May 28, 2008

Caucuses = voter suppression.

The best of the pro-Hillary arguments.

24 comments:

peter hoh said...

Then maybe Hillary Clinton and Terry McAuliffe should have been doing something about this over the past 15 years.

This is like Bud Selig complaining about baseball rules.

rhhardin said...

Things like this only matter when they don't matter. If it's pretty even, either side is acceptable.

If it's not pretty even, both methods select the same overwhelmingly popular choice.

TMink said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TMink said...

Well, aren't caucuses intended as a means of voter suppression? Simple Democracy is too simple in some ways for professional politicians. There is not enough nuance, and it is difficult to use your organization to win.

Caucuses are a politician's wet dream are they not?

Trey (who hates caucuses)

Richard Dolan said...

"Things like this only matter when they don't matter. If it's pretty even, either side is acceptable."

The problem is that process matters regardless of its impact on the result in any particular cycle. The electoral process has to be fair, measured against the democratic values underlying the entire exercise. In coming up with their current rules, the Dem pooh-bahs brushed aside concerns about a democratically fair process in favor of a system that was more likely to generate what they conceived of as a fair result -- minimum reprsentation of various subgroups, etc.

From that perspective, the problem with a democractically fair process is that no one can predict, or control, the outcome easily. But that perspective overlooks the main virtue of a democratically fair process: it provides its own self-validating criterion, in that the winner is the candidate who got the most votes (be it directly or through delegates selected by that process).

In short, when "either side is acceptable," it still matters that the winner be seen as having been selected by a democratically fair process. And, as the Dems have discovered, litigation and sports based metaphors about playing by the rules don't fully resolve that issue when the rules themselves seem democratically unfair.

Roger J. said...

What Peter Hoh said--the DNC was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Clintons and the DLC for quite a while. Obama gets credit for knowing the rules and exploiting them in his favor.

The fact the team Clinton didnt understand the process, says a whole bunch about their ability to understand the consequences of their policies.

former law student said...

What is the convention but one huge caucus that excludes the vast bulk of the Democrats? The entire superdelegate system disenfranchises the rank and file. But while crying about how people that can't show up for two hours every four years are disenfranchised (and don't these people ever go to the movies? or church?) the author of the report is quite willing to throw Democrats from "red" states under the bus.

Her whole screed is an exercise in goalpost moving; like complaining the Super Bowl loser should win because they got more first downs, or because their time in possession was greater, even though their opponent scored more points.

Bender said...

Yes, the caucus system was grossly and unfairly tilted in favor of one candidate -- Hillary Clinton, as the one with 16 years of organizational experience -- but Obama proved that everyday people can overcome the insiders.

Michael_H said...

The Clinton point of view:

"Any Event That Causes Anyone To Vote For BHO = Voter Suppression.

Because she's HILLARY! and she's entitled to be the Queen.

Randy said...

I'm never been a fan of caucuses. The Washington and Texas caucus results demonstrate their obvious shortcomings, as Jeralyn and the author of that piece demonstrate. Still, I agree with Peter that "the rules are the rules" and Obama followed them to great advantage. (Outstanding advocate that she is, I have little doubt Jeralyn would have a very different view were Clinton the one who did so well in the caucuses.) I also agree with Bender that Obama has proven how to beat the insiders. As he will be at the center of the insider set next time, I imagine that the rules will be changed to prevent that happening again.

garage mahal said...

The entire superdelegate system disenfranchises the rank and file.

Agreed. Superdelegates have been going against the will of the people for 3 months now. Against the will in their own states, and nationally where Hillary has received 500k more votes after Super Tuesday, which blows the theory she didn't have a plan post Feb. Obama got two supers from a state he lost by 41 points. Some of his bigger supers came from states that went for Hillary by large margins. You can argue that pledge delegate leaders should be awarded the nomination, but arguing it represents the will of the people just demonstrates how it isn't.

John Stodder said...

The Democratic system, however, is at odds with itself, isn't it? The rules with respect to allocating delegates after a primary muffle the impact of even a substantial win. But if a candidate can get the folks out at a caucus, that small, motivated bunch can wield disproportionate influence over the resulting allocation.

You can say what you want about whether the Clintons should've known the system better -- clearly they should have. But isn't the more pivotal question whether the process carries out the wishes of Democratic voters? Or is it supposed to be merely a game?

jdeeripper said...

The Democratic party created those goofy butterfly ballots in Florida in 2000 and now they set up this goofy primary system in 2008.

