Sunday, January 31, 2016
The 2016 Un-Democratic Caucus
Hello from Iowa! In case you stumbled on this blog by accident I should start out by saying that the Iowa Caucuses are on Monday. I was in Iowa for the caucuses in 2008 and let me tell you, it was quite a time! If you are unfamiliar with caucusing, I have included a video on what it is and how to do it above, expertly explained by the 2008 Obama campaign which was after all pretty darn good at it.
The caucuses are a fun tradition, great for party building and allow a crude form of ranked choice voting. For example, you if like Martin O'Malley but can't stand Bernie Sanders you could caucus for O'Malley and if he is not viable at your site, caucus for Clinton when you reorganize. However, they are undemocratic absolute bullshit. If caucuses were held in any general election Democrats would be up in arms and Republicans would be signing their praises because they are more or less designed to disenfranchise.
First off, there is no secret ballot, a feature of any democratic election that we generally regard as sacrosanct. Imagine you are a local official running for a tough re-election. In most cases it would not be in your best interest to endorse since your district is deeply divided. However, caucuses essentially force an election night endorsement. Additionally, if your mom is a passionate die-hard Bernie precinct captain and you support Hillary you have to stand there look her in eye and break her heart a little bit, or caucus for Bernie for the sake of your relationship. Your boss knows who you caucus for. Your employees know who you caucus for. Your professor know who you caucused for and visa versa. Your union boss knows, etc.
Now, I personally am no shrinking violet when it comes to my support of a candidate, but I recognize that comes from a certain place of privilege. There are no repercussions to my vocal support of Hillary except for my getting temporarily unfollowed and awkwardly fighting with my Vermont-based uncle on Facebook. However, there are people who are dissuaded from participating by the caucuses' lack of secrecy either because they don't like to be publicly political or they fear indirect social or financial backlash.
When you turn up to vote in most elections you are not allowed to "electioneer" or even wear a campaign t-shirt within a certain range of the polling site. However, at caucuses electioneering is encouraged. Each candidate camp gets to make a statement and attempt to persuade individual uncommitted caucus-goers or caucus goers whose candidate is not viable. This can be terrifying if you are the type to be intimidated by politics in the first place or if you, like me in 2008, are so emotionally invested in your candidate that you open your mouth to convince people to come over to your corner and almost start crying. To their credit, Iowans are pretty used to neighbor disagreeing with neighbor every 4th or 8th winter and tend to be respectful in this way as compared with us "caucus tourists." Anyone who has knows you can't live in DC and flip out every time you cross paths with a Republican staffer. The person running the caucus does their best to keep things civilized and you definitely should not expect shouting or fist fights, but for many it remains a highly emotionally charged situation.
Finally and probably most obvious and most frustrating, you have to physically be there at a specific place and time. Not even the most regressive general election in the United States requires that participants show up for a specific half hour window. This means that caucuses favor those who are physical and economically mobile. I wound up canvassing what I could best describe as retirement mobile home park this week. In a 50-household packet I met a retired Catholic priest who could not attend because he had to take his mother to the doctor, a community college professor who had to teach and could not get anyone to cover her class, and five separate seniors who physically could not get there in the ice and cold. We could come up with countless more scenarios of would-be caucus goers who are not able to get to the caucus, most of which would involve members of vulnerable populations. It should be noted that the Iowa Democratic Party has made efforts this year to make the caucus more accessible and while those are commendable, they are, Bernie Sanders would say "not good enough." Caucus-goes still have to be available during the designated timeslot and how many 80 year old Dubuque grandmothers can't make it out on their own but are set up to tele-caucus?
In conclusion, if we as Democrats are fighting to widen participation not just because it benefits us but because its the right thing to do then the time for caucuses has come and gone.
(But it is still really fun to be here.)
Campaign Love and Mine,