Thursday, May 02, 2019

Kinney NOT running in 2nd CD

I would have been proud to have been represented by Kevin Kinney in Congress, and I'm also glad to keep him where he is. In 2014, a horrible year for Dems, Kevin GAINED a seat from the GOP, and that one seat held the majority for two more years. The excesses of 2017 would have happened in 2015 if not for Kevin Kinney.

Kevin doesn't look like or carry himself like an Iowa City liberal. He's a big quiet cop and farmer. But when he speaks it means something. Kevin has seen crimes worse than most of us can imagine - and he spoke eloquently this session against the death penalty. He's the kind of candidate who can win a district like he has - half is a non-Peoples Republic part of Johnson County, the other half is two rural counties. There's a lot of turf like that in the 2nd CD.

Plus, knowing Kevin, he's a great guy and a great dad.

Some other good people are still looking at this seat and I look forward to a good primary.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

DeBlasio Phoning Into Iowa

We may not yet be done with candidate announcements: Just sat through a nearly half hour survey call that was very clearly message testing for Bill DeBlasio.

Started with likelyhood of caucusing (do you KNOW who you are talking to?) and Iowa right/wrong track (WRONG!)

Was then asked fav/unfav on some candidates, DeBlasio listed first, Harris, Warren, Sanders, Buttigeig, Biden. Then did who would you support, choices were those names plus Beto, Booker, Gillibrand. (Names may have rotated?)

I had to coach the caller on how to pronounce "DeBlasio," this was before I figured out the call was actually for DeBlasio! He stayed with correct pronunciation for rest of call. You're welcome. Caller had touble with some other names, too; Gillibrand was "Christy Anne" and Beto was "O-ROAR-a-key."

Was then asked a series of characteristics; still had not figured out who call was for. Progressive policies, experience, bring country together not divide, "real results that matter to families," cares about people like you, can beat Trump... will support workers and the middle class, shares your values, inspirational, honest and trustworthy. Still had not figured out who call was for.

Was then asked a series of two statements, which I liked better. gets things done vs. ideas and polices Best to beat Trump. vs. views same as my own Progressive vs. pragmatism. Last one gave it away: Mayor of NYC out of touch vs. mayor of NYC an experienced executive.

Was then read a series of statements about DeBlasio and asked how I liked them. They were loooong. Health care, family (including specific mention of multiracial family), "compassion not hate," "experience standing up to Trump," "always on the side of the people."

I was also re-asked at the end about presidential preference. Names again rotated; Gillibrand was in the mix this time and the dude had more trouble with that than he had with "DeBlasio"

Closed with demographics: party, liberal/moderate/conservative, education level, employment, income, union membership, black or Hispanic. Not asked about age, they asked for me by name so I assume they had my voter record.



Sunday, April 07, 2019

Settling for 10%

Disappointed that Iowa Democratic Party state central committee did not increase the delegate allocation of virtual caucus participants from the pre-set 10%. That said, Virtual Caucus is much more a Good Thing than a Bad Thing.

I have no doubt that far more than 10% of caucus participants will choose the virtual option – meaning those votes will be under-represented in the delegate count. Bu how much does the delegate count matter?

The importance of Iowa and First is not the relatively small national delegate count. It’s the year before caucus night when we get to see everyone, and it’s the news bounce that happens on caucus night.

This cycle for the first time IDP will give the national media what it has always wanted: a raw vote count. The complicated state delegate equivalents, while technically more important to the nomination, will be ignored.

If all you care about is “my vote getting counted,” Virtual Caucus is going to do you just as well as attending. Virtual caucusers can also sign up to be county alternates and can do platform stuff.

If we are going to make this process work in the large urban counties with overcrowding problems, we need to encourage people to choose the virtual caucus process and encourage emphasizing the raw vote in order to sell people on virtual caucus.

Johnson County’s votes are under-counted anyway – we had 11% of statewide turnout in 2016 but only got 6% of state delegates. And we are already organized within an inch of our lives so “party building” is less critical. You’ll be doing us a favor if you call your vote in.

I may choose virtual caucus myself. In 2016 I needed to chair my own caucus in a student precinct with no experienced chairs. The precinct we moved into in 2017 has other experienced people, so I can phone it in and then be on standby to help fix any problems that come up in other precincts.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Review of Roby Smith's Amendments: ½ ☆ out of ★★★★★

Reviewing the Roby Smith amendments to election bill and pointing out what I see as significant. This was originally meant to be a tweet storm, but when it grew to over 60 tweets I decided it should be in good old fashioned blog format instead. Welcome back to 2007, excuse me while I adjust the beret.

Organizing this in the order the bill is printed may not be the Classic Inverted Pyramid way to write this, but it's good as a reader's guide. The full text is here (thanks to Laura Belin for making it more linkable and legible than the legislature's site).

Page 1-2 is covering Paul Pate's ass on the legal publication of constitutional amendments . A failure to publish is keeping the NRA amendment off the 2020 ballot. (Chet Culver made the same mistake in 2006 with the famous "idiot amendment," so we waited two more years to remove offensive archaic language from the Constitution.)

My overall opinion on legal publication is that it's archaic in the Internet era and is a subsidy to the dying print newspaper industry. Is anyone really going to first learn about a constitutional amendment by reading the classifieds? This isn't something that's going to substantively hurt anyone or make it harder to vote - but anything that's basically designed to legitimize and excuse a prior mistake is kind of petty.

Page 2-3: Requires bond issue ballots to include a bunch of language about current and proposed tax rates and taxpayer impact - but does not require language about any benefits of the proposal. Basically this is designed to encourage No votes.

Our ballots are already crowded and confusing, especially with more items on combined city-school election ballots and with fewer special election dates allowed. We don't need more language on ballots. In some elections, physically making everything fit is a challenge.

Page 3: "Self-promotion with taxpayer funds." Basically this is a slap at Mike Fitzgerald's Great Iowa Treasure Hunt and at Rob Sand.

Pages 3-5 deal with hospital trustee elections. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but my county does not have this office. Maybe someone from Polk County has more thoughts.

Pages 5-13 are mostly drawn from the original Secretary of State technical bill that was filed pre-session. Some of these items address past issues that have come up.

The requirement that nomination papers include contact info for the petitioner is about the Theresa Greenfield situation where her campaign manager filed false signatures.

The requirement that petition signatures include street address, rather than PO Box, is about Joe Seng's sloppy papers from his 2012 primary challenge to Dave Loebsack. He was allowed on ballot despite the PO Box signatures he collected at the Fibbin' Fisherman. In a contradictory decision, the review board ruled that Seng should be allowed on the ballot (he eventually lost 80-20%) but that in the future such signatures should not count and that a ruling to that effect should be issued. So this is an item seven years overdue.

Language about crossed-out signatures is about Ron Corbett's paperwork from the 2018 governor primary. Corbett was thrown off the ballot after a challenge. In a last-ditch effort to get enough signatures to qualify, Corbett argued that crossed-out signatures should count.


Another practice that's codified: If the first day to mail ballots 29 days before an election falls on a Monday postal holiday, the ballots can't get mailed till Tuesday. This happens with Columbus Day 3 out of 7 November election years.


And dese here guys is not happy about it. Youse gotta problem wid dat?

I would rather have gone the opposite direction and mailed out the previous Friday. Actually, I would rather go back to the 40 days. A shorter time window for dealing with mail means more problems for voters.

The pre-registration deadline for on-line voter registrations is extended from 5 PM on deadline day to 11:59 PM. This has been practice anyway, since the data auditors get daily through the state voter system only includes a date, not a time.

