Thursday, January 3, 2008

Tell me again why I care about Iowa?

I generally just ignore the "square middle states" as B's husband calls them, and I'm kind of grumpy that I have to hear all about what random people in Iowa think about presidential politics. NPR, along with everyone else, has been talking to tons of people in Iowa about who they're going to vote for, and I've been trying not to care because I think the fact that primaries happen on different dates in different states is completely broken. But that's not what I wanted to talk about here, on my first blog post of the new year. Instead, I wanted to talk about caucuses.

On the local news today I heard to my dismay that Washington state is going to continue to use caucuses this year, as they did during the last presidential election. Apparently the Democrats are going to entirely use the caucus results, while Republicans will use the primaries to allocate 51% of their electoral votes and the caucuses to allocate the other 49%. I'm pretty confused, because I thought that last time we switched to caucuses because they were cheaper than primaries even though they're extremely inconvenient and the number of people who have 2 hours to spare for voting and who bother to figure out the process is small. But if we're having primaries anyway, why are we still having caucuses?

Anyhow, a few minutes later on All Things Considered, Melissa Block reported from the home of Joe Loebach, who was hosting his 6th caucus tonight. First she mentioned that part of the caucus complexity is both getting folks to go (apparently bribing them with food, babysitting, and who knows what else is legit, based on other pieces I've heard on NPR this week) but also allocating people correctly. Each "district" within Iowa has votes according to how many people showed up to vote last time around, so if, for instance, a candidate got all her supporters out to vote but they all went to the same district, it wouldn't help her (Ms. Block compared it to the Democrats getting 10 million extra people out to vote in New York). But from what I understand, you don't have to go to the place closest to you so each candidate has to convince people to disperse around the various homes.

Next Mr. Loebach explained how the caucus this evening will work, and it seems to be just as crazy as the regular electoral system and require regular citizens to (gasp!) do math. People come in (he expects 30 but has room for 50) and say who they're supporting, and get broken up into different areas of the room. Since his house has 2 electoral votes, at least 25% (8 people) need to support a specific candidate for them to have any potential to get votes. If people's candidate of choice doesn't get enough votes, they can change their votes, leave, or go to the "undecided" section, and eventually the house works out whom to cast the two votes for. Then Mr. Loebach calls a magical phone number and punches in some buttons, which "instantly" let some messageboard in Des Moines update, and Mr. Loebach and his caucus colleagues watch this on TV. Simple, right?

So okay, I actually like the idea that you can come in and vote for your candidate and then select a secondary and tertiary candidate if yours doesn't have enough support, but you could do this on a regular ballot much more easily! And I especially dislike the fact that people who are susceptible to peer pressure (or, more common, spousal pressure) are forced to tell everyone who they're voting for, and possibly even shout down people who disagree. This is one of the many reasons I don't like enforcing vote by mail, because often women's husbands fill out their ballots for them and force them to sign. (It might be a good idea in our household if J persists in trying to tick me off by vowing to vote for Huckabee though!). Caucuses just seem to exacerbate this problem. They also remove all the people who can't afford or don't want to be away from their family, or work, or anything else for several hours from the political process. And they also require untrained civilians to do math, always a dangerous proposition. So overall, a bad idea.

That said, apparently I'll be reporting from a real-life caucus in a few months, since otherwise I can't get in my vote for Hillary. Let's hope she's still in the running after the square middle states get their opinions out.


Anonymous said...

The whole caucus system in Washington just makes me livid. It seems like it was designed to make participation hard for the average person. I don't care if it costs more, I was a real primary election!


Anonymous said...

I WANT a realy primary system :P See, I get so worked up about this I can't even type properly.

Andys said...

Coming from a non-square middle state (although I assume you really feel that all middle states are useless) - it warms my heart that 'real' america has this type of control over the left-coasters. If the Iowa processes succeed only in keeping Hillary out of office then I count that as success!

Your friendly neighborhood conservative.

SabraGirl said...

A - The worst part is that we DO have a primary. According to we've had one mandated since 1988; the Democrats just choose to ignore it. The Republicans aren't much better - they have changed their mind about exactly how much they will pay attention to it every year. Stupid!

Anonymous #2 - I got so worked up about it I spilled half a cup of scalding tea on myself this morning as I was discussing it. But then I'm a klutz.

Andy - I will perhaps agree that bits of Illinois are not useless, but yes the rest of the middle of the country might just fall under that categorization. :-) And I'm also disappointed to hear you spouting the boring anti-Hillary rhetoric. As my only conservative reader I'd hope you could at least come up with something original there :-)

andys said...

Thought I would leave a link...:)