The Iowa Caucus Voting Process and Reforming Presidential Elections
An interesting article An Inside Look at How the Iowa Democratic Caucuses Work by Jerald Thomas Hawhee, describes the process. Like many I'm sure, I had dismissed the whole process as some kind of strange, arcane nonsense. Well not for the first time, I think I was wrong! As explained by Hawhee it is really an example of grass roots participatory democracy (remember that word?) in action. It raises some interesting questions for me on the whole of the election process.
As I understand it--but do read the article--each candidate gets a fixed number of delegates which is pre-arranged and presumably has to do with the number of registered voters. To be a viable candidate the individual must receive at least 15% of the vote of those in attendance. Hawhee comes from a small rural area which has only two delegates. Soooo, there some people will end up voting their second or third choice.
This is a form of indirect democracy in that the issue is not going to be decided necessarily on the candidate with the largest popular vote state-wide.
Originally this kind of indirect democracy (though not the same template) governed how senators were elected, since they were chosen by the State Legislature. If you are a Lincoln buff you will remember that he lost out to Douglas for Senator on the basis of a hard fought Illinois state election. A majority of his delegates for the legislature did not win, so Douglas was chosen to be the Senator from Illinois. And this is how the electoral college is intended to operate with a backup if there is a tie, throwing the election to the House of Representatives.
Now Hawhee, sees a problem in the Iowa system which he thinks can and will be fixed, in an under representation of minority voters because of undo weighting to more conservative rural districts such as his, but he would not like to see the system as a whole scrapped.
There is much talk today about just going to a popular vote for the Presidential election. While on the face of this that sounds like a more democratic stituation, but the large states determine the whole ball game. I wonder if the European system in which there are run-offs if the first round of the vote does not give one candidate a decisive majority, might have serious merit. For one thing it makes independant third party campaigns more interesting. For example some people truly believe that Nader should have a voice in the elections (or did in the past) but with elections so close these days (even discounting vote fraud) a candidate like Nader can in fact throw the election to the conservative candidate by splitting out a significant section of the liberal vote.
Food for thought I think.
Lately the party conventions have seemed more like cheer leading events that ratify a candidate already chosen during the primary process but this too was not always the case. Party bosses and party political machines would support "native son" candidates for the first rounds of the elections at the convention, only gradually swinging their vote behind one or another candidate, until finally a consensus was reached. In the process a lot of deals were struck about cabinet positions, who would be vice president, etc. Messier, no doubt dirtier, but it did get us FDR who was not anyone's first choice in 1932.
In any even I think we can all agree on the need for election reform.