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Markos Moulitsas: Time to kill the caucus

Six weeks into the presidential nomination process, it’s already abundantly clear that the caucus system is an undemocratic anachronism that needs to die. And while Republicans have always been more than happy to limit the franchise, making sure certain kinds of voters can’t cast their ballots, Democrats have a moral and ideological obligation to make sure all their voters have as fair a system as possible. 

Caucuses are indisputably antithetical to that principle. 

{mosads}First and foremost, caucuses limit participation. Most require attendance on a specific night, for several hours. Have to work? Too bad. Have kids and you don’t have a babysitter? Too bad. Want to cast your vote in private? Too bad. Have a medical condition that limits your mobility? Too bad. Traveling out of the state? Member of the military stationed overseas? Too bad. You don’t want to be harangued by supporters of other candidates to change your vote? Too bad. 

The bottom line is that too many people who want to participate are kept away, which is why caucus attendance is so laughably low. At the vaunted Iowa caucuses, the first votes in the nation, only 15 percent of its voting-age population turned out. If you’re going to act as a first-in-the-nation candidate filter, the least you could do is create a system that encourages broader participation. 

Yet Iowa’s 15 percent turnout was immense compared to other caucus states. Only 7.2 percent of Nevada’s voting-age population came out to caucus, despite its coveted first-in-the-West status. The numbers were just over 8 percent in Minnesota, a little over 5 percent in Kansas and just shy of 6 percent in Maine. In Alaska and Kentucky, where only Republicans caucused, it was 4 and 7 percent, respectively. 

The primary states didn’t particularly shine with their turnouts either, but they consistently turned out three to four times the numbers compared to caucus states. In New Hampshire, it was around 50 percent. It was 29 percent in South Carolina, almost 33 percent in Alabama and near 40 percent in Vermont. Even the lowest primary turnout state — Texas, at 21 percent — enjoyed far better participation than did Iowa. 

Caucus boosters argue that forcing people into a room with their neighbors is a positive form of civic duty, allowing people to connect with one another and their party’s apparatus, thus reinforcing engagement in the process and strengthening the party itself. In reality, the stories on caucus nights were ones of disorganization and frustration. In Iowa, the Democratic Party was unwilling or unable to release a raw tally of votes, so while Hillary Clinton officially won the delegate tally, we may never know who actually won the state’s popular vote — not an insignificant matter. 

In Kansas, Republicans waited in lines for hours to caucus. In Nevada, there were rampant reports of people double-voting for candidates, while hapless party volunteers struggled to register voters and tally votes. Poll workers wearing Donald Trump T-shirts didn’t lend confidence to the results. The Nevada GOP’s statement that “not the entire place was in chaos” is not a ringing endorsement of the process. 

There’s one simple way that the parties can help end caucuses — by reducing the number of delegates that caucus states receive. If a state insists on sticking with a system that drives only a quarter of the turnout of a primary, then award them only a quarter of the delegates they’d otherwise receive. That would only be fair and just.  

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.

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