Not sure why abbreviating party names is a thing, but it's a thing, and I don't think it's an important thing.

Now back to substantive changes: Pages 14-17 raise signature requirements to get on the ballot. I don't see much reason for this - Iowa ballots have not been overly cluttered (other than the current Democratic presidential race which is a caucus not an election anyway).

Never trust a dude in a funny hat.
I suspect the push to make getting on the ballot harder is because Cindy Axne beat David Young with under 50% in a 6 way contest. But I don't think any force in the universe will be enough to keep Libertarian Bryan Jack Holder off a ballot.

There seems to be an inverse relationship between goofyness of candidate and ability to get signatures on nomination papers. People sign just to get away.

Page 17 adjusts the allowed special election dates, to account for the combination of city and school elections.

Page 18 addresses the issue of people holding more than one office at once. However, checking the cross reference, it only deals with holding more than one office at the same level of government.

If you were, for example, a sheriff, and later got elected supervisor, that's the same level of government. The proposal specifies that you would vacate the FIRST office you were elected to, rather than both.

This would NOT address what we had in Johnson County where school board member Phil Hemingway ran for supervisor and said he would also stay on the school board. Lost supervisor elections so issue did not come up. School and county are considered different levels of government.

Page 18 moves some county filing deadlines back a couple days, which helps auditors a little with ballot prep and printing.  The Legislature made filing deadlines later in 2017, with the reasoning that absentee ballots were being sent later so auditors had more time. During the debate, they did not seem to understand that federal law requires ballots to be ready for overseas voters by 45 days out.

Pages 19 and 25 prohibit auditors from mass-mailing sample ballots - which Linn County did in 2018. The concern was that voters might think the sample ballot was their real ballot.

Pages 19 and later references take the auditor's signature off ballots and replaces it with a county seal. Petty, but not something that'll really hurt anyone.

Page 19-20 raises signature requirements for third party candidates, & page 20-21 moves their filing deadline (other than president) from August to the date of the June primary. If I read right, full status parties would still be able to nominate candidates at a convention till August.

Page 23 "The (auditor) shall not participate in an absentee ballot drive or collection effort in cooperation with a candidate, candidate’s committee, or (party)." This is vague and leaves a lot of room for unfair interpretation. An auditor is an elected official and has the right to have their own campaign. Could a challenger collect requests but not an incumbent? And how do we define "participate"?  State law already prohibits candidates from handling voted ballots so an auditor can't ballot chase in a presidential year anyway.

Pg 23-24 moves the general election voter pre-registration deadline from 10 days before an election (Saturday) to 11 (Friday). One less day is not good, but could be a lot worse - some states have 30 day deadlines and no election day registration. (Amazed that there has been no effort to repeal election day registration - it must be popular with GOP voters as well, and it required ID even before the voter ID law.) The proposed change makes the deadline consistent for all Iowa elections.

Page 24 requires the presidential ballot to explain that votes are for electors rather than candidates. More unnecessary words and more space taken up on an already crowded ballot. (If you want to do something with the electoral college - get rid of it. Trivia: Until 1920, Iowans voted for individual electors, leading to minor variations in vote totals. Also until 1920, only men voted for those electors.)
We could all use a drink after the polls close.

Page 26 is a big one: it changes the close of primary and general election polls from 9 PM to 8. One less hour to vote, makes all Iowa elections the same. Don't like this, but I think this is a done deal.

My experience is that the 8 to 9 PM hour is a little slower than average but not dead. Busier in town than in rural areas.  Not good but the loss of 11 days of early voting (in the 2017 ID law) is a bigger deal than losing one hour of Election Day

Page 28 would require a runoff for a tied election for partisan office (county, state, or federal). Possible, but rare. Ties for city, school and township would still be name out of a hat. (I have offered my beret for this purpose but my boss has never taken me up on it.) We have ties nearly every general election for township offices - this happens when no one runs and multiple people get one or two write-in votes.

Pg 29-30: "A commissioner shall not use the voter registration system to obtain" missing ID info on absentee requests. Instead I need to call or, worse, snail mail people to get ID numbers that we are already looking at. That's how the voter ID law was worded in 2017 - and that section of the law was and for now still is blocked by court injunction.

There was lots of voter confusion about this while it was in force during the 2018 primary. People calling about "where on my voter card is my PIN number?" (If you have an Iowa license, you don't have a PIN). People putting down Social Security numbers, or non-PIN voter system ID numbers, or even ancient ID numbers from 15 year old voter cards from our old in-county voter registration system that we shut down in 2006 when we went to the statewide system. (If you are going to require an ID number, make it the one that the most people remember: the Social Security number. Even so, I ran into many young voters who don't remember their SSN.)

With the vote by mail window already shortened from 40 days to 29, anything that slows down the mailing process makes it more likely the vote won't count.

Page 31 is aimed right at the People's Republic - it prohibits auditors from establishing satellite sites without petitions, except in special elections. We have a long and popular tradition of several regular sites, especially the public libraries and University Hospitals. Less places to vote means more people pushed down to the auditor's office or to Election Day, longer lines, less parking.

Page 32 is actually a small improvement: It gives voters who failed to sign their absentee affidavit envelopes a few days post-election to come in and sign. Still an issue, though: Auditors can't notify voters of these mistakes after 5 PM the Saturday before a general election (Friday for all others). So a voter who makes a mistake Sunday or Monday is SOL. (This isn't a change, just an un-fixed problem.)

Pages 32-34 appear to deal with signature verification - which I expect a court to shoot down.
Signature verification is a Big Deal for Pate. At a training a couple years back, a staffer let slip: the mythology is that staff at group homes are mass-voting the clients. Not something I've seen any sign of happening.

Page 37 is a gem: The earlier proposal to outright ban satellite voting in state buildings is dropped - but is replaced by some draconian reporting requirements that will be a burden to both auditors and state staff. Auditors would have to report on "each state-owned building in the county that may be petitioned for a satellite absentee voting location." I don't know exactly how many buildings are on the UI campus, but it's into triple digits.

Here's the poison pill. Report would need to include "The impact of electioneering laws on first amendment rights of the Constitution of the United States in state-owned buildings." (This same "logic" is not applied to Election Day voting. Why should satellites be treated differently?)

I have many many times had to get campaigns of all parties and types to get out of range of campus satellite sites. I guess to Roby Smith, the right to campaign is more important than the right to actually vote.

Page 38 remains from the earlier version: it singles out graduating college students for a special letter encouraging/telling them to cancel their voter registration. Can't imagine this surviving in court. (Targeting graduates for cancellation also treats them differently from grad-school dropouts like me.)

Page 39: adding polling place hours to a voter card isn't a bad thing (though losing that 8 to 9 PM hour in primary and general elections is a bad thing)

Page 40 requires counties to participate in the annual NCOA update. Almost all do, and I believe all 99 did this year. Current law allows the option of a county wide mailing to all voters instead, which we did in 2016 with great success in cleaning up the rolls.

Things start to get worse on page 41. Voters would be placed on inactive status for not voting in a presidential election OR for not returning a mailing. Current procedure is you only get inactivated if the post office returns mailing as undeliverable.

This inactivation (and eventual cancellation) simply for not sending a card back had been a major voter suppression problem/tool in some other states.

Our county has a very small population that skips presidential elections but does vote in local school funding elections.  Without digging deeper, I suspect they are from non-mainstream religious communities that discourage voting.

Pages 44-47 deal with ballot rotation. We get that Roby Smith is petty and doesn't want to let auditors decide who goes first, and that's not a hill worth dying on, but this could have been done much more concisely. Put 50 Ds and 50 Rs in one hat, 99 county names in the other, and draw.

