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Cochise
01-01-2008, 11:09 PM
Iowa caucuses discourage participation by many voters

DES MOINES, Iowa: Jason Huffman has lived in Iowa his whole life. Lately he has been watching presidential debates on the Internet and discussing what he sees with friends and relatives. But when fellow Iowans choose their presidential nominees Thursday night, he will not be able to vote, because he is serving with the Iowa National Guard in western Afghanistan.

"Shouldn't we at least have as much influence in this as any other citizen?" Huffman wrote in an e-mail message.

He is far from the only Iowan who will be unable to participate.

Because the caucuses, held in the early evening, do not allow absentee voting, they tend to leave out nearly entire categories of voters: the infirm, soldiers on active duty, restaurant employees on the dinner shift, medical personnel who cannot leave their patients, parents who do not have babysitting and many others who work in retail, at gasoline stations and in other jobs that require evening duty.

As in years past, voters must present themselves in person, at a specific hour, and stay for as long as two. And if this caucus is anything like prior ones, only a tiny percentage of Iowans will participate. In 2000, the last year in which both parties held caucuses, 59,000 Democrats and 87,000 Republicans voted, in a state with 2.9 million people. In 2004, 124,000 people turned out for the Democratic caucuses.

The rules are so demanding that even Ray Hoffman, the chairman of the Iowa State Republican Party and a resident of Sioux City, cannot caucus Thursday night, because he has to be in Des Moines on party business.

Iowans begin the presidential nomination process, making choices among the candidates that can heavily influence the way the race unfolds. Now some people are starting to ask why the first, crucial step in the presidential nominating process is also one that discourages so many people from participating.

"It disenfranchises certain voters or makes them make choices between putting food on the table and caucusing," said Tom Lindsey, a high school teacher in Iowa City. He plans to attend this year, but his neighbors include a cook who cannot slip away from his restaurant job Thursday night and a mother who must care for her autistic child.

Caucuses are quirky electoral creations that depart from the usual civics-class ideas about fair elections. They are not run by the government, but by the state Democratic and Republican parties. The 1,781 caucuses that take place around the state are small community meetings, in which citizens gather, not only to choose candidates but also to conduct local party business.

Rather than secret ballots, there are public exchanges of opinions.

While the Republican caucuses are fairly simple - voters can leave them shortly after declaring their preferences - Democratic caucuses can require multiple hours and candidate preferences from voters. They do not adhere to any one-person one-vote rule, because votes are weighted according to a precinct's past level of participation. Ties can be settled by coin toss or by picking names out of a hat.

As states have jostled for early voting positions in the presidential contest, there has been loud debate about whether Iowa, mostly rural and white, should be first in line. But "just as nonrepresentative as Iowa is of the country, Iowa caucusgoers are nonrepresentative of Iowa as a whole," said Samuel Issacharoff, who teaches election law at New York University.

To many Iowans, the caucuses are a civic treasure, passed down from the farmers who introduced it nearly two centuries ago as a way of organizing themselves politically. In presidential elections increasingly dominated by slick ads and sound bites, the caucus promotes in-depth discussion of issues and earnest exchanges between neighbors. Because the caucus rules are more onerous than those of regular elections, the meetings tend to attract passionate, well-informed voters.

"It's magic to see people stand up and declare their support for a candidate, and it's a community activity," said Gordon Fischer, a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic party. But many Iowans have been dutifully watching presidential candidates all summer and autumn only to find themselves unable to participate on caucus night. Take Sally Kreamer, a single mother in Johnston, who says she cannot escape the pull of her children's dinner and homework. "I would love to participate," she said.

Or Carrie Tope, who works at a hospital emergency room in Ames and cannot find anyone to take her shift. She particularly wants to vote this year, she said, because things are so close.

Even some campaign volunteers "have bosses who say, we really need you at work that night," said Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, state director for John Edwards. "Unfortunately, they just aren't going to be able to participate," she said.

