(and expensive and time consuming and complicated and cumbersome and laughable[1])

There are strange goings-on in Iowa.  In case you haven’t heard, the late, great, Hawkeye State uses caucuses, rather primary elections, to select the state’s delegates to the national party conventions.  Actually, that’s not quite correct. The caucuses really choose precinct delegates who attend county conventions, which, in turn, choose county delegates who attend district conventions, which, in turn, choose district delegates who attend the state’s convention, which, in turn, finally chooses delegates to the Republican and Democrat national conventions (that’s a lot of costly and complicated conventions.) 

Instead of employing a simple, secret ballot primary – You know, where a voter appears at a specific polling location on voting day, obtains a ballot, marks it in a private and casts it and the votes are tabulated in a few hours.  A system that is the ultimate in democracy, simple, American, and takes only a few minutes. – Iowa prefers caucuses.

Caucuses may be a great way to get out of the house on a cold night, a great way to meet neighbors, and a great excuse for having a few drinks during the week (although I’m not sure drinking before voting is a good idea), but it is no way to run a railroad, or elect a president!

The caucuses are unwieldy.  They are difficult to understand (even for me and I hold a New York State High School Regents diploma) and even harder to explain, but I’ll try.  At 7:00 p.m. on caucus day, Iowa voters (who I’ll call delegate selectors), gather at one of the state’s 1681 election precincts, or at one of the 99 satellite caucuses that are held all over the world. Caucus sites could be schools, churches, public libraries, or even private homes. 

Once everyone has arrived at the precinct and has had a few pops, the delegate selectors are directed to stand on a specific floor area that has been designated for their candidate (really, they do this).[2] Once they are seated stood, the delegate selectors have thirty minutes to harangue, er, I mean try to convince their neighbors to support (i.e., stand with) their candidate.  When time expires, discussion is halted, and the votes (which are literally determined by where the delegate selectors stand) are counted.

Now the fun begins.  Any candidate receiving less than 15% of the vote is deemed “unviable” and immediately aborted[3] as a candidate. (i.e., banned from receiving any further votes from that precinct, shunned, cast out into the darkness, etc.) The aborted candidate’s votes are disregarded.

Next, the delegate selectors resume haranguing, er, I mean, convincing each other to “stand with them”.  Delegate selectors whose candidate became “unviable” must move themselves to a floorspace allocated to a “viable” candidate.   

When the voting is closed, the floor movement ceases, and the final count (actually, floor position) of the delegate selectors is noted.  Each precinct then apportions delegates, (based upon who stood where) to their county convention. 

The actual number of delegates that will be finally apportioned to each candidate is not yet known. That decision will be up to the county conventions, district conventions and state convention, all of whom can use apportioning rules that are even stranger than the procedures described above.  The final decision on the actual number of delegates apportioned to each candidate is made at the conclusion of the state convention.   

While the caucus system may be good in theory (although, I don’t think it is), it is time consuming, expensive and non-democratic in practice.  Whereas a primary election requires only one day of voting, the caucus system involves all-evening caucuses and three series of expensive conventions before the actual number of delegates apportioned to each candidate is finally determined.  To add insult to injury, under the caucus system, the actual number of delegates received by a candidate may have no relationship to the number of votes he/she received in the caucuses.    

Caucuses are also un-American. They require a delegate-selector to endure hours of haranguing prior to their several votes at the caucuses and final delegate selection is done in semi-secret conventions.  This gives an advantage to candidates who have the most raucous and obnoxious delegate selectors and the best back-room operators.  Is that who we want for president?

Finally, as we learned in 2020, the caucus system has one more failing; it doesn’t work[4]!  Not only doesn’t it work, it can produce some strange and unfair results.  For example:

  1. If a candidate got 14% of the votes space in every county, he/she would be “unviable” everywhere and would receive no delegates, even though, in a multi-candidate field, that candidate might have received the most votes in the state.
  2. Assume fourteen candidates are in the running (As there are, including uncommitted and other, in 2020) What if none of them got 15% of the votes in a precinct.  Or in all the precincts.  Would they all be declared “unviable” and aborted[5]?  Would every candidate be awarded no delegates? Where would the delegates go?  Would they miss the conventions?   
  3. Again, as in #2 above, but what if only one candidate broke the 15% “viability” barrier in one precinct but lost the state’s total popular vote in a landslide. Would that candidate receive all the state’s delegates?

The caucus system may be traditional and quaint, but so is travel by horse-drawn carriages.  It’s much more effective to travel by car and not have to walk through horse manure.  I say, tradition be damned.  We are electing a president here! 

[1] By the end of this critique, you will have laughed, at least once!
[2] In the old days, each candidate was given a corner of the room, in which his delegate selectors would stand, but this year there are fourteen candidates (including other and uncommitted) and few of the precinct meeting rooms have tetradecagon (a polygon with fourteen sides) shaped floor plans.
[3] I like the concept!
[4] It is not yet clear what happened, but it is Hillary’s fault.
[5] I really like this concept!!