Pages 47 to 52 are some minor cleanup items dealing with the combination of city and school elections that will mostly affect auditors, minimally affect school boards and city councils, and will barely effect voters at all.
The postal bar code provisions start on page 53. Again - this is an issue of some significance, but it is a much much smaller issue than most of the other items above. It's only getting attention because of one close race.

And to add more confusion: The postal bar code goes away in 2023. After that, mailed absentees must arrive by a drop dead deadline of when the polls close. (This is called, in Orwellian fashion, "Sure Count.")  I can at least understand the reasons for some of the other provisions, even if those reasons are partisan and petty. But I don't get this. Make auditors buy equipment and implement a system for two cycles, only to take it away? Either go with the bar codes or go with the deadline, but do one thing and stay with it.

On that low note, after 57 pages, the amendment ends.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The State of Mismatched Names

As the 29 Democratic presidential candidates fan out across our state, operatives and journalists are taking note of one of our notable quirks: our bad habit of mismatching city names and county names.

It starts at the top. Our capital, Des Moines, is in mid-state, while Des Moines County is on the Mississippi River. The city of Keokuk is also on the Mississippi, but Keokuk County is about three counties northwest. Cedar Rapids is not in Cedar County, Iowa City is not in Iowa County, the list seems endless.

There are so many mismatches that I wondered if it was possible to draw a RAGBRAI route that successfully avoided all places that have mismatched names.

After wasting a bunch of time I determined: Yes, it is, just barely and with a couple asterisks.


In the map above, "Match" means a city in the county with the same name, with no other mismatches. Washington is in Washington County.

A mismatch is when a city is in a county with a different name. This disqualifies BOTH counties. Des Moines is not in Des Moines County, which makes both Polk County and Des Moines county a mismatch.

Borderline cases involve name variations or unincorporated, little known places. And there are some counties with no matches at all.

To successfully draw a RAGBRAI route without cities and counties with mismatched names you need to start in Missouri Valley and swing northeast. You have to ignore two borderline cases: Lake Mills is in Winnebago, not Mills, County, and Mitchellville is not in Mitchell county (though the smaller Mitchell IS in Mitchell County.)

Once you get through that one county corridor along the Minnesota border, you have several options in northeast Iowa. For a slightly shorter route, stay along the northern border all the way to Allamakee County and finish in Lansing or New Albin.

If you want to finish in Dubuque, just make sure you pass your bike tires through a quadripoint where Fayette and Delaware counties meet (or, if you lean slightly to the right into Buchanan, you can opt to ignore the unincorporated town of that name in Cedar County).

If you've made it this far, you probably want to see my work. Someone else is welcome to do the pronunciation guide.


Adair - Adair is in Adair County. (Part of city crosses the line into Guthrie County.)

Adams - no city with this name

Allamakee - no city with this name

Appanoose - no city with this name

Audubon - Audubon is in Audubon County

Benton - city of Benton is in Ringgold County

Black Hawk - Borderline. Cedar Falls not in Cedar County

Boone - Boone is in Boone County

Bremer- no city with this name

Buchanan - Borderline. Unincorporated town of Buchanan in Cedar County.

Buena Vista - Borderline. Unincorporated town of Buena Vista in Clinton County

Butler- no city with this name

Calhoun - no city with this name

Carroll - Carroll is in Carroll County

Cass - no city with this name

Cedar - Cedar Rapids is in bordering Linn County. Almost a borderline name-variation case but Cedar Rapids is both big enough and close enough for confusion.

Cerro Gordo - Plymouth not in Plymouth County

Cherokee - Cherokee is in Cherokee County.

Chickasaw - no city with this name

Clarke - Osceola is not in Osceola County

Clay - no city with this name. Ignoring Clay/Clayton county confusion.

Clayton - the city of Clayton is in Clayton County, but they fail because the city of Monona is not in Monona County. There's also unincorporated Hardin here and not in Hardin County.

Clinton - Borderline and a tough call. The city of Clinton is here of course, but so are the unincorporated towns of Buena Vista and Lyons.

Crawford - no city with this name

Dallas - Melcher-Dallas (formerly two cities, Melcher and Dallas) is in Marion County.

Davis - Davis City in Decatur County

Decatur- Davis City in Decatur County

Delaware - Delaware is in Delaware County

Des Moines - City of Des Moines is in Polk County.

Dickinson - Borderline. Unincorporated Montgomery is in Dickinson County.

Dubuque - Dubuque is in Dubuque County

Emmet - Emmetsburg is seat of neighboring Palo Alto County,

Fayette - Fayette is in Fayette County.

Floyd - Floyd is in Floyd County

Franklin - City of Franklin is in Lee County

Fremont - city of Fremont in Mahaska County

Greene - Jefferson not in Jefferson County

Grundy - Grundy Center is in Grundy County

Guthrie - Guthrie Center is in Guthrie County

Hamilton - city of Hamilton is in Marion County; Webster City not in Webster County

Hancock - city of Hancock is in Pottawattamie County.

Hardin - City of Union not in Union County. Iowa Falls not in Iowa County. Unincorporated town of Hardin is in Clayton County.

Harrison - no city with this name.

Henry- no city with this name

Howard- no city with this name

Humboldt - Humboldt is in Humboldt County.

Ida - Ida Grove is in Ida County

Iowa - Iowa City is in next door Johnson County

Jackson - no city with this name. (Ignoring Jackson Junction in Winneshiek County.)

Jasper - Even if you ignore the Mitchell/Mitchellville issue, the city of Monroe is here and not in Monroe County.

Jefferson - city of Jefferson is in Greene County

Johnson - Iowa City not in Iowa County

Jones - no city with this name

Keokuk - city of Keokuk is in Lee County

Kossuth- no city with this name

Lee - Keokuk not in Keokuk County; Franklin not in Franklin County

Linn - Cedar Rapids not in Cedar County; Marion not in Marion County

Louisa - Wapello not in Wapello County.

Lucas - city of Lucas is in Lucas County.

Lyon - Borderline. Unincorporated Lyons is in Clinton County.

Madison - Fort Madison is in Lee County

Mahaska - Fremont not in Fremont County

Marion - city of Marion is in Linn County; Melcher-Dallas not in Dallas County.

Marshall - Marshalltown is in Marshall County.

Mills - Borderline. Lake Mills is in Winnebago County.

Mitchell - Borderline. Mitchell is in Mitchell County but Mitchellville is in Jasper County. I'm inclined to give them a break here, especially since they are key to the RAGBRAI route.

Monona - city of Monona in Clayton County.

Monroe - city of Monroe in Jasper County.

Montgomery- Borderline. Unincorporated Montgomery is in Dickinson County.

Muscatine - Muscatine is in Muscatine County

O'Brien - no city with this name

Osceola - city of Osceola is in Clarke County

Page - no city with this name

Palo Alto - Emmetsburg not in Emmet County.

Plymouth - city of Plymouth is in Cerro Gordo County.

Pocahontas - Pocahontas is in Pocahontas County.

Polk - Des Moines not in Des Moines County

Pottawattamie - Hancock not in Hancock County

Poweshiek - no city with this name.

Ringgold - Benton not in Benton County

Sac - Sac City is in Sac County

Scott - The biggest county with no mismatch. Iowa has no city named Scott or any variation of Scott or Scot, they don't have so much as a township sharing a name with another county, and I'm not penalizing them for unincorporated Scotch Grove in Jones County.

Shelby - City of Shelby is in both Shelby and Pottawattamie Counties. Unincorporated Jacksonville not in Jackson County.