Scott Brennan, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said the party had no responsibility to ensure that voters can participate. "The campaigns are in charge of generating the turnout," he said. The voters who truly care, he said, will find their way to their precincts. As for Tope, the emergency room worker, "There's always next cycle," Brennan said.

Hoffman, his Republican counterpart, said he was resigned to the inequalities. "That's just the way it works," he said. (His own lack of participation is fine, he said, because he is neutral in the race).

In constitutional terms, the issue falls into a murky area. The Constitution promises no affirmative right to vote, just assurances that specific categories of people cannot be excluded. But because the parties do not collect demographic data, no one really knows who does and does not participate.

Besides, the caucuses are privately run by state parties, meaning that courts are reluctant to intervene in all but the most egregious cases.

Changing the rules might mean giving up Iowa's treasured status as first in the nation and also the attention that candidates lavish on it. "There is no incentive for Iowa to change this at all," Issacharoff said. "It corresponds to what Iowa wants, which is candidates spending time and resources in Iowa," to win supporters dedicated enough to conquer the obstacles to voting. If Iowa ever switched to a more formal system, it could run into a conflict with New Hampshire, which has a mandate to hold the first official primary.

So to preserve their early voting opportunities, Iowa party leaders must defend a system that does not allow many of its citizens to vote.

Occasionally there is a voice of dissent. Just before the 2004 caucus, a video surfaced in which Howard Dean of Vermont, then one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination, raised questions about whether the caucuses allowed sufficient participation.

"Say I'm a guy who's got to work for a living, and I've got kids," he said in the interview, which took place in 2000. "Do I have to sit in a caucus for eight hours?" Dean's opponents accused him of insulting the caucus process. He finished third.

Now, caucus mania is sweeping the state again, leaving some voters to observe closely a process that they say is closed to them. In recent weeks, Nick Okland has taken orders from Senators Joseph Biden and Christopher Dodd at Centro, a sleek Italian restaurant in Des Moines. He would like to vote for Ron Paul, he said, but he is putting himself through college and needs the tips the busy night will generate.

"We wait on all of them and then we can't go caucus," he said.

irishjayhawk
01-01-2008, 11:23 PM
Personally, I find the caucuses to be pointless.
But that's just me.

jAZ
01-01-2008, 11:23 PM
It's a fun, semi-social sort of idea, but it's ultimately a rather elitist system that absolutely hampers wide participation.

irishjayhawk
01-01-2008, 11:27 PM
It's a fun, semi-social sort of idea, but it's ultimately a rather elitist system that absolutely hampers wide participation.

And that's what I wanted to say but couldn't.

Cochise
01-01-2008, 11:29 PM
It's a fun, semi-social sort of idea, but it's ultimately a rather elitist system that absolutely hampers wide participation.

I don't see how it's useful either, it's practically designed to get results that don't mirror the opinion of the general public.

pikesome
01-01-2008, 11:31 PM
It's a fun, semi-social sort of idea, but it's ultimately a rather elitist system that absolutely hampers wide participation.

Add the jockeying with dates that happened this go around and it looks even more foul.

irishjayhawk
01-01-2008, 11:32 PM
Add the jockeying with dates that happened this go around and it looks even more foul.

Or the planting questions.
Or the horrendous cable reporting.
Or the exclusion of candidates.

pikesome
01-01-2008, 11:38 PM
Or the planting questions.
Or the horrendous cable reporting.
Or the exclusion of candidates.

I'm thinking that the states involved wouldn't have bothered arguing if it wasn't important and that means financially. I wonder how much money Iowa pockets because the candidates are trying so hard to secure support.

The other stuff, unfortunately, is part and parcel of elections but the mean spirited bickering tells me there's more going on than just the national spotlight.

go bowe
01-01-2008, 11:54 PM
the caucus system in iowa is quaint and all...

but the more i read, the more i think the caucus system results don't necessarily reflect how people in iowa will vote...

i'd prefer a primary, but i think iowans will never give up their caucus system...

