Keep the caucuses
The Reno Gazette Journal front page headline on Feb. 22: “Harry Reid: Remove caucuses for primaries.”
In the article, Reid, the former Senate Majority Leader and arguably the most powerful politician from Nevada ever, is quoted as saying, “We've made it easier for people to vote here in Nevada in recent years and now we should make it easier for people to vote in presidential contests. That's why I believe it's time for the Democratic Party to move to primaries everywhere.”
Those two sentences form something of a non sequitur argument. We're all for open and easy voting registration and voting, but we're not sure it follows that getting rid of caucuses is the best next move.
One irony is that Reid himself, while in the Senate, was instrumental in positioning the Nevada caucuses to be so early in the presidential nominating process.
We like the caucuses for several reasons. First, caucuses are conducted by the political parties themselves, not the state, so are therefore less expensive to taxpayers. Second, for states participating early in the presidential nomination process, caucuses make a lot of sense because the realignment process helps winnow the field, which, of course, is much wider in February than it is in June.
And this year, the Democratic Party did something to improve the process: They implemented an early vote.
If, as Reid suggests, the Democrats want to make it easier for folks to vote, the best thing they can do is expand the caucus early voting. (Same for the Republicans, who opted out of holding a caucus in Nevada this year since the incumbent is sure to be their nominee.) More days, more locations, longer hours. We know that this is easier said than done, but it's worth working toward.
And we loved the early voting process because it allowed for ranked-choice voting on a preferential ballot, which is a fantastic exercise—especially in a contest like this year's Democratic Primary in which there are several appealing candidates.
If you've ever been among a group of three or more people deciding where to dine, you know that building a consensus is almost never an instantaneous process. It can take hours of meandering conversation that can veer quickly from polite to resentful. A ranked-choice voting process can streamline the process. If one person wants Mexican, one person wants sushi, and one person wants Chinese, but everyone's second choice is Thai, you know where to head.
We'd like to see more ranked-choice voting in American Democracy. But don't do away entirely with the traditional caucuses. Since they're a place for choosing party convention delegates, they present a great opportunity for folks who want to take a more active role in politics.
This year, the Democratic Party demonstrated that the caucus process can be improved. Let's hope that both parties continue to improve the caucuses rather than ditching it for a boring ol' primary.