Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier deputy news editor
On Sunday, the Iowa Democratic Party released the final election results from the state caucuses for the democratic presidential candidate. This was six days after the caucus was actually held, on Feb. 3. The vote counting process was delayed and made more chaotic by the new and problematic IowaRecorder App. The controversy provides a good opportunity for reflection on the caucus system itself, and the massive problems it adds to voting representation and suffrage rights.
The majority of states hold primary elections. Six of them, Alaska, Kansas, Hawaii, Maine, Washington, and Iowa, will be hosting caucuses in order to assign delegates for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Caucuses are radically different than primaries. Under a primary election system, voters simply go to their local polling station, mark which candidate they are voting for, and leave. In a caucus, voters are assigned a local venue , where they go and discuss the candidates with other voters in their region. Voters in particular support of a candidate attempt to try to get the support of others. In states like Iowa, candidates receive a number of delegates proportional to the amount of people who end up falling within their share of the votes. In most primary states, a candidate must win 15 percent of a venue’s vote share in a congressional district to win any delegates.
This takes a long time. Over the course of several hours, individuals in each venue converse and debate, hoping to win others over to the side of their candidate. Theoretically, caucusing is supposed to encourage political discussion, allowing neighbors to share their opinion and come to conclusions together. In today’s polarized world, in which political discussion is all too commonly negative, this seems like a nice option. And in the early days of the newly fledged American republic, when the only people with suffrage were white, wealthy men who could do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, this surely was a beneficial way to vote. But now, it’s completely outdated and unrepresentative.
Caucuses can last for hours, as people are expected to engage in extended discussion on candidates’ merits. For many, participating in caucuses is not an option. Those who cannot take several hours out of the day to participate, such as primary caretakers of young children or those reliant on working all day, are practically disenfranchised. Furthermore, caucusing often does not provide for early or absentee voting. Those unable to attend, such as those living overseas, those in college, older people unable to leave home, or people with disabilities, face incredible hoops in voting and would in other states be able to vote early or absentee in a primary system, The University of Virginia’ Center for Politics found that in the 2016 democratic presidential primary election, states’ average voter turnout was 36.1 percent. For the eight states who hosted caucuses, the average turnout was only 11.1 percent.
Throughout the last few years, the democratic party has focused on expanding voting access across the country as a major platform. Allowing states to use caucuses rather than regular primaries directly negates this. Going forward, the Democratic Party should switch all states over to primary systems, in order to ensure adequate representation and protect voting rights.