Cochise
01-02-2008, 12:07 AM
the caucus system in iowa is quaint and all...

but the more i read, the more i think the caucus system results don't necessarily reflect how people in iowa will vote...

i'd prefer a primary, but i think iowans will never give up their caucus system...

It makes Iowa matter. Without the caucus and being first, it's just another state west of the Mississippi with single-digit electoral value that nobody would worry much about.

patteeu
01-02-2008, 07:08 AM
I don't see how it's useful either, it's practically designed to get results that don't mirror the opinion of the general public.

It's practical if you're a member of the party establishment and you want to design a process that reflects the thinking of the party establishment. I don't really see anything wrong with that. In party politics, it makes sense to me that the active membership of the party would select it's own candidates. The benefit of opening the process up is one of electability because it ensures that your candidate is at least going to have some broader support. But the activists are the people who really get to know the candidates.

WoodDraw
01-02-2008, 11:24 AM
The idea that Iowa and New Hampshire have a natural right to be the first to vote is equally stupid. Let's reform the entire system, and then it won't matter if Iowa wants to vote in an idiotic way.

Iowanian
01-02-2008, 11:43 AM
Outside of deployed soldiers.....I pretty much think that every voter should have to attend their designated polling location on election day to vote.


Excuses like "I can't get a baby sitter" are just that..excuses.

I'm not sure exactly what I think of this process, as i've never CHOSEN to participate as a caucus attendee before. I do know they allow future voters who will be 18 by Nov08 to participate as well as invite Youth to participate in the process.

Personal responsibility.

go bowe
01-02-2008, 02:14 PM
It makes Iowa matter. Without the caucus and being first, it's just another state west of the Mississippi with single-digit electoral value that nobody would worry much about.it does indeed make iowa matter, just as you say...

and that's why i said "i think iowans will never give up their caucus system"...

go bowe
01-02-2008, 02:46 PM
Outside of deployed soldiers.....I pretty much think that every voter should have to attend their designated polling location on election day to vote.
* * * (http://writ.news.findlaw.com/dean/20030228.html)Some thirty-three countries - all democracies - have mandatory voting laws. There is, however, considerable divergence among these countries in the substance of these laws, the sanctions for violating them, and how strictly the laws are enforced.

In some countries, for example, mandatory voting laws are on the books but not enforced - nor do they need to be, since voter turnout is excellent. In these countries, the law simply sets a standard, one that most citizens live up to.

In contrast, other countries, such as Australia, strictly enforce their mandatory voting law. In 1922, voter turnout in Australia went down to fifty-eight percent. (Remember, our current rate is only sixty percent!) As a result, government officials became concerned. By 1924, they had made voting compulsory. Now Australia has regularly enjoys heavy voter turnout, even though the sanction for not voting is nominal. Australians make a habit of voting; Americans do not.

mandatory voting could work, if the american public would accept it...

Iowanian
01-02-2008, 03:10 PM
Why shouldn't Iowa Matter?

People in NYC and LA don't think the middle 80% of the country exists.

WoodDraw
01-02-2008, 03:25 PM
Why shouldn't Iowa Matter?

People in NYC and LA don't think the middle 80% of the country exists.

It should matter in the same way every other state matters. Don't use your own inferiority complex as a defense.

Iowanian
01-02-2008, 04:12 PM
Oh suck balls.

You're the one butthurt that Iowa is the first major hurdle in the campaign.

Maybe you're one of the jerkoffs that believe only NY, FL and CA should have any say in our nation's leaders.

PS.
Soccer sucks.

Cochise
01-02-2008, 04:45 PM
I think that states here in flyover country deserve more emphasis than a straight national numerical vote would give them, but for one to have such prominence over all others seems kind of crazy.

