“There’s no better way for a candidate to demonstrate electability in Washington than to win next Tuesday’s primary,” said Secretary of State Sam Reed in an early February press release. “At a critical time in their campaigns, these White House hopefuls are competing for the hearts and minds of our voters.”
It’s a romantic thought, the hearts and minds bit. And while Reed may be correct, one might suspect that what candidates were really hunting for in Washington was delegates. They wanted to win, and voters, no doubt, wanted to pick a winner.
Too bad for at least half of the voters in this state, our recent primary was little more than a popularity contest.
While the Republicans had 51 percent of their state delegates chosen by the voters and the other half chosen in caucuses, the state’s Democrats decided not to even bother with the voters. One hundred percent of the Democratic delegates were chosen by caucus, because, apparently, who really cares what the voters think?
Reed, in his press release, recognizes the possible objections to the process without actually acknowledging them in a follow-up statement: “But there’s more at stake here than delegates,” continues Reed. “… The nomination will go to the candidate who can connect with the entire voting public and build enough momentum to capture the White House.”
Other opinion makers have also pointed out that while it’s true the primary didn’t hold much weight, it was effective in voicing voters’ opinions to super delegates: those high-powered and well-placed individuals who will likely determine the winning candidates at the national conventions. This year, the Democratic super delegates will have particular power in such a close race.
While all of this is fair, what particularly irks this editorial board is the fact that many educated and usually astute Democratic voters had no idea when they mailed in their ballots that it was a straw poll. For many, by the time they read the voter’s pamphlet or heard from the news or from friends and co-workers that the primary held little to no effect in choosing delegates, it was often too late to attend caucuses, which were held more than a week before the primary.
For those who went to local caucuses, the events were uneven at best in how well they were organized. While some were led by seasoned politicos who understood the process and prompted intelligent debate, others were badly mismanaged by people who did not understand the caucus rules themselves. Other caucus gatherings had participants who behaved badly and were rude toward those who did not hold the same opinions.
The caucus system ultimately is fairly elitist. For those who must work, or do not wish to be public with their politics, or are simply intimidated by participating at that level, there is no place in the process. Granted, for those who are young and energetic or work regular jobs during the week and can get away on a Saturday afternoon, the caucuses can be an exciting demonstration of democracy at work.
But unfortunately for our great state of Washington, regardless of one’s personal caucus experience, it is clear that in the 2008 presidential primary, democracy has been practiced at the expense of the voters.
by Rik Dalvit