ON MONDAY, Iowans will participate in the first presidential nominating contest. The results could greatly influence the Democratic race. But Iowans won’t vote like most Americans, who participate in primary elections. Instead, they will caucus. That means the results will be less fair and democratic than they should be.

Caucusing demands that voters arrive on a weekday evening in the cold of winter, wait in often long lines to enter caucus locations and spend perhaps hours with their neighbors deciding which candidates will get delegates. The arcane process involves allegiance-switching and deal-brokering among different camps. Followers of a candidate who does not get enough support in the early going can swing to others. Realignment requires caucus-goers to walk between areas of the high school gyms, college conference centers, churches and libraries where caucuses are held. That’s tough if you cannot walk. Good luck even showing up if you’re an employed single mother, a bedridden patient or a night-shift worker.

The caucus system’s byzantine method for apportioning delegates means that the statewide “winner” might not be the candidate who turns out the largest number of supporters — but the one who corrals enough supporters in the right proportions at the right places. A reform this cycle requires the parties to report tallies of total initial supporters as well as final counts, after caucus-goers have realigned. That could result in multiple candidates claiming victory Monday night.

David Axelrod, senior advisor to former President Barack Obama, says the presidential nominating process is flawed but should not change too much. (Ben Derico/The Washington Post)

Sensitive to the caucus system’s manifest problems, particularly for working people and the disabled, Democrats are this year allowing “satellite” caucuses in areas such as nursing homes and even in foreign countries — and at varying times — along with other accommodations for those with disabilities. But those who participate in satellite caucuses will have far less influence on the results than those who go to regular caucuses.

Moreover, the New York Times reports that other party efforts to open the caucus process to those who, say, cannot wait outside in the cold for long periods of time or who might need to lie down during the caucuses have not helped many. Accommodation options are poorly advertised and not guaranteed. The Times found Iowans who asked for help and have failed to get needed assurances, some left wondering if they will even be offered a chair.

There is a better way. It is the one most Americans are familiar with: voting. Let Iowans — and, for that matter, people in other states that cling to caucus systems, such as Nevada — show up to their polling place any time of the day. Let them vote early. Let them vote absentee. Iowa has not switched to primary elections like almost every other state because it wants to preserve its first-in-the-nation status in the presidential nominating season, and rival New Hampshire, which comes a week later, insists on holding the first primary. This is a poor reason to continue using a fundamentally flawed system guaranteed to exclude vulnerable people from the process.

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