This article details a conversation had in the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses. We discuss the issues with delegate allotment, accessibility and caucuses in general. These views are not representative of NBN.
Shruti Rathnavel: Obviously the Iowa caucuses were kind of a shitshow.
Jo Scaletty: Yeah, it sounds like the main problem was the app.
JS: They had reportedly tested it but found a coding issue in the midst of the caucuses, so everything fell apart. When people called in responses, their phones were backed up and it just continued to slide downhill.
SR: Some precinct captains reported that only 20% of other precinct captains were confident in the app, so I don’t know how good of a job they did with training people to use it either. And Trump voters were reportedly calling the Iowa Democratic Party to block up phone lines at the same time, so it was just this chaotic mess that they couldn’t control.
JS: Elections in America are inherently partisan, but reporting elections, in my opinion, should be nonpartisan and uncomplicated. I read a piece in the New York Times about how elections should be as low-tech as possible, and I really agree with that. Even hand counting ballots, if we can, would avoid election hacking and keep events like Iowa from happening again.
SR: That’s true, but also, in the same vein, when you say “as low-tech as possible,” I see a caucus as a more low-tech version of a primary vote and that’s where I’m coming from, being more pro-caucus. I think caucuses just have more human engagement.
JS: Yeah, that makes sense. Generally speaking, caucuses sound like a great way to ensure collective democracy. I do see some significant issues in terms of accessibility for caucuses, though. The doors close at 7 p.m., which means if you couldn’t get there because you had to work or because of any familial obligations, like children or school activities, you can’t participate in the democratic process.
SR: The way that electoral systems work in the U.S. are so against working people, because you don’t have a lot of structural things like election holidays, which would ensure democratic participation.
JS: And we're still not even certain who won the delegate votes in the Iowa Caucuses, nearly two weeks later, which is another issue.
SR: Delegates in general are problematic. If it were just a popular vote, a lot of the time there wouldn't be contested conventions. A lot of pundits are predicting a contested convention right now, where one person gets a plurality of the votes but not an outright majority, especially with such a wide field. I think it could be Bernie versus Bloomberg because Bloomberg is obviously very willing to get in there if Biden isn’t able to perform - something we’ve seen.
JS: Biden's voters seem as if they would go toward Buttigieg before a more unknown candidate, if Biden became unviable.
SR: I just don't know what the enthusiasm is for Bloomberg. You need to have enthusiasm to come out and caucus for someone. How much people care about a candidate, in my mind, should be measured as well in regards to who wins. There are people who are voting for Biden, not because they’re actually behind him, but because of electability. They’re fighting against Trump, which obviously is important. But electability is just such a slippery quasi-metric.
JS: And we saw through the results that were posted on Tuesday following Iowa that his campaign of electability really didn't matter. But I don't necessarily think that how passionately you feel should affect voter metrics. Some people come out because they're passionate about issues rather than candidates. That's important. And some people come out because they want to be involved in the election process, even if they're not particularly passionate about any candidate, so they might just say, “Here is the lesser of the evils in front of me, so here's who I'm voting for.” Voters saying, “I love Bernie” or “I love Buttigieg” isn’t the main factor to me. It's just about being willing to go to the polls and being physically capable of attending elections.
SR: Maybe I didn’t phrase that right. I meant, if you have enthusiasm for a candidate, you’ll be much more willing to spread that. When Joe Biden’s wife goes on stage and says, “There are other candidates that are better than Joe on health care, but Joe will beat Trump,” it’s obvious that he’s not relying on enthusiasm. Whereas Bernie is actually banking on reviving an activist, insurgent left. That kind of enthusiasm shows more in caucuses because people are going to be convincing other people to come to their side and vote for their candidate. The ability to say, “Why is my neighbor, who in a lot of ways is very similar to me, voting for someone else?” is crucial. That transparency in the moment makes you think about how it would benefit you to have a candidate as president and opens your mind a little.
JS: But that doesn’t translate to primaries well. In my home state of Missouri, you're not allowed to wear any sort of political paraphernalia when you go to vote. Even if that restriction were removed, there's an economic barrier that comes with that. Honestly, participating in elections means overcoming a significant economic barrier. We typically think of elections being fair and free. That's the big American ideal. But in reality, the electoral college makes them unfair, and the economic barriers of an ID, transportation, getting off work, etc. mean they’re not free.
SR: It's interesting because there's debates and community events, like town halls and community canvassing, that people can go to, but a lot of people don't pay attention to the election cycle until they’re actually voting. A caucus combines that with the voting itself, which makes it more necessary for people to be there.
JS: One of the best ways that we've discussed reform is to make Election Day a holiday. Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell has repeatedly shut down propositions to do so, claiming that we have enough national holidays, which is clearly ludicrous. We have Columbus Day, we can surely exchange that. But then when you consider primaries, is that two election holidays? Is that a state holiday? How does that work?
SR: That's where caucuses come in handy because it's more of the state party than the local party that's running the whole thing. That's the whole benefit of a caucus. That the State is able to oversee it better. If you were going to have a state holiday, caucuses would be more beneficial. Additionally, providing services, such as transportation to events and some kind of way to ensure that children are safe on site, could help create a higher voter turnout.
JS: If there were a way to have same-day voter registration everywhere, that could remove a barrier. But if you don't know where to find information, and you can't find information, you're just not going to be able to vote.
SR: Everyone who has citizenship should be able to vote. You wouldn't need same-day voter registration if everyone was just automatically registered to vote on reaching voting age.
JS: Oh, I definitely agree with that. Caucuses, in theory, have a lot of good to offer in terms of elections from what we talked about with community building, being able to see how our neighbors feel about things and being able to inspire excitement.
SR: Right. I feel like caucuses have a lot of benefits over primaries, just in the sense that there's that interpersonal communication that we're not seeing as much of right now. I see your points about accessibility, and there are obviously areas where transparency can be a problem in voting, such as control dynamics. This is especially prevalent between men and women, where men are more dominant in households and trying to control how their partners vote. But I think a lot of the other stuff can be overcome with just structural implementation. Accessibility is a big thing, but I don't see that necessarily tied into what a caucus is supposed to be.
JS: Yeah, with major structural reform, caucuses could be the main form of voting within the United States. Especially as we look to the Nevada caucuses.
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