Caucuses: An Anti-Democratic Tradition (That Needs To Die)
January 29, 2020 7:29 AM   Subscribe

The tradition of primary voting by caucus - where voters cast a series of public votes at a set location and time to determine the winner - is used in several states, most notably Iowa, where caucuses will run in a few weeks. But as the practice gets examined, we can see how the process disenfranchises many groups. From the New York Times, we see how the disabled find themselves without a voice, while Lyz Lenz reports on how the caucus process intersects with women's roles at home to disenfranchise them.
posted by NoxAeternum (61 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
IMO the Democratic primary for the presidential race should be a reflection of how the president should be elected. One day of voting everywhere on March 3 plus prior absentee voting. All candidates are listed and optional preferential voting voting is used. No rules lawyering. No superdelegates. No shenanigans at the convention. One day and we're done. We're in and out and know the nominee March 4th. We know the line of succession for nominees if the first nominee pulls out. Everyone gets their voice, everyone's voice is counted equally.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:36 AM on January 29, 2020 [30 favorites]


As an Iowan, the Caucuses are problematic in many ways but also have advantages. Plus, there is not a clear alternative. For Iowa specifically, I highly recommend Crooked Media’s podcast on the history of the caucus, which goes into many of the pros and cons and possible alternatives. Caucusing in person is both fantastic and important and also disenfranchising.

It’s worth mentioning that attempts have been made for a long time to make the Iowa caucus more accessible. Iowa has many problems but we have a long history of being progressive on disability issues. We have satellite caucuses now which helped a little. Our attempts fo have virtual caucuses, where people at home and people with disabilities could participate by phone, was rejected this year by the DNC.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:38 AM on January 29, 2020 [6 favorites]


We need Federal standards for elections.

That said, I worry that Federal standards might harm advances that some states have made, such as vote-by-mail in here in Oregon, or ranked choice voting such as in San Francisco. Better than widespread disenfranchisement, though.
posted by danielparks at 7:40 AM on January 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


2016 was my first year voting in Minnesota, and it had caucuses (it has a primary this year, thank god). It was also the year I got my brain injury, and the caucus was held at a time when I was still really incapable of really going out and doing much of anything, let alone sit in a room with a lot of other people for an evening and pay attention to what’s going on in a state where people love coming to what they think is a reasoned consensus. But I still wanted to vote! I knew who my candidate was! The only real option offered to me was to go to the caucus site anyway and register my preference and then leave, but there was literally no way I could show up in person.

I was so, so, so angry. Fuck caucuses.
posted by heurtebise at 7:45 AM on January 29, 2020 [27 favorites]


IMO the Democratic primary for the presidential race should be a reflection of how the president should be elected. One day of voting everywhere on March 3 plus prior absentee voting

This approach has a lot of problems though, because choosing a candidate is fundamentally different than voting for the person in the office election. The early caucuses are meant to test candidates in a grass roots campaign. Most campaigns will say doing this ultimately strengthens the campaigns tremendously and makes them much more competitive in November. Early state on the ground caucuses also help campaigns with less money and name ID. A single day primary would mean no one would leave Washington and meet any voters and it would be a case of who has the most money for TV ads. See for example Bloomberg’s Super Tuesday strategy. Staggered primaries also allow candidates to be tested against each other and for an ebb and flow of people rising to the top, as we see each primary season.

Lots of problems with primaries, but it’s probably not the case that a single day vote would either be more democratic or result in a stronger candidate in November.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:46 AM on January 29, 2020 [12 favorites]


Caucuses are also horrible if you work second shift, and the time expectation is much different than if you're voting. The lack of absentee voting is pretty ridiculous in this day and age.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:49 AM on January 29, 2020 [22 favorites]


As an Iowan, the Caucuses are problematic in many ways but also have advantages.

Caucuses disenfranchise people - steal away their voice, their vote. There is no balancing that scale.

We already know how to run elections in a manner that enfranchises people - there is no reason to use an anti-democratic process that by its very nature pushes people out in the cold.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:52 AM on January 29, 2020 [15 favorites]


BTW, I had previously lived in a state that not only had primaries, but you could vote in person! By mail! Want to drop off your mail-in ballot in person? That works, too. And we seemed to choose candidates just fine.
posted by heurtebise at 7:53 AM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


There are a lot of things about the primary process where reasonable people can debate the pros and cons. Caucuses are not one of them. Fuck caucuses.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:54 AM on January 29, 2020 [12 favorites]


Oh man, just flashed back to the 2017 caucuses, where we had 90 people in a classroom meant for 30 people for hours, the fire department shut down the sixth ward, and IIRC a few people fainted.