The Democrats seem to go out of their way to find techniques for self defeat.

McCain will not only beat Obama in the states Bush won in 2004. He will also win states Kerry won such as New Hampshire and probably the White Heart of Darkness known as Pennsylvania. And there's a good chance he takes Michigan.

The Republicans have shown themselves to be incompetent, corrupt, anti-reality misfits.

But the Democrats are still LOSERS. They just have that way about them.

Maguro said...

This is not her best argument. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida is her best argument.

The fact that the caucuses are designed to be dominated by party activists does not equal voter suppression. The Democratic party is a private organization and can choose its nominee however they like. Don't like rules? Petition to get them changed.

Anyway, it certainly has been entertaining to watch Hillary and her supporters pull out every civil-rights buzzword in the book to advance their cause. You'd think Obama had Bull Connor and company assault all those poor Hillary voters with fire hoses and batons outside the caucus sites.

Great stuff.

Original Mike said...

But while crying about how people that can't show up for two hours every four years are disenfranchised (and don't these people ever go to the movies? or church?)

Yeah, kinda like arguing that voters don't have time to get a photo ID, isn't it FLS?

1jpb said...

Thanks for this post. Now, I can comment on talkleft subjects, even though I'm currently banned there (hopefully a temporary problem.)

I live in a caucus state (WA) and I don't like the caucuses. But, the D party here seems to think that these are a good way to build the party.

If HRC and her supporters really had a principled concern about voter suppression they wouldn't rely on popular vote totals that directly combine voter counts from primary and caucus states (although some caucus states don't even report these counts.) The lower participation numbers in a caucus under represent the size of the caucus state when these numbers are directly (without an upward extrapolation) added to the popular vote totals from primary states. This is why delegates are the only indicator of the will of the people in a system that permits both caucuses and primaries.

If the HRC folks really cared about voter suppression they wouldn't have explicitly agreed to not participate in the FL and MI primaries. And, they wouldn't retroactively attempt to assign value to elections where candidate participation was banned and the voters acted with the understanding that their votes wouldn't count toward the nomination.

People act differently when they know that their votes won't count. My experience with the WA state caucus confirms that actions are profoundly influenced by the meaningfulness and meaninglessness of an election.

Our state D party uses a caucus for a determining the nomination. But, our state has a later primary that where results aren't used by the D party (the R's use half from the caucus and half from the primary.) So, I voted in the caucus, but I didn't vote in the mail in primary because BO had already won, and the primary didn't count. And, I know more than a dozen people who didn't vote in the caucus or the primary, but, they would have been for BHO in the primary, if it mattered: some of them are such strong supporters that they have "Women for Obama" stickers on their cars. And, I know one person who didn't vote in the caucus, but did send in a sympathy primary vote for HRC, but if the primary had counted, she would have voted for BHO.

And, we can see that BHO walked away with an 18% win in OR, so it is not unreasonable to expect that he could have racked up a similar victory in a WA primary if that primary mattered. And, obviously this sort of margin (or even a lesser margin) in a primary with record participation would greatly add to BHO's popular vote margin. So, I hear fingers on a chalk board whenever HRC and her supporters ramble on about the popular vote, because I know that they're RETROACTIVELY saying forget about the delegates (which create equity for caucus states), and therefore RETROACTIVELY forget about the people in caucus states, they (I) don't count for the nomination.

I understand that BTD doesn't like to see folks note that Puerto Rico can vote in the primary but not in the GE. And, I will say that I'm strongly in favor of counting the delegates from PR. But, it's true that the popular vote total metric, disenfranchises the caucus states by RETROACTIVELY diminishing their voice relative to the primary states. And, this unfairness is particularly acute when the popular vote totals from PR are used to denigrate the influence of the caucus states, where vote totals don't represent our size, and we do vote in November. Peurto Rico, like all of us, should be measured be their delegates, I wouldn't have a problem if it was possible for PR delegates to give HRC the majority of elected delegates, and hence the legitimate claim to the support of the will of the people. But, just say no to the popular vote in PR, or anywhere.

For the record, I hope that the DNC rules will say that the popular vote, instead of delegates, will be the measure in the future. This will ensure that caucus states can switch to a primary so that they can be fairly counted. And, if they still decided to stick with a caucus, then they'll have knowingly chosen to minimize their influence. RETROACTIVELY changing the rules of an election is always unacceptable; doing so is profoundly undemocratic.

former law student said...

don't these people ever go to the movies? or church?)

