Ever sense I can remember Washington State Democrats have touted the caucus system as their chosen method to select a Presidential candidate and delegates to the Democratic National Convention. I am a Democrat and have participated in the caucus. But I have never bought the argument that it represents grassroots participation at its best or that it is fair.
It is particularly the fairness issue that has disturbed me. This time around it is going to be held on a Saturday and in the past has been on a weekday night. Irregardless it doesn’t work as the best way to maximize participation in the process of selecting a Presidential candidate to represent our party.
Figures on the Washington Secretary of State’s website regarding participation are a strong reason for concern.
“Only 2% of voters generally participate in political party caucuses. An estimated 60,000 people participated in the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
By contrast, with a 42% turnout, 1,309,367 voters participated in the 2000 Presidential Primary. “
The caucus is a process that knowingly excludes participation by many Washington voters It is not a fair system. Many voters are denied access to participate even if they want to. Some prime examples of those excluded include:
- people in the military who are on duty, out of state or out of the country
- people who have to work like policemen and firemen or hospital workers
- students who are Washington voters but are out of state
- people out of state for business or vacation
- people who vote absentee because they are elderly or handicapped
- people who have to take care of young children or elderly parents who can’t travel
- people whose jobs require they work on caucus day or lose pay
These people could participate in a presidential primary that allowed them to mail in their ballots. We see by the example of our current President just how important it is that we get people involved in selecting the next commander in chief. Yet the caucus is a system that benefits party insiders who are willing to not just attend the initial precinct caucus but go to the legislative district, county, Congressional and state convention.
Unfortunately at any subsequent step if the delegate selected at the precinct level does not attend the next level your representation for your candidate is lost. Likewise if there is not 15% representation at the precinct level or subsequent levels your candidate delegates are lost.
A second major reason to support the Presidential Primary is that it, and not the caucus,is a better and more realistic organizing tool for Democratic politics. The Presidential Primary is a trial run for candidates to turn out voters to support them and more accurately reflects the actual pool of voters
who will be voting in November Presidential election. There is a big difference in mobilizing 1% of the voters to turn out for a Democratic caucus versus trying to get the a majority of registered voters to vote for you in a primary.
For the record, it should be noted that in 1988 I was the Campaign Director that coordinated the grassroots citizen’s effort to collect the signatures on Initiative 99 to the Washington State Legislature. The Legislature in 1989 passed the initiative into law. The law can be seen at RCW 92A.56.010 Signatures were collected by volunteers not paid signature gatherers.
Seattle Times 4/28/2007 “A Presidential Primary that Matters to Voters”
Seattle PI Blog 4/26/2007 “State Republicans to Dems: Let’s get behind Primary“
Seattle Times 4/25/2007 “Keep our Presidential Primary by Barbara Seitle, President LWV of WA
WashBlog 4/9/2007 “Washington needs to hold a Presidential Primary“