Fellow Democrats: Kill the Elitist and Undemocratic Caucuses

August 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, News & Commentary

By Lanny Davis
Former White House Counsel

August 4th, 2008 2:28 PM Eastern

It’s time for Democrats to kill the undemocratic and elitist caucus system for selecting national convention delegates for the presidential nomination. Instead, all delegates should be selected in primaries.

The 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver – the national party’s supreme governing body — can do it – or at least take the first step to doing it by passing a resolution establishing a new “Presidential Selection Rules Reform Commission.” Such Commissions have been established many times before, beginning after the 1968 convention, to change the delegate selection rules. A new one is needed more than ever.

The most important item on the reform agenda should be to require all states to hold primaries and to kill the caucus system. There is no doubt that party caucuses discourage voter participation and are, in fact, undemocratic for a variety of reasons. Most people who work for a living can’t afford or senior citizens are not able to sit for three hours in order to vote.

Second, caucuses are frequently gross violations of the one person-one vote principle that I always thought was protected under leading Supreme Court cases.

Two examples. According to some caucus state rules, if a precinct is entitled to elect 4 delegates to the county convention, and the vote is 59 percent for presidential candidate A vs. 41% for candidate B, the mathematical rules are likely to require a division of 2-2 (because Candidate A did not get to 60 percent.) 59 percent – 41 percent — a landslide – results in 50-50 percent dead heat. This is nuts!

Even nuttier is the “Texas Two Step” system. In 2008, the over 2.8 million voters participated in the March 4 democratic primary. Then comes two step: at 7 pm, the party caucuses begin. People get to vote a second time (I am not making this up). But not all votes are equal. If you lived in Houston and Dallas, and carried your precinct in 2006 for the Democratic candidate for governor by a large margin, your vote could be twice or three times as powerful than if you lived in South Texas, in heavily rural Republican counties.

How can that be small “d” Democratic? How can that be constitutional under one person-one vote principles? Doesn’t that embarrass a party that calls itself the “Democratic” Party?

Speaking of embarrassment. The result of these arcane rules for Democratic Party caucuses is incredibly small voter turnouts. The average turnout for all caucuses held in 2008 was under 10 percent. Even in the highest profile caucus state of all, the first one attracting all the media hype for months — King Iowa — the turnout among eligible voters was under 20 percent (meaning 80 percent of eligible voters stayed home). Other low turnout states included New Mexico (11 percent), Nevada (9 percent), North Dakota (4 percent), Minnesota and Maine (5 percent), Colorado and Nebraska (3 percent), and Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas. You did not read that last number incorrectly: That is 3 percent!!!

Other reforms in the presidential delegate selection system that are needed include:

*Abolishing proportional representation and requiring winner-take-all for winners of state primaries (bringing the nominating system into alignment with the electoral college system for electing presidents – isn’t that what this is supposed to be all about – electing a president?

*Limiting primaries to pre-registered Democrats, rather than allowing Rush Limbaugh and others to encourage independents and Republicans to do same day re-registration, motivated only by mischief to muck up the Democratic results;

*Eliminating Super Delegates. After what happened in 2008, it is silly to make believe they can exercise their independent judgment, as they were intended to be able to do when they were created in 1982. They can’t and they didn’t. If the political big wigs who are the Super Delegates want to go to the convention, then give them free tickets.

One final rational, sensible, and fair idea: Why not have five regional primaries, starting on February 1, and the first of the month through June 1, with the order rotated every four years so everyone gets a chance to go first?

The only answer is that the words “rational,” “sensible” and “fair” are usually oxymorons when associated with the phrase, “the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating system.”

Aren’t Democrats embarrassed by all this? If so, then the National Convention has the power to do something about it.

Don’t hold your breath.

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