Posted: 02/08/08 09:10, Edited: 02/08/08 09:15
by Dave Mindeman
There were a lot of frustrated people at the Tuesday night caucuses but I think the calls for scrapping the system are off the mark. Just because the parties overloaded the system doesn't mean it is irreparably broken.
First of all, this year the State Parties got greedy. They wanted the feel of a state primary condensed into a caucus system. The DFL was more guilty of this than the Republicans. The DFL problem? Putting a binding Presidential Preference ballot (translation = primary vote) into an hour and a half caucus ballot window. Somebody was drinking too much coffee in their executive suite....
The caucus system was never meant to get morphed into some kind of huge primary statement. It is local politics at its local best. Nothing more, nothing less. If you want to hold a primary, do it. But don't try to combine a caucus with it.... they are simply incompatible and appeal to distinctly different people.
Because of all the hype, a lot of new people came out to the caucus and the opinions that were developed had a broad range:
This guy got it.
And this guy didn't get it AT ALL!
The new people may, or may not, come back. But they learned about a political process.... it is much more than voting. It is discussing issues, meeting your state and local candidates, and mostly, it is about advocacy... promoting an issue you feel strongly about.
But above all, it is about participation. Anybody can go to a primary and vote....and for a lot of people that is enough; and for many it is all they can do. Single moms, the elderly, and people working double jobs come to mind. But for those of us who need more than that.... who need to feel we are making a difference -- the caucuses satisfy that need to engage.
I hear the calls to scrap the caucuses and bring in the pure primary. And after Tuesday's frustrations, I can understand that. But let's not get into wholesale changes because we are having a uniquely turbulent and volatile election year. I suspect that Tuesday may have been an historical event. We may never have that type of turnout again for 2 or 3 generations.
If you want to make changes.... do what should have been done in the beginning. Broader participation in the Presidential preference, means doing the following:
1. Separate the Presidential Preference ballot from rest of the caucus. Hold it on the same day but find venues where people can vote throughout the day. People need that kind of flexibility. And find a more professional voting mechanism than paper ballots.
2. Make sure everyone has the information and option to come back when the caucuses actually begin. The participation in the actual caucus itself will be greatly reduced but you will probably still get more new people involved than you did before. Keep all the options open but separate enough to accomodate everyone.
3. Educate people on the caucus process. Give citizens the opportunity to understand the caucus system prior to the event. If the parties want to broaden their bases, then they need to reach out to more people and open up the process. It is intimidating to walk into a room full of people and listen to terminology that means nothing. Start in the high schools with special classes and arrange for one day seminars everywhere else. It will have a big payoff.
There is something different about the caucus process that will never be duplicated with a primary. People get to know each other and speak more freely about their fundamental principles. They bond in ways that would never happen in day to day life. Driving up to a polling place and marking a ballot during one primary day is just not the same as the direct candidate interactions and the house parties and the intense discussions.
Caucuses are a method of political growth for many individuals. It was probably hard to see it in the February 5th chaos. But it was there and it will still be there when future caucus numbers are back to being more mundane and ordinary.