Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Finally, an Iowa Caucus Raw Total?

Finally, an Iowa Caucus Raw Vote Total?

With the latest solutions to the Democratic Party's Michigan-Florida dilemma hinging on the national popular vote totals, here's an intriguing possibility: Will we finally see the top-secret raw vote totals from the Iowa caucuses?

The most recent plans to divvy up the delegations from the calendar-violating states factor in the national popular vote, mostly to make up for Obama not being on the Michigan ballot. Rep. Bart Stupak, the congressman from the Upper Peninsula, has one such plan. He's got no horse in the race; as a former John Edwards supporter, Stupak is an uncommitted superdelegate. He proposes seating 83 Michigan delegates on a split roughly mirroring the Jan. 15 primary results, assuming that the bulk of the uncommitted vote was from Obama backers. The remaining 73 delegates would be seated based on the national popular vote.

Florida state Sens. Steven Geller and Jeremy Ring, both of whom are also neutral, have a similar plan. Half of Florida's delegates would be awarded based on the Jan. 29 vote (Clinton 50 percent, Obama 33 percent), and the other half on some formula that the campaigns agree upon. That could include the national popular vote.

If these plans or similar ideas draw serious consideration, the caucus vs. primary question comes into play. It's one of the biggest back-and-forth arguments in the battle for legitimacy and superdelegate loyalty.

The Obama campaign presents an interesting paradox. Graph his levels of support against levels of involvement in the political system, and you see an inverted bell curve. He draws both the least committed people, young voters new to the system, and the most committed voters, who spend hours in line and whole evenings at an overcrowded meeting. Across the board, Obama has run better than Clinton in caucus states, and the Obama campaign is unlikely to accept any measure of "popular vote" that does not take into account those states.

But how do you do that? The Iowa Democratic Party has never released its raw vote totals. That would make it Too Much Like A Primary, goes the argument, and New Hampshire would be Officially Mad. The myth is that the numbers don't exist. True, the first-round totals don't exist, other than anecdotally and informally. There were five Dodd supporters and 11 Biden backers in my precinct, for example. If a couple thousand activists across the state could somehow remember those numbers and be put under oath (does anyone else think this whole thing is going to end up in court?), you might be able to assemble a guesstimate. But I know few people who are numbers-geekier than me, so that's probably a lost cause.

But the party knows exactly what the count was on the final alignment, once everyone was in a viable group. Every precinct chair filled out a caucus math sheet that listed the number of people in each viable group and showing the math that produced the delegate count. The precinct chairs of the viable groups signed off on the math. One could argue in a pinch, if party unity and the nomination (not necessarily in that order) are at stake, that realignment is a form of instant runoff voting.

Counting those caucus totals would add to Obama's popular vote numbers, though not in proportion to the size of the state since primary turnout is higher than caucus turnout. (Please, don't anyone propose some formula based on population or electoral votes. These proposals are already as complicated as figuring out viability on caucus night was.) It's just plain easier to vote in a primary than it is to attend the caucus.

As painful as it is for an Iowan to admit, on this argument if on no other Clinton really does hold the high ground. It was annoying to hear her, two nights before the caucuses, telling us that we needed to stand up for the troops and the third-shift workers and the shut-ins who couldn't get to their caucus site, in a pre-emptive effort to lessen the impact of Iowa -- but the argument isn't invalidated just because it was self-serving.

Releasing the Jan. 3 numbers would also anger New Hampshire. But at this point, so what? The Obama-Clinton contest is already to nomination politics what Florida 2000 was to voting equipment. The margin of variability caused by the rules is greater than the gap between the two candidates, and all sorts of little details that were never decisive before are suddenly a big deal. Some cure that is worse than the disease, like a national primary, is the likely outcome. It'll be a battle between multibillionaires, but at least everyone will get an equal voice. An equal, very tiny, voice, with no role for the careful consideration we Iowans have done for three decades on the nation's behalf.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While the caucus report forms did show the exact final vote in each caucus, after all realignments and the dropping of non-viable candidates, it is also the case that the original, preliminary "votes" were indicated by most people on the sign-in sheets. As you signed in, there was a place to circle the name (abbreviated) of your candidate before any counts of the precinct caucus were taken. Although not everyone chose to make that indication, most did. And the IDP (Iowa Democratic Party) collects that information. They should be able to report it along with the counts made after viability and realignments. --precinct caucus chair