Caucuses do not scale well for unexpectedly high turnouts.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:58 AM on January 29, 2020 [12 favorites]


Caucusing in person is both fantastic and important and also disenfranchising.

I went to one caucus (not in Iowa, so maybe the process was different in significant ways, I don't know); it was horrible and took hours. I can see how all kinds of people, for all kinds of reasons, would feel disenfranchised and unwelcome (or simply be unable to participate because of external factors). I am a middle class white guy who wasn't juggling childcare and weird work schedules or anything like that at the time, and I felt unwelcome and uncomfortable, to be honest. Now everything here is by mail-in ballot and it is great.

0/10, would not caucus again.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:59 AM on January 29, 2020 [24 favorites]


Also, as somebody in the middle of a major depressive episode (switching treatment modalities is a pain in the ass), having to go somewhere and deal with people to vote is asking a lot. Vote by mail is pretty fantastic.

I’m not sure what the experience is like for folks without addresses here. I know voting is still possible, but I don’t know if it’s easy. I know a few people in that situation… I’ll have to ask next time I see them.
posted by danielparks at 8:00 AM on January 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


Again, I’m not here to defend the Iowa caucus, and it is very problematic, and many of the changes they have tried to make to improve it have been rejected not by Iowa but the DNC. It’s a little more nuanced I think than some make it out to be.

We already know how to run elections in a manner that enfranchises people


I think if this was largely true, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:01 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


I went to a caucus the last year we had them in Texas, and I can heartily say they are a pain in the ass and hostile to anyone with any kind of personal life or work obligations (or disabilities).

They suck. Take 'em out.
posted by emjaybee at 8:04 AM on January 29, 2020 [8 favorites]


Also, not everyone can read or write. Not everyone has a mailbox. Ballot forms are complex and confusing, as we learn anew each election. For many people, going to the corner with the big sign of who they support is easier than trying to manage a form.

Again, so many problems with a caucus. But I would urge folks to not let one idea of what a disability is blind them to all types, and the complicated nature of free and fair elections. Though the framing of this post didn’t really invite any sorts of discussions about it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:13 AM on January 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


It’s a little more nuanced I think than some make it out to be.

No, it really isn't.

The simple fact is that caucuses are inherently disenfranchising in a way that the secret ballot isn't.

Can't get childcare? You don't get a vote.
Disability limits your mobility? You don't get a vote.
Can't handle crowds? You don't get a vote.
Afraid to make your vote public? You don't get a vote.
Have to work that night? You don't get a vote.

There is no balancing that scale - no "advantage" that outweighs the simple fact that caucuses, by their very nature, take away the vote from people, especially marginalized groups. Caucuses are, in this age of mail-in ballots and no justification absentee voting, completely and utterly indefensible.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:15 AM on January 29, 2020 [43 favorites]


Out of genuine curiosity, have you been to a small town caucus?
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:19 AM on January 29, 2020


Plus, there is not a clear alternative.

Just have a primary. This is not some mysterious thing that needs figuring out or discovering.

The early caucuses are meant to test candidates in a grass roots campaign.

The rationale offered for a thing is not what the thing is meant to do. The purpose of a thing is what it does, which in this case is to dramatically magnify the voices of some people at the expense of others.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:20 AM on January 29, 2020 [19 favorites]


Also, not everyone can read or write. Not everyone has a mailbox. Ballot forms are complex and confusing, as we learn anew each election. For many people, going to the corner with the big sign of who they support is easier than trying to manage a form.

As opposed to a literal shouting/shoving match with ambulances outside from people overheating, which is not confusing or intimidating at all? Caucusing has never been a sedate or straightforward experience, from what I've had to manage.

We could do more to have more accessibility concerns, but it's common to have election judges at least help with literacy/fluency concerns.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:21 AM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


According to James Surowiecki's book The Wisdom of Crowds, a large group of ordinary people can be smarter than a few expert individuals. But the book cites research that shows that this only holds true if the large group of ordinary people form their opinions independently and don't influence each other too much. If that is true, I wonder if caucuses makes the crowd less smart than it could be.
posted by Triplanetary at 8:23 AM on January 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


Out of genuine curiosity, have you been to a small town caucus?

