Obama think they are GREAT (even tho they disenfranchise most voters). These same people would most likely NOT want a winner takes all scenario if there were primaries but would most likely want a winner take all scenario if they were caucuses.

Could we ALL please think DEMOCRATICALLY?

by kevin22262 2008-06-04 06:51PM | 0 recs
Re: also

I'm a few months shy of my 40th birthday so I'm not that young.

I don't like the idea of one system.  I'm on the record of liking the mix, caucuses to show organizational skill and fervor of belief, closed primaries to show the degree that the party likes someone, open primaries to show the appeal to independents.  I think all of these are valuable measures and wouldn't want to drop any.

I would argue that the reverse is true, that people don't like caucuses because Clinton did poorly there.  There's no reason she couldn't have done better there.

by thezzyzx 2008-06-04 07:14PM | 0 recs
I have

always not liked caucuses, simply because the disenfranchise people and are not Democratic!

by kevin22262 2008-06-04 07:38PM | 0 recs
States can do whatever they want

My proposal is that states should be able to do whatever they want.  However, the number of delegates they get assigned are related to the number of people who participate in their nominating event.

Doesn't have to be directly proportional, but establish a baseline - say 50-60% of the vote of the Democratic nominee in the most recent presidential election.  If a state hits that mark, they get the full allotment of delegates, if they don't, they are penalized proportionately.

by DaveOinSF 2008-06-04 03:37PM | 0 recs
Re: States can do whatever they want

What do we do when the metric of popular vote is added to the mix (as it was this year) and candidates attempt to use this metitric although it cannot be fairly computed?

This doesn't seem like much of a solution to me.

Also it doesn't address the calendar issue.

by Why Not 2008-06-04 03:41PM | 0 recs
Re: States can do whatever they want

The metric of the popular vote had no legal or even procedural bearing.  It was tallied in an effort to persuade superdelegates.  Had it not been as close as it was, then perhaps Hillary's argument would have been successful.

The fundamental guiding principle of a democracy OUGHT to be maximizing the number of people who can participate in the process, and the rules of the Democratic party ought to encourage participation, not deter it.

by DaveOinSF 2008-06-04 03:48PM | 0 recs
Re: States can do whatever they want

As for the calender, again it's about maximizing participation.  If that means a natinoal primary day, so be it.

by DaveOinSF 2008-06-04 03:50PM | 0 recs
Re: States can do whatever they want

My thought about the calendar is that it helps harden and battle test (so to speak) our candidate in preparation for the GE.  If it is all over and done with on one day, then we will not necessarily know what we're getting into come the general election.  This could hurt our candidate, or at the very least not help where they could have had some help.

I personally think this campaign has been good for both Obama and Clinton in the sense that either candidate will be stronger since they had to answer strong challenges throughout the primary.

by Why Not 2008-06-04 03:53PM | 0 recs
Re: States can do whatever they want

It's rarely going to end up this way.  Gore and Kerry were not tested.

In any case, my view is that the guiding principle must be enfranchising as many people as possible, and if that means a single primary day, so be it.  We do it that way for every single other elective office.

by DaveOinSF 2008-06-04 04:00PM | 0 recs
Re: States can do whatever they want

I am completely against national primary day.  This forces candidates (like Obama and Bill Clinton) who are relatively unknown to advertise and campaign on a spectacularly large and expensive level.  Only the super rich and power entrenched would have a fart's chance in a windstorm of winning.

by Sychotic1 2008-06-04 04:01PM | 0 recs
Why Do We Need to "Do" Anything?

What would we do if a candidate attempted to use "Eye Color" as a metric?

We would tell them, "Eye color is not a factor in how we select our nominee."

This is also the appropriate answer to the popular vote question.

by TooFolkGR 2008-06-05 06:36AM | 0 recs
what reforms are important?

I see reforming the calendar as being more important than forcing states to adopt primaries, caucuses or hybrid systems.

I would like to see a system that rotates which small states go first. I would take into consideration the closeness of the state in the last presidential election and impose some diversity requirements.