Sioux - Sioux City is in Woodbury County, though Sioux Center IS in Sioux County.

Story - Story City is in Story County.

Tama - Tama is in Tama County

Taylor- no city with this name

Union - city of Union is in Hardin County.

Van Buren - no city with this name

Wapello - city of Wapello is in Louisa County.

Warren - no city with this name

Washington - city of "Warshington" is in Washington County

Wayne - no city with this name

Webster - Webster City is in Hamilton County

Winnebago - Borderline. Lake Mills not in Mills County.

Winneshiek - no city with this name (Ignoring Jackson Junction.)

Woodbury - Sioux City not in Sioux County

Worth- no city with this name

Wright - Borderline. Unincorporated town of Wright in Mahaska County.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Israel and Palestine: What I Really Think


1) I'm going to take a risk here and say what I really think about Israel and Palestine.

2) What follows would have been unthinkable to say in public in America even 2 months ago. (Israel itself allows more debate.) The discussion has been one sided far too long. It should go without saying that I respect everyone's heritage and faith - but I have to say it anyway.
       
3) First off I think people should be able to live where they want and migrate as they need.

I'm idealistic enough to be a Statue of Liberty literalist: the core principle of America is that we are a multi-cultural nation and the universal land of refuge.

4) We did not live up to these principles in 1933 or 1945, and we are not living up to them now. But these principles should be fought for, not abandoned, because they are at the core of what makes us American.

5) Aside: Our own hands are not clean. Neither America or Israel was "a land without a people for a people without a land." We can't ignore that our "universal refuge" was founded on African slavery and on the extermination of the Native Americans.

6) But we are what we are now, and while efforts are important, not every human tragedy can be fully atoned for or repaired. Trying to fix one tragedy can create others. Keep that concept in mind.

7) I also believe that nation-states should be secular and not sectarian, & multi-cultural and not ethnic or nationalist based. So I oppose the "right to exist" (sic) of Israel *as currently constituted and organized*. The status quo is immoral, unsustainable, & cannot continue.

8) I am an anti-Zionist because Zionism a) rejects America as land of universal refuge and 2) creates a colonial-immigrant state explicitly based on religion and ethnicity.

9) I believe the creation of Israel in the British Palestine mandate was the greatest foreign policy mistake of the whole postwar era - greater than Vietnam. We addressed one human rights tragedy, the Holocaust, with another -  the displacement of the Palestinians.

10) Rather than backing a specifically Jewish state in 1948, America should have accepted the Jewish refugee population in 1945 - or, better, in 1933.

11) But if there WAS to have been a Jewish state it should have been created in the region where most of the refugees and survivors came from - eastern Europe, where vast populations were already displaced and depopulated in the aftermath of the war. Basically, in East Germany.

12) All that said, "should have" no longer matters. This mistake can't be undone without creating yet another tragedy for four generations that have settled in the Holy Land. No one, be they an Israeli, a Palestinian, or a DREAMer, should be forced from a land they call home.\

13) Finally getting to the point here.

My preference is for a one person one vote secular & multicultural state that treats Jews, Muslims, Christians, and all others as equal citizens.

The problem is, I doubt most of the people who live in the Holy Land actually want that.

14)  It's been clear for many years now that the Netanyahu-Likud plan is to make the entire region between the Mediterranean and the Jordan and Dead Sea an exclusively Jewish state, one settlement at a time, with the Palestinians expected to simply go elsewhere.

15) The Israeli opposition is more open to negotiation, but not on equitable enough terms. (Israel is now in election season.) There are Palestinians who will accept anything they can get, and there are others who want nothing less than a full Jewish exodus.

16) So, sadly, there probably needs to be some sort of two state solution. The tragedy of a two state solution for two peoples so intertwined is that inevitable some people will end up on the "wrong" side of the line. See the India-Pakistan partition for bloody details.

17) If there are to be two states, they need to be more equitable than the 1967 cease fire lines which heavily favor Israel. The basis of discussion should be the original 1947 UN partition plan: 2 states made up of 3 parts meeting at points, with a Jerusalem international zone.

18) Both sides will have to give up a lot: their claims and "rights of return" on the other half, and Jerusalem as a capital. There will need to be compensation to families who lost homes - and in exchange they will need to give up claims on those homes.

19) There will need to be significant disarmament on both sides, including Israel's nuclear weapons. Both sides will have to rein in their extremists, which is easier said than done.

20) Many people will find their homes on the "wrong" side of the line, and their rights and safety must be protected whether they stay or move - again on the principle that people should be able to live where they wish. And any who choose to move should be welcomed in America.

21) Again, all of this is less preferable to a one person one vote equal rights state. And whether there is one state or two, there needs to be a South African style truth and reconciliation process. (Yes I said South Africa on purpose because the apartheid analogy applies.)

22) I an pessimistic and don't see how discussion can get to this point. America might not be the best broker for this discussion. And the hatred in the Middle East may be so great that even this might not work. But it's safe to say *nothing short of this* will work.

23) The point is, in the context of current American politics, we need to be able to HAVE this discussion honestly and without accusations of bigoted motives, and developments of the last few weeks give me hope for that discussion, if not for peace itself. end

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Notes on a BAD election bill

This is just tweets, minimally edited:

Still reading but new election bill very bad https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ba=SSB1241&ga=88

All the provisions put together make this about as bad as the ID bill. This after GOP said they were planning no major election law changes

One provision that seems targeted straight at the Peoples Republic: no satellite voting in state owned buildings. With no sites at UIHC and the IMU the lines will be longer for everyone everywhere else.

So it's OK for a student at Dordt or Luther to vote early on campus, but not at UI ISU UNI or the community colleges?

2016 in Johnson County: 2004 voters at IMU, 2016 (not a typo) at UIHC, and 309 at other campus sites. All those sites banned under proposed bill. All those voters added to lines at other voting sites - or maybe, and that's the idea, not voting at all.

Cross references are always my weak point reading legislation but at first look it seems this bill could make voters inactive simply for not responding to a mailing, rather than current law which only activates if USPS returns mail as undeliverable.
Chris Andringa: @cjandringa

Step 1: send a card in January, and immediately make them inactive.
Step 2: send another scary notice in April.
Step 3: cancel them if they don't respond by July 1?!? (p. 39, lines 26-30; 48A.30 is the cancellation section)
These kinds of response required mailings have been big problems in other states - voters suddenly finding themselves unregistered. How much of this could automatic registration fix instead? 🤔

One provision targets student specifically and maybe illegally: University has to send a mailing at graduation that in effect encourages them to cancel registration.  No other group is targeted the same way.

Another item would add a lot of information about tax levy rates to the ballot itself for bond issues (in effect, encouraging a No vote; there;s no corresponding requirement to list any benefits of the proposal.)

Signature requirements would increase for independent candidates running in general elections - perhaps because Axne beat Young with under 50% in a six way race?
Chris Andringa: @cjandringa Is this really stating that *any* tied election gets a special (pp. 27-28)? Hello, township trustee special elections!
A runoff may be better than drawing a name for a legislative seat, but people have no idea how many township trustee elections are tied with two write in votes each. Would definitely need to be an exception for that.

Under current law there are no provisions at all for a township special election. All vacancies are filled by appointment till the next general election - which has not been  a crisis. Biggest problem is usually finding someone willing to do the job.

There's a different bill that would use postal bar codes but in this bill absentees would have to be in auditors office before polls close. The Newspeak term for this is 'sure count' 🙄

Bill would change close to 8 for all elections. Would also change registered deadline to 10 days for all elections. Currently 10 for general 11 for all others.