No, and it doesn't matter that I haven't, because my point is that caucuses are inherently disenfranchising. You wouldn't defend any other system that takes the vote from people - why defend this one?
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:26 AM on January 29, 2020 [17 favorites]


Caucuses look like a self-sustaining component of the political Machine: if you're on the inside, they're great, but for everyone else they're purely an exclusionary barrier.

Who has a whole evening to devote to attending, with no work or care-giving or travel problems? Who is known to the organizers and will be allowed to speak? Who feels safe there? Who is confident that every voice will be heard?

Lose cacuses in favor of open primaries with mail-in ballots for all, and then make election day a holiday.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:29 AM on January 29, 2020 [8 favorites]


Not that it matters, because Alaska’s opinion is never relevant (primary isn’t until late April, only 3 EV) but Alaska’s Democratic Party switched from caucuses to a primary for this election cycle—including using ranked choice voting in the primary.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:37 AM on January 29, 2020 [9 favorites]


Also, not everyone can read or write. Not everyone has a mailbox. Ballot forms are complex and confusing, as we learn anew each election. For many people, going to the corner with the big sign of who they support is easier than trying to manage a form.

The Voting Rights Act provides that illiterate voters may have the assistance of anyone of their choice to help them vote, as long as that person isn't their employer or union rep. 52 USC § 10508.

There is no advantage of caucuses that can't be solved with ranked voting. 358,000 Iowans participated in the 2016 caucuses, which amounts to just 15.7% of eligible voters. By contrast, 40% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 New Hampshire primaries. That is not a sign of a successful voting system.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:41 AM on January 29, 2020 [18 favorites]


A caucus on paper sounds like some kind of beautiful and chaotic expression of democracy; then you realize how many disadvantages there are and very quickly see how much they suck
posted by windbox at 8:55 AM on January 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


This approach has a lot of problems though, because choosing a candidate is fundamentally different than voting for the person in the office election. The early caucuses are meant to test candidates in a grass roots campaign. Most campaigns will say doing this ultimately strengthens the campaigns tremendously and makes them much more competitive in November. Early state on the ground caucuses also help campaigns with less money and name ID. A single day primary would mean no one would leave Washington and meet any voters and it would be a case of who has the most money for TV ads. See for example Bloomberg’s Super Tuesday strategy. Staggered primaries also allow candidates to be tested against each other and for an ebb and flow of people rising to the top, as we see each primary season.

Not that a single one of these have anything to do with caucuses versus any other voting method. But the whole thing about "meeting voters":

According to this candidate tracker, the top 4 candidates have spent 224 days in Iowa, 110 in NH, 51 and 56 in NV and SC respectively. There have been 71 candidate days per million residents in Iowa, 81 in New Hampshire, 17 in Nevada and 13 in South Carolina. I picked 7 Super Tuesday states -- the largest two (CA, TX), three decent-sized swing states that might play to electability (CO, MN, VA) and two of the three smallest states (ME and AR; I skipped Bernie's home state of VT). Maine's right next door to NH; VA is literal walking distance from the office of two of the top four candidates. Combined, these four states have 100 candidate-days; that's 1.1 candidate day per million residents. (Most of this is in California, I assume for fundraising purposes.) Even in absolute terms, Iowa and New Hampshire each have more candidate time than this list of 7 diverse states; if you drop California, then NV and SC each have more candidate time than CO/TX/MN/VA/ME/AR combined.

The first two states to vote are getting 65-75 times as much candidate attention per resident; the next two are getting 12-15 times as much candidate attention. (It's worse if you consider the entire field, since most of the others are depending/praying for early state pops to keep them relevant -- Iowa has 94x as much attention, NH 150x, the next two around 20x.) And this gap is not going to get made up; there's only two days between the SC primary and Super Tuesday.

PS: If you want to defend the US primary system -- which is really unusual by global standards -- because it allows candidates to build momentum and develop a populist appeal rather than being picked by elite back room special interests, I recommend you do a little more research, starting with googling "who is the current president of the united states".
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:04 AM on January 29, 2020 [6 favorites]


Furthermore, it is absolutely ridiculous that, for a nation on the verge of going majority minority population wise, the primary schedule is kicked off by two states whose population are exceptionally white.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:08 AM on January 29, 2020 [19 favorites]


And this is a separate point, but we need to remove Iowa and New Hampshire as the most important states in the presidential election. It's entirely unreasonable to have the same (unrepresentative) states have such an outsize impact on the election every single time.