At least one of the early states has to have a substantial African-American population, one has to have a large Latino population, one Native-American and one Appalachian.

by Carl Nyberg 2008-06-04 03:40PM | 0 recs
Re: About reforming caucuses out of existence.

there is never going to be a solution that makes everybody happy, people have to be willing to compromise

that being said, I really liked our primacaucus here in texas, especially the caucus, it was fun I definately want to do it again.

And, I think it would be really cool to have been in Iowa the month before this all began.

If you take out caucuses you take out an experience that is unique and gets people more involved.

by hope monger 2008-06-04 03:40PM | 0 recs
Neat trick

As of this moment, the totals in your poll add up to 200%

by DaveOinSF 2008-06-04 03:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Neat trick

This is beacause you can select multiple choices.

by Why Not 2008-06-04 03:43PM | 0 recs
No way

by DaveOinSF 2008-06-04 03:51PM | 0 recs
Re: No way

Way  =P

by Why Not 2008-06-04 03:55PM | 0 recs
Re: About reforming caucuses out of existence.

Great diary, phantom rec.

I can understand why Hillary supporters feel the caucuses unfairly disadvantaged their candidate. On the other hand, it's important to have some mechanism allowing an insurgent to compete in a system where the institutional candidate has 100 delegates before the first vote is cast.

The system just needs to be totally overhauled - as ridiculous as I thought it was a couple months ago, I am starting to like the TX two-step primary+caucus.

by quimby10 2008-06-04 03:44PM | 0 recs
Here's what I do:

Here are the things you want to preserve:

1. You want to make it possible for a candidate who doesn't have much money, but who can draw a lot of support, to compete.  That means no big states with big media markets right off the bat; they'll get blown out of the water.

2. You want a system that measures breadth and depth of support.  Primaries measure breadth; caucuses measure depth.  The ideal candidate will have both.

3. As we've seen from this cycle, there's a certain benefit to drawing out the process for a while, but at the same time, there are also drawbacks.  An ideal plan will draw out the contest in order to get people involved but will minimize drawbacks.

Therefore, this is what I propose:

First, the Democratic Party's prescribed calendar is sacrosanct.  Moving your primary or caucus at all is subject to a 1/2 pledged delegate cut, 100% superdelegate cut, and no-campaign pledge.  A similar deal must be made with the Republicans in order to prevent one party gaming with the other party's convention representation.

I. Three small (geographic and population) states are selected to go in the month of January with caucuses, spaced one week apart.  These caucuses will be open to registered Democrats only.  Iowa and NH aren't necessarily the states, but they're the model - relatively small states population-wise, mostly rural, cheap media, easy for a candidate to barnstorm.  This ensures that insurgent candidates are given a chance to compete and place in order to put them on a fundraising map.

II. On February 15, the first of four regional primary elections, with a rotating region, determining 66% of those states' delegates by proportional representation.  On February 28, each of these primary states has a caucus, in which the remaining 33% of delegates are determined.

III. On March 15, the same process is repeated with the second region.  At the end of the month, they hold their caucuses.

IV. In April, the same process with the third region.

V. In May, the fourth region.

Superdelegates - who make up only 10% of the delegates this time - can pledge at any time, but select at the convention, just like now.

by mistersite 2008-06-04 03:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Here's what I do:

I love the idea of rotating primaries, but have concerns about grouping the contests by region.

Using this year as an example: if the first regional primary was, say,  the Appalachian states, Obama's campaign would have been seriously crippled. Same would be true for Clinton if the first regional primary were the Mountain West states.

by quimby10 2008-06-04 04:15PM | 0 recs
Re: Here's what I do:

The alternative is a few states out of every region, which I think becomes problematic for candidates whose budgets are limited and I'm sure tires the hell out of them even more than more regional contests.

I mean, we really only had a few three-time-zone primary days this season - Superdupertuesday and OR/KY were about it, as far as I can remember.  The other big group primary days - Potomacs, Mar 4, and IN/NC - were more geographically limited.

I'm not sure how to mix that up better - maybe have a smattering of Eastern states and a smattering of Western states but don't cluster them together, or maybe by time-zone.  But that's screwed up by multiple-TZ states like TX, NE, etc. and by states like Indiana where nobody's ever quite sure what time zone they're in.

by mistersite 2008-06-04 04:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Here's what I do:

Good point, I hadn't thought about the budget issue.

