Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Caucus With Your Own Party

For all the criticism we Iowans get at this special moment every four years, we at least have the reputation for playing the game of politics fair and straight.

That's one of the reasons that the massive crossover vote from Democrats and non-party voters -- that term "independent" always seems self-righteous to me-- I expect in tonight's caucuses, doesn't feel right to me.

I've predicted that crossover votes will lead to a Ron Paul win tonight. But if only self-identified "real" Republicans were caucusing, Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum would be more likely to win.

Now we're Iowa Nice, of course, so we have a pretty open set of rules. You can change affiliation on the spot (though Republicans, to make a political point about photo ID laws, are asking for ID to re-register this year. Democrats, in part to make the opposite point, aren't.)

I've seen crossover interference for years, on a local level. We get a lot of "Democrats for a day" in Johnson County, which hasn't elected a Republican county supervisor in 50 years. Locals call it "the real election." Classic statistic: 1000 more votes for county recorder in the 1998 primary than for governor.)

Most of this, despite the complaints of party regulars like me and my evil Republican twins, isn't a calculated effort to nominate a weak candidate for the other party. It's usually a sincere effort to vote for someone, or sometimes against someone. Sorry, but in my mind that's what general elections are for. Gaming the system always bothers me. Political parties deserve the right to choose their own candidates, without interference from the other team, and that right has ben successfully argued all the way to the Supreme Court.

But that's goody-goody idealism. Here's a practical reason.

Iowa law gives party central committees and conventions a lot of power. If there's a special election, there is no primary. Delegates and/or precinct chairs (depending on the office) choose the party nominee. There's also a convention if no candidate wins the required 35 percent in the primary. It's only been a decade since a couple hundred votes at a district convention sent Steve King to Congress.

If you're a Democrat who decides to be A Republican For A Day, and your congressman dies or your state senator resigns, you're not in the room. You're not a Democratic delegate or committee member, because those people are elected on caucus night, and you were down the hall at the Republican caucus.

Johnson County is virtually guaranteed such a convention, with mid-term supervisor Sally Stutsman running for a strongly Democratic legislative seat with no incumbent.

Granted, it would be kind of fun to mess with the Republican platform committee. But other anti-war and progressive Democrats are pursuing a more honorable approach: an uncommitted Democratic effort. I'm not with them -- as we say in Obama world, I'm In -- but I wish them well.

There were problems with accurately and honestly reporting uncommitted results against Bill Clinton in 1996, but now that results are reported directly from the caucus site to the state party, rather than through county party chairs, those issues should be resolved. Sure, there's going to be a first-stage attendance Democratic "result" reported early in the evening, before the actual delegate count gets reported. I don't support that idea and will do my best to report the real result. But whatever that small uncommitted Democratic percentage is, it will stand on its own as a clear message, rather than getting buried as an indistinguishable factor in the Republican results.


Chris said...

But, as you point out, the parties have a constitutional right to decide who can participate in their candidate selection processes (subject to other constitutional constraints -- for example, against race discrimination). By allowing same-day party switches, aren't the parties basically inviting the very conduct that you're criticizing here? It's hard to see how accepting an invitation can qualify as "gaming the system."

As for the vote count, I'm wondering: if "uncommitted" is not viable in my caucus, will those uncommitted votes be reported?

John said...

Democrats never report "votes." They only report delegate counts: Obama 4, uncommitted 1. If uncommitted is not viable, that's Obama 5, uncommitted zero.

As for party switching,it's certainly legal. I personally find it unethical. I'd prefer tighter laws on it but all movement in election law is in the other direction.

Chris said...

But again, what's unethical about accepting a party's invitation? Any time the party wants that to stop, they can say so.

The fact that many, many votes for "Uncommitted" are going to go unreported is probably one reason why so many Democrats are interested in crossing over to cast a protest vote for Paul. At least those votes -- all of them -- will be counted and reported in the media. If your goal is to make a statement, why cast a vote that will disappear and go unreported?

(I say this as someone who plans to caucus for "uncommitted.")

John said...

Every uncommitted delegate, from every precinct where uncommitted is viable, will be reported.

But if uncommitted isn't viable, no, that doesn't get reported, any more than the six Chris Dodd people out of 300+ got reported in my precinct four years ago.

As for the ethics, there's only you and me and we just disagree. I don't feel that as a Democrat I have any business telling the Republicans who their candidate should be. That's their problem, see ya in November.

Chris said...

Well, I can't argue too much, since I don't feel comfortable joining that roomful of Republicans either. But I'm lucky that I live in a precinct where there are likely to be enough "uncommitted" votes at the Democratic caucus that they won't just be thrown away. I do not see any justification for not reporting actual first-ballot vote totals.

In any event, I can totally understand why people would cross over to vote for Ron Paul -- even people who would never actually want Ron Paul to be president. Anyone who wants a better understanding of the possible motives for doing that should read Greenwald's piece here -- especially the second half.

John said...

I could give you the BS reason or I could tell you the real reason. It's all about being first.

The real reason is that the New Hampshire secretary of state thinks reporting the Democratic raw count would make us an ELECTION, not a CAUCUS. And then he'd move in front of us. This is also why we don't have absentee voting for the caucuses.

It's a slightly different story with the Republicans, because the "result" we'll hear tonight is a straw vote with NO connection to delegates.

Let's say your precinct votes Reagan 40, Eisenhower 30, Lincoln 20, Nixon 10. The Reagan people say yay we won, and then they and the Ike and Abe people all leave. The Nixon people who stay behind then elect all the delegates! Could happen, does happen. (I always use dead presidents for examples, safer from trolls that way)

So because there's no link to "vote" count and delegates, the NH SoS says, not an election.

Three things could kill the caucuses: a Screw Iowa candidate winning the presidency, a caucus night ice storm, or an ADA lawsuit demanding an absentee ballot.