The consistency and extra day for registration deadline is good, but that's a Saturday. Will auditors have to be open Saturday for a reg deadline for a special election in their smallest city?

Pages and pages devoted to Roby Smith's pet peeve: auditor's discretion in which order parties are listed. Also changes auditor's signature on ballot to a county seal. Reasonable minds can disagree, but IMHO it's petty.

About the only thing I do like (and reasonable minds disagree) is a "sore loser" law that would keep primary losers from running as indys in the general election. I have always believed that if you buy into a nomination process you should accept the outcome and not get a do-over.

Can't wait to hear Roby Smith's "official" reasons for some of these items (we all know the real reasons). Should be even sillier than his "no one should vote before a debate" rationale for dropping 11 days of early voting, or his technically impossible 2017 ballot rotation plan.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

What's Not Anti-Semitic

Questioning the motives of American Christian conservatives who only support Israel because they think it means Jesus Is Coming Soon? Not anti-Semitic.

Likening Israeli policy to apartheid South Africa because the shoe fits? Not anti-Semitic.

Arguing for our right to use our dollars as we wish and boycott businesses that support governments with bad policies? Not anti-Semitic.

Questioning why Iran has to get rid of nukes and Israel gets to keep them? Not anti-Semitic.

Arguing for a two state solution starting from 1947 U.N. agreement lines and not from 1967 ceasefire lines? Not anti-Semitic.

Questioning the premise of Zionism that there HAS to be a specifically Jewish state, and arguing instead for a one person one vote equal secular state, the way we did in South Africa? Not anti-Semitic.

All these issues and more are legitimate subjects for debate but are silenced by the anti-Semitic card.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Which Candidate Will Take One For The Team?

The Democratic presidential field is growing almost exponentially - Jay Inslee makes it 13 candidates today - and the lanes are rapidly getting crowded.

Some of these people need an off-ramp. Buttigeig for Governor. O'Rourke for Senate (an option he just ruled out). Yang for a House seat somewhere. Marianne Williamson for Mayor of Fairfield (the New-Agey author shouldn't be taken seriously as a potential POTUS but will over-perform in Jefferson County and Maharishi Vedic City - and will be a useful Mendoza Line for other candidates to try to stay above).

But there is one high risk, high reward lane yet to be occupied, and that someone, for victory's sake, needs to occupy. It's the lane that meets traffic head on. It might not get you to the White House, but it could get you somewhere.

Let's set the Wayback Machine to 2004.

That was the last "normal" cycle: a large-ish field of relatively equal strength, and a nomination that was settled long before the last primary state.  No Democratic primary voter under 33 and outside of Iowa remembers any cycle like that. They have only seen bipolar races that go to the last state.

Howard Dean had been the front-runner for most of late 2003. But as caucus night drew closer, the top four candidates bunched into a four way near dead heat.

Back then, there were worries that Dean was some kind of "radical." He never was that. Dean had simply opposed the Iraq War when Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, and John Edwards had voted for it, and he had shepherded his state through the then-cutting edge "civil unions" for gay couples. ("Civil unions" were to full marriage equality as "cannabis oil" is to full legalization.)

The actual far-left people we would now call "Bernie Bros" were with Dennis Kucinich in 2004 and were more hostile to Dean that they were to the candidates who had voted for the Iraq War. Team Dennis resented that Dean had gotten all the anti-war attention that they felt Kucinich deserved. (I expect similar antagonism this year from the Sanders camp toward Warren - in a multi-cornered environment, your biggest enemy is the one fighting for the same niche.)

There was also tension between Dean and the other camps, especially Kerry. Compared to 2008 Obama-Hillary and 2016 Hillary-Bernie it was small, but by the standards of the era it seemed big.

The expectation bar was very high for Gephardt. As the 1988 caucus winner (a fact some Johnson County Paul Simon fans still dispute), anything less than a 2004 win would be damaging - and it just wasn't happening.

Everyone remembers The Dean Scream, but everyone forgets that it came AFTER the much more important Dean Third Place In Iowa. You will never convince us Dean fans that there was anything but a coordinated strategy by the other campaigns: knock Dean out and knock him out in Iowa. 

Dick Gephardt, who knew he was fading, took one for the team:
Gephardt, locked in a desperate struggle for survival in the Democratic presidential contest, unleashed a blistering attack on front-runner Howard Dean yesterday.

His sweeping, and highly personal, condemnation of Dean also served to underscore the bleak reality Gephardt faces in Monday's caucuses. With his campaign running out of money and his prospects in the early primary states uncertain at best, the veteran Missouri congressman needs a victory in Iowa to keep his long political career alive.

But the decision to turn up the heat on Dean runs a risk of hurting Gephardt as well. If it succeeds, the attack could wind up indirectly benefiting two candidates already breathing down Gephardt's neck - Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina. The two senators appear to be surging in the closing days of the increasingly negative, and volatile, Iowa contest...
Stopping just short of calling him a liar, Gephardt accused the former Vermont governor of being on both sides of such issues as trade, Medicare, gun control and favors for American corporations.
"It's become nearly impossible to know what Howard Dean really believes," Gephardt said, urging Iowans to reject what he described as Dean's "cynical politics of manufactured anger and false conviction."
It was the only shot he had left. And it backfired; Gephardt finished fourth and dropped out on caucus night. But the attacks on Dean stuck, and scared Iowans into defecting to Kerry and Edwards. Even the hapless Kucinich got in on it, urging his people in non-viable precincts to realign to Edwards and not the more ideologically similar Dean.

In my own precinct, while we were still herding the Dean cats, the entire just short of viable Gephardt group marched en masse over to Kerry, and thus got reported as Kerry "state delegate equivalents".

(Stunts like that will be a little harder to pull off in 2020. With Democrats reporting raw votes for the first time, the national press will treat that first alignment as the "real" result. But it'll still have an impact in the delegate counts and party structure fights that matter within the state.)

Gephardt sacrificed himself by going hard negative against Dean and us Deaniacs in 2004, but his reward was presumably to come in the Kerry Administration. It was plausible enough that the New York Post famously got it wrong:



So that's history.
 
The question is, in 2020, which candidate in the 1 1/2th tier takes one for the team and does the same to Bernie Sanders?

The problem with the big field is that one candidate with a small but vocal and committed base becomes the front runner while the other candidates splinter the vote. Then that front runner becomes the winner, despite the opposition of most of the party, because the other's can't unite. Why should I drop out when I'm at 4%, if the second place candidate is only at 7? That's how the GOP got Trump.

In a gigantic field of ideologically similar (actual) Democrats, with everyone struggling for attention and viability, it's certain that SOMEone will gamble on explicitly attacking Sanders. Not on his message, which is popular with the base, but on the messenger: his personal history, character, and possibly supporter behavior if some of the more zealous ones create the opportunity.

This will backfire spectacularly, as it did with Gephardt, and destroy that candidate. But the other candidates, the longtime party activists and leaders, and the eventual nominee will be silently grateful, and if/when the election is won, that person will be rewarded.

Because the problem with the "Bernie Is The Most Popular Politician In America" meme that his acolytes constantly push is that it's untested. It's in a vacuum of no negative campaign against him.

Sanders was never truly, personally attacked on the national scale by either Hillary or Trump - because it served neither of their interests to do so. Clinton knew she had realistically clinched the nomination in March and would need the Berners' support, Trump needed Democratic division, and neither of those goals were served by going negative on Sanders.

Sure, there have been scattered negative news stories, which circulate and re-circulate in the #NeverBernie Twittersphere. They're not new to us political junkies. We all know what those issues are and I don't need to reiterate them.