Maybe a better system would be to integrate all states into a few large primary days like super tuesday. Perhaps a series of three or four primary days, 2 weeks apart each, where 15 or 16 states all go at once?

patteeu
01-02-2008, 04:47 PM
I like having initial primaries in small states. While I can understand that there are problems having the same small states always lead the way skews the race a bit, I prefer that over some kind of national primary or over big states leading off. Ultimately, I'm content to let the parties continue to decide where to hold their early tests.

alnorth
01-02-2008, 05:23 PM
mandatory voting could work, if the american public would accept it...

Mandatory voting is idiotic. If someone is uninformed or does not care, I dont want them to vote. I'd prefer to make voting more difficult than easier and hassle-free. The people who are really informed and care about their vote will do whatever is needed to vote, while those who couldnt care less and are uninformed will generally stay home at the least little hassle.

Hydrae
01-02-2008, 05:29 PM
I like having initial primaries in small states. While I can understand that there are problems having the same small states always lead the way skews the race a bit, I prefer that over some kind of national primary or over big states leading off. Ultimately, I'm content to let the parties continue to decide where to hold their early tests.


I may be way off base here and I am sure someone will tell me if I am but I think primaries (or caucuses (caucusi?)) are simply for the parties. The parties use this information then to determine the candidate they want to represent them in the general election.

So even if Ron Paul runs away with the primaries, the Republicans don't have to present him as their candidate. Heck, they could (I would be extremely shocked) decide to put up someone who didn't even run in the primaries. So in some ways, IMO, the primaries are almost a formality and a nicety to the rank and file of the parties.

patteeu
01-02-2008, 05:35 PM
I may be way off base here and I am sure someone will tell me if I am but I think primaries (or caucuses (caucusi?)) are simply for the parties. The parties use this information then to determine the candidate they want to represent them in the general election.

So even if Ron Paul runs away with the primaries, the Republicans don't have to present him as their candidate. Heck, they could (I would be extremely shocked) decide to put up someone who didn't even run in the primaries. So in some ways, IMO, the primaries are almost a formality and a nicety to the rank and file of the parties.

I don't think that's right in most states. I think every state party selects their delegates according to their own rules, but I doubt that there are many who have nonbinding primaries.

Hydrae
01-02-2008, 05:43 PM
I don't think that's right in most states. I think every state party selects their delegates according to their own rules, but I doubt that there are many who have nonbinding primaries.


I can believe that but it seems strange to me. It is not like we are actually voting to put a person into an office, it is just a runoff for each party to determine who they want to put in the actual election.

Just curious, do the Libertarians run primaries and so on? I have no idea, all we ever hear about are the main 2 parties.

alnorth
01-02-2008, 05:44 PM
I don't think that's right in most states. I think every state party selects their delegates according to their own rules, but I doubt that there are many who have nonbinding primaries.

Thats mostly right. There are many states who try to force their state parties to play by certain rules, but if the party wanted to challenge their ability to do so, they could probably prevail in court.

Similarly, many states try to bind delegates (primaries) and electors (election) to a specific candidate, but when it comes time for them to actually vote, they can do whatever they want, the state be damned. No state has successfully imposed a penalty on a "faithless elector" to my knowledge.

patteeu
01-02-2008, 05:45 PM
I can believe that but it seems strange to me. It is not like we are actually voting to put a person into an office, it is just a runoff for each party to determine who they want to put in the actual election.

Just curious, do the Libertarians run primaries and so on? I have no idea, all we ever hear about are the main 2 parties.

I don't know about how the Libertarians select their candidate. They have a national convention, but I don't know how you get in or who gets to vote.

alnorth
01-02-2008, 05:47 PM
I don't know about how the Libertarians select their candidate. They have a national convention, but I don't know how you get in or who gets to vote.

The party pretty much picks their candidates without a lot of formal input. Similarly, the Democrats and Republicans in each state are under no obligation to ask the people for their opinion at all when nominating candidates and sending up delegates, regardless of what the laws may say.

