Primaries are more democratic than caucuses; neither should allow independents to participate

Someone took an online poll that finds that more than half of all Americans think that the primary system is rigged.

If the primaries are rigged, the fix favors rural counties and rural states, which tend to be more conservative. In that, our nominating process resembles our bicameral system—one house for direct representation from a relatively small population zone and one house for representation from a larger geographic region. Geographic regions with smaller populations (rural) have the same representation as those with larger populations (urban). Bicameral representation is built into the Constitution.

The biggest complaint about primaries is that independents in some states aren’t allowed to vote in the primaries of the various political parties. And why should they? If you want to vote, join the party. It doesn’t even cost any money. All you have to do is note your party allegiance when you register or reregister to vote. In many states, you can designate your political party online.

I think the states in which voters can cross over or independents can vote in either party are unfair, and have the potential for rigging, because independent voters who don’t give a hoot about the Party can change the final outcome. Each major party has had consistent positions for decades, although individual party members can differ as much as Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb do. Independents tend to warp the vote. That certainly happened this year in the states that allow independents to vote in primaries and crossover voting. In the case of the Republicans, the warping has been harmful, because it gave additional votes to a candidate who is far more liberal on social issues and far less globalist on trade issues than anyone else in the current GOP. By contrast, the independents who poured into Democratic primaries to vote for Bernie Sanders have helped the Democratic Party to emphasize and rededicate itself to what has been its progressive core since FDR.

The question as to the fairness of the various ways to apportion delegates is complicated. Our electoral system suggests that states should award delegates on a winner take all basis, but apportioning them according to the percentage of the vote won seems fairer. The more important issue, I believe, is that every state apportion delegates the same way. I like the idea of giving from a third to half the delegates to the statewide winner and awarding the other delegates according to Congressional districts because it preserves the bicameral nature of our government (some by population, some by geography) and remains essentially democratic.

Caucuses favor candidates who can establish on the-ground campaigns that appeal directly to voters. The problem is that so few of the voters participate in caucuses, even in a good year. It surprises me that the very people who have been exploiting the limited democracy of caucuses, Sanders supporters, use increasing democracy as the primary reason to open primaries to independents. They seem to forget that caucuses are only open to party members. I have never liked caucuses because they are less democratic than primaries, and can easily be manipulated by a party faction, as Cruz has been able to do this election cycle.

The other controversial issue related to the nominating process is the existence of super delegates. Those who complain about super delegates say that they were never elected, nor have voters/caucus goers designated whom the super delegates should support. Now that’s inherently undemocratic.

But let’s take a look at the issue from the point of view of the party. Who defines the party and controls the party? Who raises money for the party? Who represents the party in our various elected bodies all over the country? It’s the super delegates. Many super delegates are elected officials. Don’t you think that every Democratic Senator should get a vote as a delegate at the Democratic convention?

At the beginning of the party system in the United States, there were no primaries. A small elite of rich folk and politicos got together and decided who should run. Then came conventions, caucuses and primaries, each an attempt to further democratize the process of selecting candidates. Thus, those who say super delegates make the convention less democratic are looking at what happens the wrong way. In point of fact, primaries make the conventions more democratic.

It is not every year that the super delegates coalesce around one candidate as quickly as the Democrats have done this year, but it’s not every year that a candidate has as impressive a resume or as extensive a political network as Hillary Clinton. Many of the super delegates have said that they are willing to change their minds if Sanders would win the popular vote. Of course that hasn’t happened, as Hillary has racked up more votes than all the Republican candidates combined and millions of more votes than Bernie.

Low voter turnout is a primary reason a narcissistic demagogue is closing in on the Republican nomination. Note that if the Republicans had more super delegates, it would be easier to stop Donald Trump. They serve as a balance against the momentary irrational actions of voters, in a similar way that selecting Senators by state and letting them serve six years serves as a balance to the more volatile House of Representatives. In the 1950s and 1960s, most progressives complained that the conservative Senate—representing a prior era—was holding the country back; for the past few years, we’re been relieved that the more liberal Senate—still representing a prior era—is around to prevent the right-wing house from sending the country into a deep depression.  In a certain sense, the super delegates perform the same function.  It’s another manifestation of the bicameral nature of American governance.

In the case of this year’s Democrats, the super delegates are not seeking to thwart a potentially disastrous candidate, but rather to support the one they think will be more successful pursuing the Party’s agenda, and who at the same time has received more votes despite spending less money than the other major candidate.

If I were king for a day, we would go to an all-primary system with clusters of six states taking turns going first, second and third over a 10-week primary season that starts in April. I would award one half of all delegates to statewide winners and another third by congressional district. One sixth of all state delegates would be super delegates, many of those designated by elected title, e.g., U.S. Senator, mayor of the largest city.

Back to reality, where we have a complicated, cobbled-together nominating process, but one that is transparent and to a large degree reflects the essential bicameral nature of the American political system. The rules in each state are readily available in plain English and often in other languages. It’s incumbent on the candidate and her-his staff to learn those rules. Instead of complaining about the rules, play the game. Only by winning will you have a chance to change the rules, and the only way to win is to play the rules.

Of course, this advice only applies to those lucky enough to have access to millions of dollars in campaign funds. To make the system more democratic, we would do better not to sweat the nominating process but instead to limit the funds that can be expended by candidates to open up the system to less well-heeled candidates.

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