But they WILL be new to the larger electorate. There has never been a sustained direct attack on Sanders from another candidate with the kinds of speech and debate quotes that mainstream news airs and re-airs. There have never been the kind of negative ads most candidates normally see at end game of a general election.

Even in an era of new media, 16 years removed from 2004, an awful lot of swing and low-info voters are still getting information through the old channels. At that point, it's too late. At that point, unlike in 2016, it's in Trump's interest to attack Sanders on everything (except releasing his taxes). You're into a wall to wall campaign of TV ads full of Sandinista videos.



No, not THAT kind of Sandinista video. Strummer-Jones 2020: Make America Clash Again

Bringing these issues up in the primary is doing the party a favor. If you don't care about the party, like some Sanders supporters, well, then, it  helps the cause of defeating Trump. It either tests Sanders' ability to handle a body check and gets these things out of the way, or (I think more likely) it culls out a flawed candidate before he's nominated.

But it's a suicide mission for whoever does it, so who plays the Gephardt role? Someone with nothing to lose. Someone with high expectations, stuck in the pack, who has accepted reality for now but has ambitions for later.

The reward can't be as great as the running mate role that was seemingly within Gephardt's reach. The Sanders supporters would never accept it. The reward would have to be post-election - maybe a cabinet shot to position someone for 2028 - meaning look to the younger candidates.

Two things are certain: It won't be Kamala Harris, who I believe at this point has the inside track to the nomination. And it won't be Elizabeth Warren, who has the most to gain from defections from Sanders.

But this contest is likely to come down to Sanders vs. one Not Sanders, and it's a safe bet that someone will gamble that Anti-Sanders is the best way to be the Not Sanders, or at least to get a cabinet seat from her.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Caucus Changes: The One Significant Problem

I do not want to understate this: The Iowa Democratic Party's Virtual Caucus plan for next February's first in the nation caucus is, in the big picture, good. People who can't attend in person can participate, New Hampshire is mollified for the moment, and it meets the DNC's requirement to release a raw vote count.

But this is a draft plan, and drafts invite critiques.

There's still one piece to the plan that needs work: the way that votes from the Virtual Caucus get counted toward the state and national delegate counts.

As I said in part one, my personal preference is for a primary. But I accept the political impossibility of that - not that Iowa Democrats should not be considering that, but that Iowa Republicans are running the state and see no reason to change.

Given that, my second choice would have been to send those absentee votes - "virtual attendees" as we are now calling them - out to the precincts. The caucus chair opens up a smart phone app and sees "Simon 22, Jackson 18, Gephardt 6, Babbitt 1, Dukakis 19, Gore 0, Kevin Phillips Bong naught." They get counted as if they were in the room, and there's some kind of system to re-allocate the ones that are non-viable.

I like that - but I have worked in an election office for 21 years and I spend my free time setting up caucuses and playing with complicated election math and lists and writing stuff like this. I am not normal (my mother had me tested). And in yesterday's conference call, IDP chair Troy Price indicated that local activists weren't keen on that kind of complication (and by implication were more than happy to let the state party deal with it).

So the state party will. And they will do it by taking the Virtual Caucus votes and pooling them at the congressional district level. As Price described it, it will be like adding a county to each congressional district, Virtual Caucus County so to speak. Within each CD's Virtual Caucus County, non-viable votes will be re-allocated by second/third/fourth/fifth choice until they're in a group with 15% viability.

For me that's not as good as doing it at the precinct or even county level, but it's still pretty good.

Here's the catch, and here's the single biggest flaw to the whole plan.

The Virtual Caucus vote will count for 10% of each congressional district's delegate math. (The non-virtual counties will be allocated as they always have been, based on votes for president and governor in the last two general elections.)

If 10% of Iowa Democratic caucus participants choose to participate in the Virtual Caucus rather than going to the traditional in-person caucus, they count for 10% of the delegate allocation. And that's good.

But if 50% of people choose the Virtual Caucus, they still only count for 10%.

In addition to the question of fairness, this raises a couple other issues: campaign strategy and overcrowding.
 
While Pat Rynard at Iowa Starting Line sums the overall plan up as "pretty neat and a good step forward," he notes:
By capping the delegates you can get from the virtual caucuses at 10% of the total, it's not clear what is the most beneficial approach for a campaign. Someone's vote could count more by going in person to their local caucus... or maybe not!
Basically, with this setup, if I were running a campaign, I wouldn't try to just go around trying to sign up my supporters who could go in-person to their caucus for this virtual system. I'd probably only limit it to people who legitimately can't turn out on caucus night.
With the new rule of locking down attendees once they are in  a viable group, IDP is rightly moving away from strategic game playing toward a more open and fair system. But weighing votes differently depending on how they are cast introduces new ways to play games, some of which we can't even envision yet.

But for me the bigger problem, indeed the biggest problem of all with the caucus, is overcrowding.

City High caucus, Iowa City, January 3, 2008: Attendance 719.
That climbed to 935 in 2016.

The caucuses as they existed in 2016 were NOT a "neighborhood meeting" for "organizing the party." They were a frustrating endurance exercise of being crammed into a too-small room, and trying to understand confusing and arcane rules. 430 people attended my caucus, but only 30 stayed once alignment was final, and only 15 stayed for the platform and party business once the delegates were chosen.

And this is most people's only interaction with the local party structure. How many times have you heard a variation of this: "The caucus was so disorganized, the Democrats don't have their act together, I'm never going to any of their things again."

Some of the rule changes, especially the ones locking down people once they are in viable groups and letting them go home if they want, will help. But as far back as 2004 the caucuses had outgrown "neighborhood meeting."

There simply are not enough rooms in enough neighborhoods that are big enough to hold the number of people who want to attend. There are not enough parking spaces to hold all the cars when you require all the "voters" to be at the "polls" at the same time rather than letting them come and go all day. More and more venues are saying no, legally or not, because they don't want the crowds in their facilities.

The Virtual Caucus needs to be the centerpiece of addressing the overcrowding problem.  We need 50 to 80% of people voting early, to get physical attendance back down to the 2000 and 2004 levels, or else we won't be able to fit into the space available.  

Yet how can I in good faith encourage 50 to 80% of my county's caucus goers to sign up for the Virtual Caucus, when their votes will only count for 10% of the delegate allocation? I can tell people who could not otherwise attend to sign up, and that's good (my own wife missed Caucus Night 2016 because she had mandatory overtime).

But I would have to tell anyone who was wavering, or only looking to vote Virtual for convenience rather than necessity: "Your vote will count more if you go in person." 

Maybe not, because in theory only 1 or 2 or 5% of people could choose the virtual caucus. But in practice it seems that 10% is a severe underestimate of the interest in a system where you do not have to fight that crowd and can sit at home and vote on your phone.

So that's the problem. Here's a couple solutions.

Laura "Bleeding Heartland" Belin, who is also mostly positive about the plan, would like to see the Virtual Caucus counted based on turnout.
If 20,000 Democrats caucus virtually and 180,000 caucus in person, then 10 percent is the right share of delegates to assign based on the virtual results. But if 50,000 people sign up to caucus virtually and 200,000 show up at precinct caucuses on February 3, then the virtual caucuses should determine 20 percent of the total state delegates. If 100,000 people call in and 150,000 attend precinct caucuses, then 40 percent of the state delegates should be assigned based on the virtual results.
That seems fair and reasonable. I'd like to take it a step further, make the whole caucus process more fair, and maybe promote my own county's self-interest.

Since the party is going to calculate and release a raw vote count for both the first alignment AND the realignment, why not simply base the national delegate count on that?

