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Moulitsas: A new voting system

Greg Nash

2016 must be the last year that the caucus — a hopelessly undemocratic, non-representative and exclusionary artifact of history — plays a role in the presidential nomination process. 

One merely has to look at attendance rates to see how poorly they reflect the will of voters. For example, at Iowa’s vaunted first-in-the-nation caucuses, just 14.9 percent of the state’s voting-age population turned out in both party’s events combined. The next highest attended caucuses were in Nevada, where the number was just 7.2 percent. 

{mosads}By contrast, the lowest turnout in any state holding a primary election thus far was Texas, at 20.8 percent turnout. The disparity is stark. 

The national parties can’t force states to switch to primary systems, but they can pull levers to promote change. For example, if a state insists on sticking with a system that generates only a third of the turnout of a typical primary, the national parties could penalize that state by giving it only a third of the delegates it would otherwise receive. This would only be fair and just. 

It’s true that many states use caucuses because they don’t want public funds spent to choose the nominees of parties that are essentially private clubs. So what can state parties in those situations do? 

Well, they can turn the caucuses into pseudo primaries. Ditch the multiple ballots and the public cajoling of candidate supporters. Simply allow people to show up, drop off a ballot and leave. Or they could eliminate the expense of organizing physical locations and simply conduct the election by mail. Oregon already does it that way. Washington is right behind. California is gradually getting there. 

While those are state-funded elections, the cost for a party to conduct a mail ballot primary would be relatively small: ballot printing and postage. The fact that some states don’t have partisan registration complicates things a bit, but generally speaking, this would dramatically simplify the logistics of choosing a nominee. 

An even more forward-thinking approach would be to move the elections online. Democrats Abroad selected their delegates in such a fashion, and the technology exists to provide people with secure ballot access. The digital divide has been eliminated among socio-economic lines; Latinos and African-Americans are far more likely to own smartphones than whites. But there is a divide based on age. So allowances would have to be made to ensure that elderly (and not-so-elderly) Americans without internet access would still have the ability to participate, probably with some sort of hybrid online/postal system. 

The initial cost of developing online voting technology would be too high for any state party to fund on its own, but it would make a great project for the Democratic National Committee or other civic groups to establish. This wouldn’t just help existing caucus states, it would also allow the Democratic Party to schedule states based on the interests of the party, not on the whims and desires and other electoral needs (such as municipal elections) of every single state. And in the long run, even accounting for the startup and development costs, online primaries would be a thrifty choice.

Ironically, some Republican caucuses are already far more representative. In Iowa, caucus participation was an in-and-out process, dropping off a ballot with the preferred candidate’s name on it. There’s no reason Democrats should cling to a system more exclusionary than anything the GOP’s best voter suppression efforts can muster. 

It’s time to bury the caucuses.

Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.


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