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Party Lines: What should be done about the caucus system?
by Ben Horsley
May 21, 2011 | 3462 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Those who believe that caucuses and conventions should be eliminated because they have been taken over by party extremists are correct. Count me as one of them. However, the problem is not in the system, it’s in the apathy of those who do not attend. Decisions will always be made by those who show up.

Democrats and moderates are hoping that a change to a direct primary will give them a better chance at winning a general election. They know that money can make a big difference in the outcome of a primary election. What they don’t understand is that the power of the caucus is not in any one group or cause. It is in the individual who shows up. The greatest cries for changes in our nomination process are not from those who involve themselves, but from those who refuse to do so.

Caucuses level the playing field. As a legislative candidate in last year’s election, I knew my best chance at winning was at convention. I am not a wealthy individual but I worked hard to meet delegates, answered their tough questions and came very close to winning. I garnered 52 percent of the delegate vote, literally six votes away from winning the nomination outright. However, once I got into the primary, the eventual winner was able to significantly outspend me. I am not complaining. I am simply saying that those resources were inconsequential in the convention portion of the election. Everyone has a chance in our current system.

Caucuses are the greatest and most basic political function and it’s so easy to get involved. All you have to do is show up! So if you want to change the type of candidates who are nominated, come and bring your friends. If I can get elected as a delegate, anyone can.

Case in point. My first caucus was in 2002. I was new to the process, but in speaking with folks realized that if I wanted to become a delegate, I would need some friends there to support me. I invited my neighbors to attend and they were glad to do so. Most people want to be involved but simply don’t realize how to do so.

As party chair, I tried to change that. We notified every single registered voter who was affiliated with the Republican Party to participate. We used direct mail and robocalls. As a party, we wanted more people involved.

I am not saying the system is perfect. Parties should look to be more inclusive and can do so with minor changes. Increasing the amount of delegates we elect at both the county and state level would garner more participation. Also, instead of an arbitrary amount of delegates, it should be a percentage of the total number of registered voters in a given area.

Parties could also increase the threshold by which candidates could avoid a primary. Right now, if a candidate gets 60 percent of the delegate vote, they win the nomination and avoid a primary. If that threshold were higher (say 75 percent) then you would have more primary elections. Parties could also change it to allow anyone who garners 35 percent or more of the delegate vote to be on the primary ballot. This means you could have more than two candidates on the ballot that had also been screened by the delegates.

Regardless, government should not be telling political organizations how to decide how to choose their candidates. Neither should other parties. I don’t tell the Democrats how to choose their candidate and state law says they can change their process at any time. Why don’t Democrats change to a direct primary? Because deep down, they like it too.

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