Put all the votes from each congressional district, virtual and in person, into one pool. Reallocate non-viable votes as needed - either through ranked choices for the virtual voters or realignment for the people who attend. Then allocate the national delegates based on that CD level vote.

This keeps the Hard Math at the state level and not the local level, and eliminates the need to pre-determine or estimate what share of the vote should be allocated to the virtual caucus. To repeat the House District 55 mantra: just count all the votes. There would be some minor variation between the four congressional districts, but within each CD it would be one person, one vote.

Caucus delegate counts, at both the precinct and county level, are not based on one person one vote. They are in effect based on a hypothetical general election universe, with precincts and counties allocated delegates based on their performance for governor and president in the last two general elections.

That rewards precincts and counties that vote Democratic in general elections but do not show up for the caucuses, and punishes counties that both do well in general elections AND turn out heavily on caucus night.

That would be us.

Johnson County gets a lot of shade for being "the People's Republic," but we also produce the best Democratic margins in the state and provide a lot of cash to candidates in other districts.

But on caucus night, the rules sell us short and we are punished for our own success. Our votes count less than small counties. Because delegates are allocated by general election vote, we only counted for 6% of the 2016 delegates. Yet we were 11.5% of the statewide caucus turnout. Put another way, a vote in Random Average County was twice as valuable as one in Johnson - and this has been the case for cycle after cycle.

One person one vote would give Johnson County what we consider our fair share. I understand that the small counties won't like my one person one vote idea - but nothing is stopping any other county from showing up at the same percentage rate that Johnson County does! If rural travel is harder, well, now we have the virtual option so that's not an excuse anymore.

So those are two ways to more fairly allocate the Virtual Caucus votes. However, there's one major catch to my one person one vote plan: the Iowa Democratic Party's constitution requires that state convention delegates be allocated by county based on general election results. That can and should be changed to one person one vote - but that can't happen till the next state convention in June 2020. Since that's the case, I'm with Belin: give the virtual caucus a share of the delegates based on their participation rate.

But IF we are going to be married to the idea of Virtual Caucus County equals a pre-determined X% of the allocation, then X needs to be a lot bigger than 10.

One of Price's arguments for the 10% number is that there is no track record available to estimate how many people will choose an absentee process - which is true - and it's "a good starting point."

Another starting point would be to use the same principle we use to allocate delegates to counties: the general election results. Again, I want to get away from that and move toward one person one vote. But if we're going to use that, then consider the Democratic vote in the 2016 and 2018 general elections:


Absentee vote Total
Vote
Absentee
Percentage
2016 Clinton 331,964 653,669 50.78%
2018 Hubbell 293,920 630,986 46.58%
Combined 625,884 1,284,655 48.72%

Just over half of Iowa Hillary Clinton voters, and just under half of Fred Hubbell's voters, chose an early ballot.

So, if you're going to have a pre-set percentage, I'd be a lot more comfortable with the Virtual Caucus share of the delegates at 50% rather than 10 - especially since we need to get roughly 50% of the crowd out of the caucus rooms in order to fit.

I would also be a lot more comfortable encouraging people who are concerned about "how much" their vote will count to choose virtual caucusing rather than in person if the Virtual Caucus was weighted at 50% rather than 10. Sure, it's a guessing game - but it's a better guess with some math behind it. And if the guess is too high, well, then the people who were historically under-represented because they couldn't attend in person will be over-represented for one cycle.

Monday's roll out of the delegate selection plan was the start of a 30 day public comment period. So I've made my public comment, and I'd encourage other Iowa Democrats to think about these things and share your thoughts with Troy Price or your friendly neighborhood state central committee member.

As for me, I'm more than ready to do the work of making the 2020 caucuses happen, and it will be an all hands on deck task. Help your candidate, sure, but help with the prep work and the signing in and the explaining too.

Caucus Changes Part 2: Lots Of Good Stuff Happening

Gotta hand it to party chair Troy Price and the whole team at the Iowa Democratic Party. They have come up with a crafty and creative solution to a problem that seemed insurmountable: how to meet a Democratic National Committee mandate that caucus states have an absentee process, without triggering New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner's somewhat inscrutable standards about the difference between a "caucus" and a "primary" and thus prompting him to move his state ahead of Iowa on the calendar.

The big picture plan, for those tuning in late, is a good one. IDP will offer a half dozen phone-in "virtual caucuses" in the final days before, and on, Caucus Night. Advance registration will be required, but anyone who wants to can sign up. The virtual caucus will let people cast a ranked choice vote (up to five).

The virtual caucus votes will go into one pool at the congressional district level. If your first choice is non viable your vote transfers to your second choice, and so on, until you are in a viable group. The only way you "don't count" is if all five choices are nonviable or if you don't make all your choices.

These Virtual Caucus votes will, under the draft plan, count for 10% of each congressional district's allocation (which I will discuss more in part three).

The most interesting thing about this Phoning It In approach is that Iowa, after meeting with Gardner off and on for months, may finally have cracked his code.

The word that makes a caucus into an election seems to be "ballot" - both marking one and qualifying for one.

Eccentric person with funny headgear

Political junkies (if you are reading this, you are) have all seen the New Hampshire primary filing pictures - state law requires the candidate, be it Hillary Clinton or Vermin Supreme (the very real perennial candidate pictured above), to file in person at Gardner's office. My sense is Gardner revels in this - and does not want a similar "filing" picture coming out of Iowa.

Which is why it's being called "virtual caucus" and "non-present" and not "absentee ballot," and why the re-countable part of the in-person caucus process (another new DNC mandate) is being called a "preference card" and not a "ballot." My bet-the-beret bet  is these preference cards will NOT be printed with names in advance, because that would imply that candidates "filed" and "qualified."

I'm still not 100% convinced that Gardner will be OK with this - he plays his cards close to the vest and won't be Officially setting New Hampshire's date until as late as possible (current DNC calendars say February 11, 2020, with Iowa on February 3). He isn't saying, but initial reaction from others in New Hampshire has been positive.

The other DNC mandate is for release of a raw vote count - which has always been the deepest darkest secret of the Iowa Democratic caucuses. Now that we HAVE to, IDP is planning on releasing caucus results in three formats:
  • the first alignment body count from all caucus goers virtual and in person
  • the count after everyone is re-realigned into a 15% viable group, either through virtual second choice votes or the traditional in person going to another corner
  • the state delegate equivalent, which is how Iowa Democrats have always reported caucus results in the past
Only Iowa party activists, the delegate counters for the campaigns, and a handful of numbers-geeky national reporters (I'm thinking Steve Kornacki and maybe Chuck Todd) will care at all about delegate equivalents or realignment. The headline out of Iowa will be what the national press has always wanted and what Iowa Republicans have provided: the winner based on the first alignment vote count.

(What we are NOT likely to get is precinct and county level detail. My impression from yesterday's press conference call and from overall feedback is that local activists did not want their math complicated any further by having to factor in absentee- oops, virtual - votes.)

The virtual caucus plan also addresses a concern I've heard and expressed for years: that a not-present process would turn Iowa into a "year long absentee chase" by the campaigns. The timeline to sign up is late and it is relatively short: January 6 to 17, with the first Virtual Caucus set for January 29. That doesn't address the nightmare scenario of the Caucus Night Ice Storm or the individual issue of a personal thing coming up - but neither does an election. You either make your plan and vote early, or if you wait till Election Day you take your chance.

Once you sign up for Virtual Caucus, you can choose to call in for any one of the six - but you CAN'T change your mind and attend in person instead. That's part of why the last Virtual Caucus is scheduled to coincide with the in-person caucus, so people who change their mind and show up will still have one last chance to call in.

