Thursday, January 17, 2008

Time to get rid of caucuses: too much room for voter intimidation

The whole idea of gathering together in a room and voting for your preferred candidate by walking over to a group of like-minded people may have had its place in America's election history. But I think it's time for this process to go.

I feel for the culinary workers in Las Vegas. The shortcomings of the caucus system may be exposed at their expense. From the Las Vegas Sun:

Culinary Union organizers have been working in earnest for the last week to get the word out about the union’s endorsed candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, and to lock down member support in the run-up to Saturday’s caucus.

But two Culinary members supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton say they watched today as two of those field organizers were overzealous in their efforts as they collected pledge cards for Obama in the break room of a Strip casino. The Clinton campaign quickly tried to paint the incident as part of a broader pattern, though introduced no other evidence.

After the Sun worked the story for two hours, this much is clear: What exactly happened this afternoon at Paris Las Vegas depends on whom you talk to. To hear Clinton’s campaign and her supporters tell it, the union intimidated a member into caucusing for Obama, demanding that she sign a pledge card — or face exile from the caucus.

Now, it's unclear whether voter intimidation actually occurred, or whether this was just a misunderstanding. The reporter continued to follow the story, and in an update wrote:

The Culinary Union has investigated and says the source of the drama seemed to be about how one changes one’s party registration three days before the caucus.

Antuna was a registered independent, and the union reps were talking to her about how she had to be a Democrat to participate on Saturday, Weiss said.

Hardly scandalous and certainly not intimidation, she added.

Weiss said she suspects the whole incident was drummed up by the enthusiastic Clinton supporters, who got heated when the union reps started pitching Obama.

Well, I'm not surprised that when the Culinary Union investigated they -- surprise! -- placed all the blame on the Clinton staffers. But clearly there is room for confusion with this system, which may lead to voters who do not vote freely -- for a variety of reasons, including simple ignorance or misunderstanding of the rules. It's time for Nevada, Iowa, and all other states still using this antiquated election system to switch to a primary vote.


Mauigirl said...

I agree. Voting should be anonymous and this takes away that anonymity. It can really influence results; I've seen a lot of discussion about whether or not the anonymous nature of the primary allowed people to say they would vote for Obama in the polls but then in the privacy of the voting booth, didn't. I hate to think this country still has that kind of racial divide but it is a possibility.

I do like the idea of having more than one choice, though. I know in caucuses they start out with their favored candidate but if they don't get enough people to support that candidate, they switch to their second choice. I think we should have a ranking system in the voting process (rank first and second choices). That allows a better measure of what would really happen in the final vote.

Sue J said...

I think we should have a ranking system in the voting process (rank first and second choices)

My only problem with that is that it seems to take away the right of everyone to vote for their first choice. I watched some of the Iowa caucuses on C-SPAN, and I saw Dodd and Biden supporters being "lobbied" by other groups to come join another candidate even before a vote had been taken. It was clear that there weren't the required 15% of people in either of those groups, so the other groups swarmed in.

Maybe it's quaint or old fashioned of me, but I just really think everyone should be able to cast a vote for their candidate -- even if that candidate has no chance of winning. I think everyone who backs a long-shot candidate has a second choice in mind, so maybe they could have a mandatory first round count, and then a second (final) vote.

I don't know, the caucus I watched on t.v. reminded me of the worst neighborhood association or faculty council meetings I've ever been to.

I like casting a ballot!