Yeah, kinda like arguing that voters don't have time to get a photo ID, isn't it FLS?


True, time is one thing that the old and the poor have plenty of.

George said...

What about the re-filing of the lawsuit to get Florida's votes counted?

CNN) – Victor DiMaio, the plaintiff in a refiled lawsuit aimed at forcing the DNC to seat Florida’s delegates to the Democratic convention, has announced that a protest will be held in Tampa, Florida on the eve of the hearing in his case.

The “lawsuit was filed long before the first vote was ever cast or counted,” DiMaio said in a statement released Monday. “How do you ignore the fourth largest state in the nation and millions of Florida voters who exercised their right to vote?,” he added.

The dismissal of Dimaio’s original suit was upheld by a federal appeals court in March but the court stated that the suit could be refiled if the defects it had identified were fixed.

In early April, DiMaio refiled in Tampa federal trial court. The new suit alleges that the DNC discriminated on the basis of race and national origin in violation of federal law. In particular, DiMaio contends that the DNC allowed Nevada and South Carolina to hold their presidential primaries prior to February 5 because of significant minority populations in both states.

A hearing is set for Wednesday in DiMaio’s case. In papers filed with the Tampa federal trial court in preparation for the hearing, the DNC countered that its rule on scheduling primaries does not amount to discrimination on the basis of race or national origin and does not discriminate against any individual voter or against the voters as a whole in any state.

Zeb Quinn said...

All that time and energy to slice, dice, and deconstruct the caucus system. And still she misses it, when it isn't very complicated and the real explanation is like an 800 pound gorilla in the small tent.

First though, the whole debate about what is more small "d" democratic is sophistry. One thing that's clear about the Democrats is they want as little democracy as possible going on. Their entire delegate counting scheme is a Byzantine tapestry exercise in insulating their candidate selection process from the vagaries and vicissitudes of democracy. Puh-leeeeze.

The 800 pound gorilla is race. Race explains why Obama did so well in the caucuses. The Bradley-Wilder Effect would predict it. Round up a bunch of white people and get them together for caucusing, particularly liberal Democrat activists, openly discussing and debating, face-to-face, and who among them is going to come right out and in the open risk being seen as a racist by vociferously arguing against the black candidate? As they sit there feeling like they're being judged by their fellows? That's why Obama did so well in caucus states. Get these same people in the privacy of a voting booth, then see how the numbers add up.

former law student said...

and who among them is going to come right out and in the open risk being seen as a sexist by vociferously arguing against the female candidate?

And that's why Hillary did so well in the caucuses -- NOT!

1jpb said...

Former Law Student,

Why are you bursting the big gorilla bubble? That' not nice.

And, this could be a plausible theory if the gorilla was magical. The point would be that anytime BHO wins a caucus, it is because of the big magic gorilla.

For example, in Idaho, the magic gorilla was extremely powerful. The magic gorilla was very attentive in Idaho, and he had many folks worried about offending the demure racial sensibilities of their fellow citizens, hence BHO won by 62% statewide. But, the magic gorilla was weak in Idaho's Lewis County where HRC won by 18%.

See, it really makes perfect sense, as long as the 800 pound gorilla is magic.

Zeb Quinn said...

FLS: Study up on the Bradley effect. There is no known gender corollary.

MTfromCC said...

If this is her better argument, then her other arguments must be dogpuke or worse.

Fact #1: Rules are rules - everybody knew what they were going in, and both campaigns voted for the rules (including the rules that resulted in the DQ of the FL and MI delegates). The notion that Obama would have run the same campaign that he ran in this nominating election if this had been a 51 state primary process, with the winner taking all delegates (or even proportional voting) is just crazy. If there is one thing we know with absolute certainty, it is that the Obama campaign did their homework more effectively, and ran strategic and tactical circles around the Clinton campaign -- they raised and spent money more responsibly (and have much more money left now), they had a much more effective ground game in all 50 states, they actually had a strategy in place for what to do after Super Tuesday, they narrowed her lead in virtually every state where she had polled 20%+ ahead of him earlier in the race (with the only exceptions being WVa and Ky) and her narrow victories in several key states were a byproduct of ill-motivated right wing crossover voting -- Rush Limbaugh's Operation Chaos, whose votes for Clinton unquestionably tilted both the TX primary and the IN primary to Hillary, and narrowed Obama's margin of victory in states like NC, where a few additional percentage points would have added significantly to his delegate margin.