The late dates also address a concern unique to the presidential nomination process: last second changes in the field of candidates. A lot of California early voters will cast ballots for people who will drop out before that state's primary day. (Of course this can happen to early voters in regular elections, too, says the guy who voted for Nate Boulton on the first day of the 2018 governor primary.) Past caucus cycles have seen people drop out at the last second, and a late schedule (along with ranked choices) minimizes that factor.

These new options will require some earlier deadlines. Virtual Caucus participants will have to be registered Democrats by December 31, before signing up for the Virtual Caucus itself during the January 6-17 window. That's stricter than Iowa election law, but not bad compared to deadlines in other states (New York independents had to re-register months before the primary). And people registering or re-registering later, as late as Caucus Night itself, will still be able to caucus. They'll just have to go in person.

If you DO go in person, not much will be different. Price acknowledged in yesterday's call that speeding up sign-in and taking pressure off crowded rooms is still a priority but he did not go into details. (The BEST way to speed up sign-in is to get everyone registered as a D, and at their current address, by that December 31 date. As for the best way to deal with the crowds, that will be in part three.)

The single biggest difference will be in the realignment stage. Only people in the under 15% non-viable groups will be allowed to re-align. Once you are in a viable group, you are locked in.

And you can go home. Keeping all the cats herded until re-alignment is final is one of the most frustrating pieces of the caucus, both for attendees and for campaigns. This is not quite the Iowa GOP's "show up, vote, and leave," but it's a small step in that direction.

I had a bad experience with this in, of all years, 2012. That was at the height of Occupy, who were caucusing Uncommitted against Obama, and I knew it would be rough when I was challenged for chair, and almost lost. We had an odd number of delegates and a standoff for the last one. Uncommitted filibustered until a couple in the Obama corner announced that they had to go home to relieve their child care - and we may have been the only precinct in the state that the president lost.

So that tactic is gone, and so is the Old Bank Shot routine: "loaning" a candidate a few supporters as a strategic move to screw a third candidate. That's how Martin O'Malley won his lone Johnson County delegate; Team Hillary sent over a couple people to make him viable and to deny the delegate to Sanders.

Caucus night horsetrading has declined in recent years anyway. Historically, the prize for cutting a deal was the delegate seat. "I'll join Team X if I can be the delegate." When the caucus crowd was mainly party regulars, it was easier for a precinct captain to broker that deal and get the group to go along. But with increased attendance, increased campaign intensity, and more new faces, people are less willing to make that deal: "I've been with Hillary from the beginning. I want the delegate to be a Real Hillary Person and not this dude who just came over from O'Malley."

Party regulars may or may not like these tactics. But the new faces, who would rather just cast a secret ballot and go home, HATE them.

My sense is that this change is not being made to stop horsetrading. A true savant might still  be able to read the room and stash a few people away in a weak group, but you risk locking your people into an accidentally viable group.

What this is about is speeding things up. Example from my 2008 caucus:

All seven delegates were allocated: Obama had four, Edwards had two, and Clinton was hanging on to viability with one. The Dodd and Biden and Kucinich people had moved, but there was still a Bill Richardson group about three bodies short of viable. The Richardson people kept demanding more time and kept begging people to move - but it was not to anyone's advantage. To give Richardson a delegate, someone else would have to give one up.

This wasted about 45 minutes, during which a Richardson supporter kept screaming "Democracy takes time! Democracy takes time!" while the three viable groups tried to keep their people, not from defecting to Richardson, but from going home.

Under the new rules, this would not happen. The people in the three viable groups would be locked in, and could go home if they wanted or needed, and the people in the one non-viable group would have to move. (They would, however, get their choice reported in the raw vote count, for what that's worth.)

So all of this is good. People who can't attend can participate, New Hampshire is mollified for the moment, and in at least one big way things will move faster. But there's still one piece to the plan that needs some work, as we will see in part three.

Caucus Changes, Part 1: Primary Problems

One advantage of being a mere hobbyist blogger rather than a professional writer is that I have no deadlines. I write when I feel like it. And for the issue of changes in the Iowa caucus, I decided I needed time to think more than I needed to be fast, and there will be a long wonky post once I think it all through.

But before I dig into that I'm going to look at and set aside, for now and for the sake of argument, the question of switching to a primary, because some of the national reactions were "just have a primary."

While most of the first reactions to the Iowa Democratic Party's proposed caucus changes (which I will discuss in detail in two more posts) has been positive, more than a few people have responded in our Twitter feeds with JUST HAVE A PRIMARY. Some of these are sincere, and some are anti-Iowa trolls. (Daily Kos in particular has had a grudge against Iowa ever since 2004 when we tanked Howard Dean.)

The Scream was AFTER, and less of a problem than, the Disappointing Third Place.

After a lot of thought I, too,  have come to the conclusion that the Iowa caucuses have gotten so large and unwieldy that they cannot function as a "town meeting" to "build the party," and are instead a de facto election, with difficult rules, conducted by amateurs and volunteers. So philosophically I'm inclined to switch to a primary, even at the cost of First In The Nation.

First, of course, is the issue. In a complicated game of semantics and standoffs, two states have been "first" for the last 40 years: Iowa with the first caucus and New Hampshire with the first primary. Every move Iowa makes - and by "Iowa" I mean the political leadership of both parties - is with one eye on New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has a pitbull devotion to his state's law that New Hampshire "shall" have the first primary "or similar contest." (How is one state's law in any way binding on the other 49?)

Personally, I'd like to confront this head on. Schedule a primary before New Hampshire. Or concede the flaws in caucuses and concede First, but lobby for another slot in the early states like second or third - as a primary.

That's not happening this cycle. The leadership of both parties is committed to some version of the status quo standoff.

But what if the Democrats weren't? What if Iowa Democrats decided we actually want to switch to a primary?

Well, that's still a non-starter - because the Republicans have full control of state government.

That's the fundamental problem for people who would like the Democrats to tell states no caucuses, primaries only. Election law is mostly state law, not federal law, and the Democratic Party cannot tell Republican run states what to do. Each state has its own political culture, and some states, like Iowa, have a caucus culture. Other states are worried about money and have caucuses because the parties pay for those (in most states, primaries are government funded, though parties are billed in a few places).

Democrats have used that as an excuse before in different situations. When GOP-run Florida moved its 2008 primary date up to January 31, in violation of the rules of both parties, Democrats moaned and cried and said they couldn't do anything (even though Florida Dems, most of all Iowa caucus hater Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were willing junior partners). And, in the end, they and Michigan got away with it with no penalties, because they are big swing states.

But, hypothetically, if we wanted a primary, could Iowa Democrats persuade Iowa Republicans?

I've worked with local Republican activists a lot, both in my election office job and outside of work on caucus issues. The Johnson County Democrats and Republicans have a good relationship on caucus issues (as long as we avoid policy issues) and we team up to work on them.

My GOP activist friends are understanding and sympathetic to the reality that the Democratic National Committee rule changes, requiring caucus states to provide some sort of absentee system, are forcing Iowa to change.

But they are concerned that any monkeying with the system we have risks First. What I hear from Republicans is: "if you have absentees, that makes it not a caucus." And they are worried that THEY will lose First on their side because of rule changes on OUR side - because when it comes to First it's about the states, not the parties.

No one is pressuring or forcing Iowa Republicans to change their process. The accessibility and disenfranchisement issues that that drove the DNC to push for caucus changes simply don't resonate as much on the Republican side.

So Iowa Republicans would rather stay safe and keep what they have, and feel no need to do Democrats a favor by switching to a primary... which the Democrats aren't asking for anyway.