Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Let the Abomination Begin!

Finally, with the calendar turned to 2008, the presidential election season actually gets underway with Iowa caucuses this week. Honestly, I've not paid too much attention to the races up to this point because there likely won't be much left to decide (at a national level, anyway) once the circus rolls in to West Virginia. No point getting emotionally involved with some candidate who is going to be back to their day job in a month or so.

With that in mind, I want to say that I think the way the parties determine the nominees borders on insane. First, the process starts in two states - Iowa and New Hampshire - that are hardly reflective (demographically speaking) of the country as a whole, yet failure in either state pretty much dooms a candidate. On top of that, there's another level of weirdness involved in the caucus system in Iowa. The New Hampshirites at least keep things simple with an ol' fashioned election.

The caucus system has always mystified me. Thankfully, this NPR piece from last month explains things fairly well, although it doesn't quell the weirdness.

For one thing, the GOPers and the Dems do things very differently. To their credit, the GOPers essentially take the caucus premise - instead of going to a polling place, folks gather at precinct locations at a specific time - and put a popular election gloss on it, by conducting a simple one-shot secret ballot.

By contrast, the Democratic system is convoluted at best. First, there is a public vote for your favorite candidate. But if your candidate doesn't get 15% in that first round, they're booted off the electoral island. Second, supporters of the exiled candidates are then wooed by the supporters of the remaining candidates to win their support -the sort of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" horse trading politics that prevails in Congress or state legislature. It's kind of ugly, to be honest. Finally, there's another round of public voting, which produces the final result.

I'm not naive enough to think that the federal government is really democratic. But it seems to me we can do better than this.

UPDATE: The New York Times has an article today highlighting some other undemocratic parts of the caucus system.

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