I think what I'm opposed to is the possibility of the first primary being a cluster of states with very similar demographics (i.e. MS/AL/GA) or that are extremely expensive to run in (the NY/NJ/CT tri-state).

I'd enthusiastically support regional primaries if the groups looked something like, for example, MD/DE/WV/VA/KY

by quimby10 2008-06-04 04:47PM | 0 recs
Sorry It Just Can't Always Be Small States

The point of selecting a nominee is to select a nominee who's best for everybody.  There simply aren't small states who are representative of the conditions in Illinois, New York, California, Michigan, Florida, etc.  It is ESSENTIAL that these states get their due influence in the rotating "who goes first" system.

It is true that under the current system, this would make it harder on candidates with less money and lower name recognition... but that is a NECESSARY consequence.  Primaries aren't intended to benefit the candidates, they are intended to benefit the party.  A majority of the party (an overwhelming majority) is in states who are NOT represented in early primaries, and rectifying this is MUCH more important than making sure everyone in the House of Representatives gets to run for President if the muse moves them.

Moving forward of course, campaign finance law needs to be reworked with this idea in mind... to lower the cost of competing in the first place.  Individuals also need to take a more active role in their party.  The reason it's so expensive to run for office is because most people are too lazy to do anything in terms of political participation besides watching TV.  If people were more active within the party they supposedly belong to, the party apparatus would provide an affordable conduit for ALL candidates to introduce themselves to the voters.

by TooFolkGR 2008-06-05 06:43AM | 0 recs
Re: About reforming caucuses out of existence.

I'm an Iowan, and I have to say that I love caucuses.  They are a rare example of participatory democracy and they can be lots of fun.  Let's not dismiss a system that makes a party out of democracy.

I'd hate to do away with them altogether.

That said, I am concerned about the exclusion of those who would be better served by absentee ballots, those with disability, those with work conflicts, etc.

Maybe states that want caucuses should have a mixed, Texas-like system?

I'm all for replacing the IA/NH monopoly with a rotating system to allow various states the chance to go first.  However, I do think that it should be 4 of the 20-35 smallest states that go early every year.  The big states (CA, NY, FL, MI, IL...etc.) have enough delegates that they always get attention.  This is an unusual year where a state like MT got attention.  

Just my opinion.

by GreenHills 2008-06-04 03:54PM | 0 recs
Perhaps a Mixed System Like...

Each voter must choose whether they will caucus OR vote in the primary.  This way people who have to work, will be out of town, etc. will be able to vote by mail in the primary.  Likewise if people are available at caucus time they can show up, fill out a ballot and leave.

After the primary and caucus are completed, the number of participants in each is measured.

If a state has 100 delegates, and the turnout in the primary outnumbered the turnout in the caucus 3-1, then 75 of the delegates would be rewarded proportionally according to the outcome of the primary, and 25 would be rewarded proportionally to the winner of the caucus.  In some states the turnout in both might be equal, or the turnout in the caucus might even be higher.

What I like about this idea is it makes it much more difficult for candidates to "play the system."  The winner isn't going to be the candidate with the most field offices, or the most outspoken supporters, etc.  Instead of a chess game, each state becomes a true political campaign, where the way to win is ALWAYS the same:  Convince people that you're the best candidate.  When you are addressing a town hall full of people, you don't know if they'll be caucusing or voting in the primary.  Therefore you don't just give them a strategic message of "Bring five of your friends and be there at 7:15PM and try to get one of you elected chairman of the meeting," etc.  You actually CAMPAIGN to them and tell them why they should support you regardless of which system they plan on participating in.

The only drawback to this system is that you would not have results immediately.  People should be allowed to mail their primary ballot in up to the end of election day.  The media would HATE it, but that doesn't make it a bad idea (just a doomed idea lol).

by TooFolkGR 2008-06-05 06:52AM | 0 recs
sliding scales . . .