I disagree with the idea of scheduling all primaries on the same day, mainly because a country-wide primary would mean that the campaigns would be run almost entirely through nationwide advertising and other impersonal means (which would favor those who raise more money sooner). I like that candidates have to meet real people and shake their hands and make their case in backyard barbecues and state fairs.

But just change up the calendar every four years. Create a system where the first two races need to be in contrast to one another (one coastal, one flyover; one large, one small; etc.) and then have states roll through so that if they're near the beginning in one cycle, they are near the end of the next cycle. This is really simple and obvious stuff, but no major candidate will talk about it, because it risks alienating Iowa and New Hampshire voters, who you still need to get under the current system.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:11 AM on January 29, 2020 [13 favorites]


Caucuses look like a self-sustaining component of the political Machine: if you're on the inside, they're great, but for everyone else they're purely an exclusionary barrier.

They also serve to push a far more extreme version of a party to the fore. When you are identifying party leaders or the mindset of a party one good way to measure things is who is at events and what they're demanding. That sounds good, but a primary takes only the level of commitment to get a vote cast, whereas caucuses want more. Who is going to show up every time, be more passionate, press harder and not be silenced, a True Believer of some specific cause or a Centrist/Moderate?

One of the lessons of the last 30 years of American politics is that there's no such thing as Extreme Centrism to combat the Tea Party or Progressives. They've been driven from the field by less numerous but more passionate folks from the ends of the political spectrum, fueled by money from the edges. Even the Kochs have been driven to the background in the last few years.

If you want to bring back broader slabs of the American public to the public square you have to start cutting from the center, and that'll only work if you require less time and effort from them.
posted by Cris E at 9:12 AM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


But just change up the calendar every four years. Create a system where the first two races need to be in contrast to one another (one coastal, one flyover; one large, one small; etc.) and then have states roll through so that if they're near the beginning in one cycle, they are near the end of the next cycle. This is really simple and obvious stuff, but no major candidate will talk about it, because it risks alienating Iowa and New Hampshire voters, who you still need to get under the current system.

I like the idea of randomly assigning the primary dates to one of a half dozen dates two years in advance. Also making it a holiday.
posted by Cris E at 9:21 AM on January 29, 2020 [9 favorites]


I like the idea of randomly assigning the primary dates to one of a half dozen dates two years in advance. Also making it a holiday.

An elaboration: whatever the earliest date is, assign 5 states at random to that first election date. Then, the next cycle, chose from the 45 remaining states, then 40, etc, so that over the course of 20 years every state gets a chance to be in the first election group. Or make it groups of 10 for a faster turnover.

Everybody gets a say at some point, and random groups of 5 or 10 will tend to be fairly representative of the country as a whole. 10 would be more representative, but 5 keeps the number of early states that candidates have to campaign in more manageable.
posted by jedicus at 9:36 AM on January 29, 2020 [6 favorites]


The Voting Rights Act provides that illiterate voters may have the assistance of anyone of their choice to help them vote, as long as that person isn't their employer or union rep. 52 USC § 10508.

You can't just cite to statutes as though that is the reality of it. Voting rights are complex practice, "the Voting Rights Act provides" does not mean a whole lot when it comes to election day practice.

This is not a comment on the caucus/not caucus issue. I just don't want people pretending that there is some kind of robust federal protection for voting w/ disabilities when there isn't.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:16 AM on January 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


I live in the South. The DOJ (back in the preclearance days) would never, ever, ever, ever have let us change from a primary to a caucus, nor should they. It’s so obviously disenfranchising.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:16 AM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


Even the Kochs have been driven to the background in the last few years.

There are a lot of factual problems with your comment, but I'll just start with this: they were incredibly influential in getting the First Step Act passed (among other things). They are definitely not gone from the scene. Not even close.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:17 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


I mean I think one of them died. But besides that...
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:17 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


You can't just cite to statutes as though that is the reality of it. Voting rights are complex practice, "the Voting Rights Act provides" does not mean a whole lot when it comes to election day practice.

This is not a comment on the caucus/not caucus issue. I just don't want people pretending that there is some kind of robust federal protection for voting w/ disabilities when there isn't.


This was in response to the suggestion that caucuses may be better because some people can't read or write, and can just go stand in the appropriate corner. My point is that there are other options for people who can't read or write. Certainly it's an imperfect system depending on how good individual states are at implementing such protections.