Fact #2: To compare a beauty contest, non-delegate selecting primary to a caucus conducted earlier in the same state, and to then draw inferences about the caucuses being unfair based on that, is nonsense -- it defies logic and empiricism. Pollsters will testify at length about what a huge difference it makes when people know their vote is going to count. It is also well known that many democratic voters in MI chose to vote in the Michigan GOP primary for Mitt Romney (to keep the GOP campaign going) rather than waste their votes on a Democratic primary that the party, and all of the candidates, had agreed would not count. The left wing blogosphere had an organized effort to do just that, because they assumed the rules, which all major candidates had supported and agreed to, would apply and be enforced as adopted. To change the rules after the fact, and reward one of the campaigns to the detriment of the other(s) -- to count votes caste in states that were not contested (and, in the case of MI, in which only one candidate appeared on the ballot at all), and in whihc both campaigns expressly and unconditionally agreed in advance NOT to participate (and then campaigned in IA, NH and other early voting states on the basis of having suppoorted rules which protected the timing of those early primaries) is not only unfair, it is complete nonsense, the type of act that usually makes the media howl uncontrollably, because it is so contrary to common sense and principles of fairness. And the excuse that the voters in FL and MI will now take it out on Obama in the general election is absurd -- a complete canard, invented by the Clinton campaign and signed onto by the Mainstream Media (which has nothing better to do) in order to delay the day of reckoning for Hillary's campaign. Anybody who pretends to be outraged -- did I say OUTRAGED -- by the DQ of the FL and MI delegations is clearly a partisan and, by my reckoning, a sleazy partisan who is willing to do anything or bend any rule -- even to alienate an entire generation of new, first-time voters who may end up as lifelong democrats if the party does the right thing here -- in order to win.

Bottom line: Everybody knew the rules and agreed to them. This is a private political party choosing its candidate privately, under its own rules -- which the Courts have repeatedly upheld their right to do, over a litany of different voter challenges over the years. Nobody is being disenfranchised -- but counting MI and FL would be ridiculously unfair to those who sat out those primaries (actually, MI was a caucus) because they were assured by all involved that their votes would not count. This is an argument designed to make people who pay superficial attention to teh campaign feel as if Obama's victory was somehow stolen from Hillary, which could not be more false. It is a craven argument, that reflects more upon her willingness to destroy the party for the sake of her candidacy than reflecting a principled stand that she has stuck to on a consistent basis. If she had opposed the rule DQ'ing FL and MI, that would be one thing. But she and her advisors and supporters did not do that, and they should be estopped from making this argument now. Period.

Fact #3 - Popular vote is not a valid metric, for a litany of reasons. First, the candidate is chosen on the basis of delegates. Second, caucuses are not being counted. Third, beauty contest primaries are being counted. Fourth, the popular vote is tainted with crossover voting that was calculated by right wing activists to interfere with the normal party process and keep her campaign alive. There has been and remains only one real metric -- delegates. And on that metric, Obama is 199 delegates ahead, and needs only 49 more to win an outright majority of delegates, assuming the rules concerning MI and FL are enforced as they were originally adopted.

I think we all know in our heart of hearts what should happen here -- even when Clinton's most avid supporters make this argument about caucuses, and about FL and MI, they behave like they a little ashamed at having to do so. Why is that? Answer: Because decent people invariably feel uncomfortable when they are thrust in the position of having to defend the indefensible.

I'm sorry for Hillary and former President Clinton that the voters and participants in these primaries and caucuses have deprived Hillary of the nomination she so desperately wants to have and that her husband so zealously believes she has earned (despite the fact that she is 199 delegates behind with the equivalent of less than a minute left to play). A little more thoughtful strategy, and a little less ugly tactics, and it might have worked out that way. But it didn't -- the voters have spoken, and now it's time for Senator Clinton to do what's best for the party, which is pull out of hte race and throw her support firmly behind Obama. She doesn't need to carry this through to the convention floor, to then suffer an even more humiliating (and politically corrosive) defeat. Her political future -- and her legacy in the democratic party -- will be defined by how she handles this. One would think the Clinton's to be savvy enough to recognize when the fight ceases to be winnable, and carrying it on further ceases to be in their own self-interest. One can only hope.

peter hoh said...

Zeb, caucuses are not the same in every state. In Minnesota, we caucus, but ballots are cast in a traditional style.