I would get rid of  the superdelegates and move toward one person one vote system, but I would try to reward turnout and reward late-voting states with sliding delegate scales.  If Iowa goes first and has a 3% turnout their delegates will only get 1/10th of a vote and at the convention they'll get their beer served in little shot glasses with cute little handles.  

I really think people overlook how much excitement the primary season got this year.  It resulted in huge turnouts in 40 states.  As painful as it was on the blogs I think a system by which the attention is placed on democrats for 6 months gave us a big jump on voter registration and jump on controlling the discussion of important issues.  The media still sucks but this was probably close to the best scenario possible.  

by Lystrosaurus 2008-06-04 04:15PM | 0 recs
Re: About reforming caucuses out of existence. (Up

Good diary, with a lot of good points.

Here are some problems, however:
You mention voting and then penalizing states who do not follow the rules. Well, that's what happened with FL and MI, and we all see how well that worked out. How do we 1) penalize the states while not disenfranchising the voters?
2) How do we keep future candidates from trying to change the rules mid-stream, as what happened this time?

Also, an additional HUGE negative for national primaries. 1) It turns the primaries into a pure money race. The one with the cash to run ads in the most states wins. That means the establishment candidate . . . every time. There would've been no president Bill Clinton in a national primary.
2) No retail politics. All those town halls, meeting people in person . . . gone. Replaced with large-scale rallies and commercials.

Personally, I like caucuses, and I don't have a HUGE problem with the current system. I do believe that we need to change the ordering each cycle, while leaving Iowa and New Hampshire up front (they take their responsibility REALLY seriously, and those two states really aren't the problem).

As far as popular vote totals, the question becomes whether that should even play a role. As we all know, the popular vote doesn't matter in national elections, so why should it matter in the primaries?
And if we ARE going use popular vote as a metric, why bother having delegates? Just measure the national popular vote after all primaries (and no caucuses) and call it a day.
Of course, that too would skew the results. Someone could run up a huge lead in California or New York that would hide serious weaknesses in 40 other states.
Or, we could go with the republican way, and award all delegates winner-take-all. But that effectively means that the winner of Super Tuesday wins it all, and NO states after that will have a shot. (And we end up with the dem equivalent of McCain).

Personally, I believe we should keep the current system in place, but with the DNC choosing the dates of the primaries and caucuses on a rotating basis after the 'first four' (Iowa, New Hampshire, and two other rotating states). The states can lobby the DNC, but they can't set their own dates. (This idea gets a little screwy, since the RNC would pretty much have to agree to the same dates for the primaries).
Super Tuesday should be limited to ten contests.
Then, four states have contests every two weeks until the end of the election. Those four states could possibly be regionally chosen so they are physically close together to ease the traveling of the candidates.

I think this idea best maximizes the amount of exposure each state gets to the candidate. Instead of having two weeks to his twenty-five states, and then six weeks in Pennsylvania, each group of four states gets two weeks with the candidate.

by EvilAsh 2008-06-04 04:36PM | 0 recs
Re: About reforming caucuses out of existence. (Up

One additional idea, stick the biggest states at the END of the contest. That would almost ENSURE that every state gets heard, because as long as NY, CA, and IL are out there, anything can happen. (Imagine if CA voted on June 3 instead of Puerto Rico).

by EvilAsh 2008-06-04 04:45PM | 0 recs
Re: About reforming caucuses out of existence. (Up

Worst idea ever. We run a democracy - not an elite caucus system for our general election. Our primary system should reflect our general elections.

by True Blue Dem 2008-06-04 09:50PM | 0 recs
What Do You Mean?

"Our primary system should reflect our General Elections"

I don't understand that statement.

by TooFolkGR 2008-06-05 06:53AM | 0 recs
Caucuses and the Blessed 5%
Yeah roughly 5% of the electorate participates in caucuses. They are unfair to those who live in the wrong place, don't have ready transportation, are victims of bad weather, shift work, small children
and the list goes on. The selection process should be widened, not narrowed. Look at the discordance between the popular vote and the caucus results in states that had both. I thought the mantra was inclusion.
by hypopg 2008-06-05 01:32AM | 0 recs

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