You're right that the federal law isn't a good starting point for accessibility issues. Here's, for example, North Carolina's page on voting accessibility, which includes accommodations for illiteracy. Like any other form of disenfranchisement, it's just a matter of making sure people know what they're entitled to and how to get help if they're turned away.

But we digress. :) [Metafilter: But we digress.]
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:29 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


Suggested fix for the FPP: The Iowa caucus isn’t in a few weeks... it’s on Monday!
posted by theory at 10:33 AM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


Oh god, don't get me started. The good news (sorta) is that I think the Iowa caucuses are going to be such a shit-show this year that this will be the last time we have caucuses. I'm volunteering to help run my caucus and hooo boy. My precinct is going to be interesting. I've heard estimates that we're going to get 1000 people. The official process requires one single, solitary person to go around and do a head count, so we can determine viability numbers. One person is supposed to count all 1000-odd participants. This is a process that was designed for 50 people, and it is not going to work for a thousand.

And yeah, I know a lot of mothers (but not fathers) who are probably not going to caucus because of childcare issues. I think there's a lot of mystique about it, but it's not a defensible process. We should strive to enable as many people as possible to participate in the process, and caucuses are fundamentally incompatible with that goal.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:41 AM on January 29, 2020 [9 favorites]


According to James Surowiecki's book The Wisdom of Crowds, a large group of ordinary people can be smarter than a few expert individuals. But the book cites research that shows that this only holds true if the large group of ordinary people form their opinions independently and don't influence each other too much. If that is true, I wonder if caucuses makes the crowd less smart than it could be.

That book is the most transparently bullshit exercise in cherry-picking data and fudging conclusions that I have ever had the personal misfortune of being forced to read. It is based on weapons-grade magical thinking, shoehorned into nagging chastisement of expertise as a value.

Meanwhile, caucuses are actively anti-democratic, in that they privilege the loudest voices over the plurality of voices. The only reason I can imagine Iowa is clinging to them is because any change to the status quo would risk their losing their artificially-amplified significance in primary season.

And I swear only a SMALL part of my contempt for them is based on my ever-abiding love for Howard Dean, who was wiped out of the primaries by some serious caucusing bullshit + a media narrative that seems almost charmingly naive in the age of Trump, giving us the centrist nightmare John Kerry and thus four more years of W
posted by Mayor West at 10:41 AM on January 29, 2020 [14 favorites]


Meanwhile, caucuses are actively anti-democratic, in that they privilege the loudest voices over the plurality of voices. The only reason I can imagine Iowa is clinging to them is because any change to the status quo would risk their losing their artificially-amplified significance in primary season.
That is absolutely it. New Hampshire has a guarantee that they get to be the first primary, and they have a weird, overzealous secretary of state who likes to police the Iowa caucuses to make sure that they're not getting too primary-like. If we get rid of the caucuses, or even do things like allow absentee voting or a secret ballot, then we lose our status as first in the nation. We clearly should lose our status as first in the nation, but there are a lot of people and institutions here who have a lot invested in that status.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:47 AM on January 29, 2020 [9 favorites]


Caucuses in Utah are the stranglehold the insane conservative branch holds over the majority party here. Outside of SLC, whatever candidate makes it to the ballot with an R after their name will be the winner thanks to party ticket voting and general allegiance to the GOP by the Mormons. So the state caucus is where the fight to become that person happens. And god it's a shit show of the most insane variety. That's how we got tea partier Mike Lee as our Senator, and so on. It's their control on power so that when a route to the ballot via signatures became an option, the state GOP went bankrupt trying to sue it out of existence in the courts. It's an anti-democratic method to funnel party power through the hands of the few party elites and acolytes who have all day long to deal with it and fight. The Democrat's caucus isn't much better, as they're generally disorganized and underfunded. They had a shockingly large turnout in 2016 and the lines and facilities were very unprepared. I'd much rather have a primary where I can mail in my ballot and be done.
posted by msbutah at 11:03 AM on January 29, 2020 [2 favorites]


New Hampshire doesn't have a "guarantee", it actively engages in hostage taking ("give us the first slot, or you'll never see our three EVs again.") This is in part why we need the popular vote - because in a system where New Hampshire's clout is built on its population, it simply no longer has the ability to make a credible threat of "I'm taking my ball home."
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:05 AM on January 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


