October 24, 2014

Iowa Caucuses are Bad for Democracy

Are you paying attention? Are you watching the results? Is Iowa on your radar?

Today, a non-binding vote by a tiny fraction of America will kick-off the primary season. That vote will award zero delegates.

That’s right. Zero.

National Review Online‘s Daniel Foster well encapsulates my feelings on it:

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/DanFosterNRO/status/154227133244375041"]

It’s not unlike the Ames Straw Poll back in the summer of 2011 (remember that?) when Michelle Bachmann‘s supporters won her a meaningless straw poll that lead to Tim Pawlenty‘s withdrawal from the race. Yeah. Meaningless, but with serious repercussions. Pawlenty suspended his race for the White House. Not because of a scandal, crazy comments, or weak debate performances (see also “Oops”), but because he didn’t win the straw poll.

Too bad for America.

So, what’s it going to be? It’s a good chance that one of these guys or gal (to the right) will  not be moving on, and yet, 99.03% of Americans will have had no chance to vote on them.

How did we come to this? How did one of the smallest states in the nation become the gate-keeper to the White House?

The caucuses were moved to the front of the schedule essentially by accident in 1972. In 1976, Jimmy Carter, a dark horse candidate, committed himself to campaigning aggressively in what was still considered a political backwater and emerged a star. That alone should have been a warning sign. Instead the political press romanticized the place and started treating Iowa as special.

Thus began the self-reinforcing claim that Iowa is first because it is important, when in reality it is important because it is first.

It’s bad policy. It’s bad democracy. And it’s bad for our country. Nothing about Iowan makes them special, makes them unique, or suggests they should be representative of the  hundreds of millions of Americans who will never have a say about the race.

Including Utah, which votes in the last ten days of June, when the race will, likely, be over.

So, while the entire country may be ready for a tidal wave to end the Presidency of Barack Obama, only .07% are able to weigh-in this weekend.

Whether you support Romney, the “not Romney” of the moment (currently known as “Rick Santorum“), or Paul, you won’t have a say about it. Let’s be smart–let’s end the Iowa Caucus and shift to a national primary, wherein all voting is held in the same day. It’s what we do to select the President in the general election and it is what we should do to select our nominees, too. The current primary system disproportionately benefits states that hold early primaries, through legislative subsidies and pork barrel benefits to curry favor and campaign spending during elections, and penalizes states who vote late by either eliminating candidates long before they vote or penalizing them if they attempt to vote early.

Last year, Occupy Wall Street (and its mini-me iterations across the country) protested crony capitalism between big business and Washington, D.C., perhaps with some justification. The primary system, as currently constituted, sets up a system of cronyism just as harmful and distorting to our elective process. A national primary would put voters on equal standing across the nation, would force Presidential candidates to prove they can set up and organize a national organization (rather than go on vacation to Greece during the opening months of the campaign), and prevent parties and Congress from give special favors and penalties on states that fail to follow party rules.

Yes, choice of the nominee of a party is a party process, but the choice should be equal by all members of the party and by all states. After all, the person will represent the entire United States of America, not just the .07 who vote in the non-binding Iowa caucus.

[USA Today]