Caucuses typically occur at a set time and can last for hours, during which attendees may be expected to participate in an organized discussion or cast their votes publicly. Byzantine rules govern them, and horse-trading is common. Unsurprisingly, only the committed turn out. Research shows that substantially fewer people show up to caucuses than to primaries. And those who do tend toward the ideological fringe, relative to primary voters. Caucuses therefore tend to favor more extreme candidates. Despite complaints that the Democratic Party’s nominating system was rigged for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential cycle, the caucus system in fact favored Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
For some voters, caucuses are simply exclusionary. They make it hard for night-shift workers or the disabled to have their say. That’s plainly inequitable.
Sensitive to these criticisms, the DNC changed its rules after the 2016 nominating cycle, encouraging primaries and requiring caucus states to make it easier to participate. Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah and Washington state have switched from caucus systems to primaries for the 2020 presidential election.
Iowa and Nevada, both of which hold their nominating events in February, are the key early states that have refused to switch. So state Democratic officials have tried to figure out ways to make them fairer. Iowa Democrats would have allowed people to register in advance and obtain a PIN they could enter as they called in to cast their vote. Iowans would have had six opportunities to call in. The system would have been tested during the fall. But national party officials worried that it would be too risky, particularly in the wake of Russia’s 2016 election-hacking campaign. “While only five months remain before the caucuses, we will explore what alternatives may exist to securely increase accessibility from previous years given the time allowed,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said Friday.
Why make such an effort to preserve an unjustifiable system? It is time to end nominating caucuses once and for all.