Pacific County Democrats — or a small sub-set of them anyway — partook of the quaint ritual of caucusing last month. Though some local citizens also will participate in the May 24 Presidential Primary Election, on the Democratic side that vote will count no more than voting in an online opinion survey.
Something like 1 percent of eligible Washington state voters typically participate in the caucus, which is how delegates pledged to specific candidates are chosen to attend the next phase of the Democratic Party’s presidential-selection process.
A useful commentary in the internet publication Grist (tinyurl.com/GristOnCaucuses) points out some of the fundamental flaws and unfairness of the caucus system in Washington and 11 other states.
At its roots, in a normal year the caucus is a process designed to keep people out rather than bring them in. This year, progressive voters interested in Bernie Sanders clearly triumphed over party orthodoxy.
In general, caucuses remain one reason why American politics have gravitated away from the idealogical middle ground. “Even after accounting for many other factors, caucus attenders were more ideologically extreme than primary voters,” wrote Brigham Young University political scientists Christopher Karpowitz and Jeremy C. Pope in a 2014 Washington Post editorial quoted by Grist.
Washington’s Democratic Party has been highly resistant to allocating presidential convention delegates via the far easier and more democratic primary-election process. Republicans have dragged their heels, too, but this year the GOP is partly using voter preferences from the primary to weigh presidential options.
The American political process benefits when the entire range of voter preferences are included, not merely those who are so passionate as to be willing to sacrifice a spring Saturday. State Democrats should become more democratic by shifting away from caucuses.