Iowanian
01-02-2008, 05:51 PM
I don't think mandatory voting is the answer. I think making people responsible for taking the initiative to vote Is a better idea. It bothers me how "easy" its becoming to vote for those who aren't informed enough or concerned enough to do so. Voting is your right, but its also your responsibility as a citizen. If you won't vote unless some political hack beings you a form at home, and then a ballot is sent to your house....then IMO you aren't concerned enough to have an opinion. If you're disabled or homebound or deployed or will be traveling for business? fine.


As for the effect on Iowa...the Caucus, especially a double party year has a huge economic impact on our state. Hotels, restaraunts, gas stations, printing companies, political employees, fund raisers are all flooded with a boost to our economy. Its also a very "personal" way of doing this, as some of these candidates, have visited every county in our state....have seen the small towns, have seen and heard the problems. I can't help but think the winning canidate comes out with a better understanding of middle America, than those who just focus on "The big states".

Eff Rudy.

WoodDraw
01-02-2008, 10:30 PM
I like having initial primaries in small states. While I can understand that there are problems having the same small states always lead the way skews the race a bit, I prefer that over some kind of national primary or over big states leading off. Ultimately, I'm content to let the parties continue to decide where to hold their early tests.

Why not have both big and small states on a rotating basis? Divide the country into categories and have each category rotate spots, or something. Do small states on year and big states the follow year if we must cling to the small vs. large revolutionary concept. I don't know to be honest. The current system is just stupid though, despite what people in Iowa and New Hampshire think.

patteeu
01-02-2008, 11:18 PM
Why not have both big and small states on a rotating basis? Divide the country into categories and have each category rotate spots, or something. Do small states on year and big states the follow year if we must cling to the small vs. large revolutionary concept. I don't know to be honest. The current system is just stupid though, despite what people in Iowa and New Hampshire think.

The problem with big states isn't that they have different political agendas, it's that its expensive to campaign in a big state. If the race starts out in a little state, candidates of lesser means can afford to get around and shake hands and try to prove their bona fides to the money men that can help them afford to campaign in subsequent states. Maybe a big state could separate itself into districts and each district (as opposed to the whole state) could be in the rotation with the Iowas and the NHs. :shrug:

FWIW, I participated in the Texas caucus system one year and it was a lot of fun. They had 3 levels of caucuses. You started out in your voter precinct and elected delegates to the regional caucus where you elected delegate to the state convention.

Iowanian
01-02-2008, 11:21 PM
In short...the states not on the E or W coast, with populations less than 10 million, don't count Patteau...duh.

WoodDraw
01-03-2008, 04:55 AM
In short...the states not on the E or W coast, with populations less than 10 million, don't count Patteau...duh.

I'm in one of those states not on the E or W coast with a population less than 10 million, so the typical argument doesn't work here. I don't have the weird complex that you have about it, yet I still do live right in middle America. If you can defend the current first caucus, first primary system with rational arguments then go at it. If not, I'll assume you have none. A recent poll found less than 20% of America think it is a good system. Do those other 80% just not count?

Iowanian
01-03-2008, 07:12 AM
These are run by the political parties themselves. If they decide another way is better, then they'll do it. As of now, the people making the biggest stink about it are states that want to leapfrog. For not caring, your arguement sure sounds like whining because your state isn't on the homecoming court.

Personally...I could do without the presidential campaign ads that have been running here since 2006.

I don't have a complex about it, but I do like that once every 4-8 years, at least Middle America exists. It is my opinion that people in more states than Iowa benefit from this process. Very close scrutiny is paid, up close and personal questioning and alot of time for each canidate to get t heir message out, or show their true colors.

In the mean time, thanks to all of the reporters, staff, campaign staff, politicos and support folks contributing to the fuel, hotel, and local income sales taxes, as well as economic expenditures.

If I get back from my meeting in time, I have decided to participate in the caucus.