So here in North Dakota we’re having a “firehouse caucus”? This is the first time I’ve lived in ND for caucus/primary season and I don’t have any idea what to expect, even after reading Wikipedia. Can anyone shed light on this procedure?
posted by epj at 11:10 AM on January 29, 2020


There might be a reasonable retail-politics argument for starting in small states (I don't understand things well enough to make it, I'll be honest) - but there are small states that are diverse. From Jed Kolko, 'Normal America' is not a small town of white people:

- "Iowa and New Hampshire, which vote first in the primary season and therefore have disproportionate influence, rank 37th and 41st, respectively, in their similarity to the U.S. overall."
- the ten states most similar to the U.S. overall in demographics (based on age, educational attainment, and race and ethnicity) are Illinois (#1), New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts (#10).

So why not start in, say, Rhode Island?

Alternatively, you could convince the media to care about South Carolina and Nevada as well as Iowa and New Hampshire. But that's not going to happen.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:11 AM on January 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


I’m so happy that the Washington State Democratic Party finally switched from caucuses to primary elections this year.

Voting in WA elections is so easy these days. Everyone can vote by mail (no postage required!), drop their ballot off in a drop box, or use an accessible voting machine at a voting center, up to 18 days before election day. We also recently passed same-day voter registration, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and automatic “motor voter” registration.

With every improvement to voter access for elections, the caucus looked even worse by comparison. I expect much higher participation in this year’s primary than we ever had in the caucus system.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:23 AM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


Also, the “small town caucus” isn’t representative of the caucus process. Iowa’s population as a whole, for example, is mostly urban now. Democratic primary voters even more so.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:31 AM on January 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


I’ve never been sure why internal party politics need to be democratic. This democratization of the process directly led to Trump, for instance.
posted by Automocar at 12:48 PM on January 29, 2020


“Democratic” is vague. Whether they should disproportionately exclude women, disabled people, working class people, etc. is much easier to answer.

(Also, Trump’s biggest early victory was in the Nevada caucuses.)
posted by mbrubeck at 1:00 PM on January 29, 2020 [4 favorites]


In Nevada, I feel like the Democrats are doing everything they can to expand access to the caucus process. There will be four days of early voting prior to the caucus, including a weekend. Voters will rank three candidates, in case their first or second choice doesn't reach the viability threshold. On caucus day, there will be an at-large caucus on the Las Vegas strip for hospitality workers who couldn't otherwise make their neighborhood caucus.
posted by bgrebs at 1:10 PM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


That is absolutely it. New Hampshire has a guarantee that they get to be the first primary, and they have a weird, overzealous secretary of state who likes to police the Iowa caucuses to make sure that they're not getting too primary-like. If we get rid of the caucuses, or even do things like allow absentee voting or a secret ballot, then we lose our status as first in the nation. We clearly should lose our status as first in the nation, but there are a lot of people and institutions here who have a lot invested in that status.


Yes. Iowa has proposed a number of attempts to make the caucus process friendlier to working/disabled/otherwise-unavailable folks. Just about anything that removes the in-person requirement is blocked by NH via the DNC. Basically, Iowa can do it right or be first. They're choosing "first."

We caucused in 2008 in a sweltering Iowa City gym, trading our 18-month old kid back & forth. It was a pain in the ass, but that was our only issue. Add in anything else, transportation issues, work, illness, another kid, etc, it would have been impossible.

(I also attended the 2006 caucus, there were 3 or 4 people.)
posted by the christopher hundreds at 1:10 PM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


Well look, democracy is really fucking dangerous, but I think it's less dangerous than letting any bunch of arbitrarily-chosen leaders choose who's in charge. And mbrubeck is right that caucuses are anti-democratic in specific classist, sexist, ableist, and otherwise messed-up ways. It's kind of the worst of all worlds.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:10 PM on January 29, 2020 [5 favorites]


(I also attended the 2006 caucus, there were 3 or 4 people.)
Yeah, I attended one off-year caucus and ended up being elected to the state convention, basically by virtue of showing up. That was kind of fun, but it was also the Before Times, when Iowa politics didn't seem quite as terrifying and high-stakes.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:12 PM on January 29, 2020 [3 favorites]


I’ve never been sure why internal party politics need to be democratic. This democratization of the process directly led to Trump, for instance.

Because the parties functionally have a duopoly on electoral politics in the US.

