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Why can't they just have a primary and be done with it? 
29th-Oct-2003 03:21 am
so the WA Democratic Party process for selecting delegates is completely Byzantine, just in case anyone was wondering.
  • First you have precinct caucuses (2/7/2004). A precinct is something on the order of 500 voters on average. The last time I went to a precinct caucus, 4 people showed up --- and that was the Republican party, who you'd expect to be somewhat more represented in this particular neighborhood. Figure this time around, I might well be the only one there unless I drag emmacrew along with me.
    Precinct selects delegates (1 for every 50 people who voted for Gore last time around, which I'm guessing in our case means 1) to go to both
    1. the county convention (4/24/2004), which comes up with a county platform and other county things, and
    2. the legislative district caucus (5/1/2004). On average there are about 200 precincts in a legislative district. And there are 49 legislative districts in the state. Now, oddly enough, there are slots for 49 caucus-selected delegates to go to the national convention. But of course, life isn't that easy.

    The LD caucus instead sends delegates (I'm guessing roughly around 35) to go to both

    1. the congressional district caucus (5/29/2004), where the actual dirty work of selecting delegates for the national convention is carried out.
      Now, there are 9 congressional districts and they're weighted according to their relative concentrations of Democrat voters. So the 7th CD (Seattle, where Jim McDermott has what is probably the safest seat in the country) gets to choose 7 delegates, while the 4th CD (the district east of the Cascades that doesn't have Spokane in it) only gets to pick 4. To make things even more fun, if you look really closely at the LD and CD maps, you'll see that the LD boundaries don't always line up with the CD boundaries. So for example, the 8th CD entirely contains only the 41st (where I live) and the 5th LDs, the rest of this CD being made up of pieces grabbed from the 48th, 45th, 47th, 31st, 25th, 11th and 2nd LDs.

      And likewise, if, say, you live in the 11th LD and are chosen by that caucus to represent the LD in the CD caucuses, whether you end up going to the 7th, 8th, or 9th CD caucus depends on where exactly you live. Seems like there'd be all kinds of odd ways of gaming the system here.

      Then we have to take care of all of the various -isms with their respective quotas. So, e.g., when I said the 7th CD gets to choose 7 delegates, the rules are actually quite specific in that it has to be 3 boys and 4 girls. And so on.

    2. The state convention (6/5/2004), which does state platform things and chooses 2 of the electors --- the CD caucuses pick the other 9 --- this being for December, assuming Scalia et al don't decide to fuck us over again
So that's 5 different meetings to choose 49 delegates. I'll give them points for using proportional representation, but given that there are 3 different levels of voting and 15% cutoff at each level, I really have to wonder how this works in practice....

I mean, hello? Could you make this more opaque? Please?

But that's not all! Washington actually gets to send 95 delegates, the remainder being

  • 10 party leader folks and 17 other At-Large delegates who are selected by the Election Committee (meeting on its own in some unspecified place on 6/6/2004) and committed according to the outcome of the presidential primary
which is all well and good except for this weird-ass rule that if the primary allows non-Democrats to vote then the results are ignored (not clear whether this applies since I thought the process distinguishes so that one can tell which votes came from (declared) Democrats and which votes came from Other People); bleah.

Then we get to

  • 17 officeholders (Gary Locke, et al) and party folks who just automatically get to go and vote for whoever they want.
  • 2 other randoms who are likewise selected by the committee to do whatever they want.
So that's fully one fifth of the delegates who are included without any voter input and remain uncommitted no matter what. WTFF?
29th-Oct-2003 09:03 am (UTC)
You're assuming that candidate selection within parties is supposed to be a democratic process. Really, it's a private, internal process of the party, and if it wanted to select delegates by heredity or any other arbitrary factor it could.

All of the voting in the process is a result of later reforms to broaden the process--more to guarantee an electable candidate than as an expression of democracy. The party delegates changed the process over time to get a better balance of delegates, influenced somewhat by the general voting public, which pushed the state to open the process up to more people.

The presidential primary was another reform in this process, designed to bring in public input without the party losing ultimate control. But when it appeared that the party might be losing control, it turned on the presidential primary.

The Republican process is almost as bad as the Democratic one, though it doesn't have any gender quotas or anything like that so that layer of complexity is removed.

As byzantine as this all is, I really think that parties should be able to choose whatever method they want to elect candidates. If they didn't game things at some level, the party would lose the ability to define itself. And at least caucuses weed out uniformed voters, and you actually have to discuss and think about your candidate and the issues.

The first time I went to the caucus as an 18-year old high school student, I ended up being selected to go to the county and legislative district caucuses. It was an interesting experience.
29th-Oct-2003 12:47 pm (UTC)
IIRC, the Republicans accomplish everything in 2 meetings: the county convention and the state convention.

The problem is that, in practice, the major party nominations are essentially the semi-finals, and as long as that's the case, I don't think they should be treated like private clubs.

We've had this argument before, I think.
29th-Oct-2003 12:53 pm (UTC)
See, I'm actually in favor of an open primary and for years voted across party lines in primaries, but that's been shown to be unconstitutional and the parties are never going to support it. Alas.

And when I think about it, parties should control their own candidates. The way forward would be a primary where all candidates with a certain threshold of support are on the ballot and the top two candidates regardless of party go on to the general election, and allow multiple candidates from each party. In theory, two Democrats or two Republicans or two Greens could get the most votes and go to the general election. The party could decide which of its candidates to endorse publicly, but it would not be binding in any way.

An instant run-off system would also work, but would combine these two steps into one election.
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