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    Caucuses vs Primaries in Washington State
    • I was talking about the cons of caucuses vs primaries and my opinion that caucuses are a terrible system a lot recently on facebook, so I figured I'd share here, too.

      For those who need a refresher: the major US political parties, leading up to elections, select their candidates via the votes of "delegates" at their Primary Conventions prior to general election season. In both parties, Delegates are awarded via either Primaries or Caucuses. Typically a given US state has one system or the other. Delegates are, in theory, required to vote for the candidate that they were awarded to, IF their candidate is still in the running during the first round of voting at the convention. If they're not, my understanding is that all bets are off.

      A primary is a typical first-past-the-post voting system: people get into a booth, fill out a voting form, and then they're done. The votes get collated, and depending on the system either the first person to get above 50%, or the person with the most votes, wins.

      Anyways, that brings us to caucuses. The details likely vary a lot from state to state because they tend to be much more organic things: people in a small region get together and talk in person at a caucus meeting, based on the opinions (often counted via show of hands) of each area, volunteer caucus delegates are chosen. Those delegates then go to another round of caususes which choose another, smaller set of delegates. Repeat 2-3 more times, and the state party finally has a small selection of delegates ready to send to the national convention, all of whom in theory are supposed to vote for a specific candidate.

      In WA state the democratic party has historically used caucuses. This topic is on my mind because the WA democratic party is currently trying to decide whether they want to swap to primaries, instead. They're holding public comments/voting here, though it's unclear to me how binding any of it is.

      This is the public comment I left when I used that website:

      Caucuses are chaotic, vulnerable to those acting in bad faith, and even MORE vulnerable to incompetence and human error. This is due to the lack of trained volunteers or supplies at caucus locations and the reliance on thousands of untrained and unvetted delegates. They're more complex and harder to understand. They also have low participation rates, require a much greater time investment, and require multiple events over the course of weeks or months. Unlike primaries, where voting may be open all day long, all adults in a household must attend the caucus at the same time to participate, which means that it disproportionately depresses turnout of parents, especially of women.

      They're also MUCH more vulnerable to intimidation tactics: it's all public, so caucus-goers who are afraid of voting differently from others - like wives with abusive or strong-arming husbands - cannot vote their conscience.

      The only argument I see in favor of caucuses is that they allow for democratic voters to debate or discuss on the spot. But it's a very small percentage of voters indeed who are swayed by arguments heard at a caucus location, and it hardly offsets the enormous downsides.

      Washington was the first caucus state I've voted in. I was HORRIFIED at how inept, informal, confusing, time-consuming, and incompetent the process felt compared to the simple primaries I'd experienced in my previous 3 states. I finished the process with absolutely no faith that it was capable of delivering accurate results.

      This is my personal story about the caucus system in WA:
      In 2016 I was a delegate for Bernie Sanders in the second round of caucuses because the system required about 1 delegate for every 4 people who attended the first round. I sat in a semicricle of about 15-20 people from my neighborhood. Everyone voted with a show of hands and then we asked for delegate volunteers, which nobody wanted to do, so I volunteered. That delegate was responsible for going to the next round of caucuses 3-4 weeks later, and there were two more rounds after that.

      The guy running my semicricle was an old man who couldn't speak very well and didn't know the rules. It was an absolute clusterfuck of confused people who couldn't believe how informal the system was. After we were selected, I gathered the 4 other delegates from my circle and got everyone's emails, because it was COMPLETELY unclear what we were supposed to do next or what we were responsible for. We spent the next week communicating via email desperately trying to understand the complex system that we were now a part of. Nobody from the democratic party was available to answer questions or help.

      I was selected as a Bernie delegate, but from what could tell there was absolutely nothing enforcing my vote for Bernie. I could have voted for Hillary at the second round of caucuses, completely ignoring the votes of the other people I was supposedly representing as a delegate.

      Of course, I didn't have a chance, because I went to the wrong caucus location at first because nobody had told me the correct one and I had to guess. When I went to the right location they had no record of me and I spent 3 hours going over documents in folders in a back room trying to prove that I was, in fact, a delegate (I can't believe they gave me unfettered access to those documents, I could have done ANYTHING). I left after cussing out the fucking chief county democrat running the shitshow, unable to represent the people I was supposed to. That was possibly the most furious I have ever been in my entire life. I left that caucus 100% convinced that party volunteers that favored Hilary at disproportionately high rates were suppressing my vote. I eventually decided that it was likely just incompetence, because there was plenty to go around, but it sure felt like voter suppression at the time given the tone of the primaries in those weeks and the furious split between party elites and liberal activists.

      Anyways: caucuses are porous, messy, irredeemable, voter-suppressing shitshows that should be wiped from the earth.

      Interesting fun fact though: Bernie won the caucuses in WA handily. WA ALSO runs a primary at the same time, but it's non-binding. Hilary won that. It was generally the consensus during the primaries back then that Bernie did better in caucuses because caucuses favor those with energized bases. That said, even though the system favored my preferred candidate at the time, I have no hesitation in calling it out as a bad system.
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      The post was edited 4 times, last by Max N. ().

    • What your story speaks of is a lot of what I feared made up the two parties. Confusing bureaucracy and behind-the-scenes activity that strays away from the intent of the voters.

      The way you described the caucus system working sounds very outdated, seems like something that would have made sense for small towns in the late 19th Century/ early 20th Century. I always support systems that better represent the people that they represent and it's to me like Causcuses are a censored form of Democracy.
    • I'm not American, but I supported Bernie Sanders and even though Bernie performed better overall in caucuses as opposed to primaries, I still think its a dumb system and should be replaced with open primaries with same day registration across the country with the delegates distributed proportionally.

      It was a few years ago so maybe my memories are a bit fuzzy, but I remember TYT reporting on the Iowa caucus where one of the volunteers was having trouble counting people and writing the number of people on his hand to remember, like is that really the best that the US can offer in terms of reflecting the will of the people? Not to mention that the only people who can participate are those who can afford to stand around all day to take part in a caucus and there is the issue of those who support a smaller candidate feeling pressured to join the majority by the sheer weight of a bunch of people standing right across from you.

      Just let everyone who wants to vote do so in the traditional ballot inserted into a box way and be done with it. Its secure, quick and more people can participate.