Anyway, the dangers of democracy are quite overblown because we're all being told that it's the unwashed masses who led us to Trump, not the fact that the Republican party's elites have been hammering racist, xenophobic crap 24/7 for decades now.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:49 PM on January 29, 2020 [7 favorites]


Metafilter’s favorite pastime: litigating the primaries
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:48 PM on January 29, 2020


I’m not sure if this counts as relitigating or prelitigating but it’s giving me a headache regardless.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:51 PM on January 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


Caucuses do not scale well for unexpectedly high turnouts

Yup—the caucus in Colorado back in 2016 was a disaster with much higher than expected turnout, and I'm glad we've switched to a primary. I showed up over half an hour before registration began and had to wait outside in a line that wrapped around all 4 sides of the block that the high school was on (and then around the block again with people in line after me. Fortunately, they'd delayed the start time by an hour, since it took me about an hour and a half of standing in line to get inside. Once I got in there, they'd moved all the rooms around, so it was a madhouse of having to find the right person to ask to find out where you were supposed to go (and you'd better hope that you attended that high school and still remembered the confusing layout in order to make it to your assigned room on time). The room was packed, with over half of the people either having to stand or sit on the floor, and people were still trickling in when they decided to start voting an hour and a half late. Throughout the whole process people kept arriving and being told that they were let in too late for their vote to count. Hundreds of people were turned away without being able to vote, and in order to get to vote you had to show up early, have those particular 3–4 hours free, devote hours to waiting, much of it standing around or shuffling in line. Not very democratic. I wasn't surprised that when they asked if anyone had anything they wanted to suggest as a plank in the party platform, the main suggestions were eliminating the caucus system.
posted by JiBB at 4:28 PM on January 29, 2020 [7 favorites]


A slate of candidates not favored by the local party officials made a significant effort to organize & train supporters to caucus in my former Minnesota district a few years ago. Yay democracy, right?

Less than 2 days before the scheduled start time: the caucus location was changed to a much smaller venue and the afternoon start time initially changed to mid-morning, then moved even earlier (something ridiculous like 7:30 AM IIRC). Allegedly party officials were joking at a local watering hole that the "spoilers" were too lazy/high/drunk to get in the door before the venue occupancy hit fire code max.

The day of the caucus: rather than use the sound system set up on a platform, the call to order was issued by someone standing on the floor in front of it, in a normal speaking voice. The faithful packing the front rows conducted as much party business as possible before the rest of the room realized anything official was occurring.

Fuck caucuses.
posted by superna at 7:52 PM on January 29, 2020 [10 favorites]


Caucuses: training opportunities for the riots to come?
posted by eustatic at 3:42 AM on January 30, 2020


Couldn’t agree more. I basically consider a caucus win illegitimate for purposes of assessing the will of voters.
posted by spitbull at 5:19 AM on January 30, 2020


I am really and truly opposed to caucuses, and I am really and truly opposed to Iowa being first in the nation, but I kind of loved this New Yorker profile of eight people who are volunteering for different candidates. I feel like I know those people. Actually, I do know one of them. (Iowa during caucus season is the kind of surreal place where someone you randomly know can show up in a random New Yorker story, complete with a little New Yorker picture of them.) But I think that people who live in other places can sometimes caricature Iowans, and I think this gets at what politically active Iowa Democrats are actually like. (But not Chuck Offenburger. Chuck Offenburger is the only Delaney supporter in the whole state, and he is not at all what politically active Iowa Democrats are like.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:10 PM on January 30, 2020 [1 favorite]


Nevada is shaping up to be Iowa 2: Caucus Boogaloo:
In interviews, three caucus volunteers described serious concerns about rushed preparations for the Feb. 22 election, including insufficient training for a newly-adopted electronic vote-tally system and confusing instructions on how to administer the caucuses. There are also unanswered questions about the security of Internet connections at some 2,000 precinct sites that will transmit results to a central “war room” set up by the Nevada Democratic Party.

Some volunteers who will help run caucuses at precinct locations said they have not been trained on iPads that the party purchased to enter and transmit vote counts. Party officials scrambled to streamline their vote reporting system — settling on Google forms accessible through a saved link on the iPads — after scrapping a pair of apps they’d been planning to use until a similar app caused the fiasco in Iowa two weeks ago.

The volunteers also said the party has not provided sufficient training on how to use the Google form that will compile vote totals, a complicated process in a caucus.
Caucuses need to die.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:21 PM on February 17, 2020 [1 favorite]


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