5 Reasons to Ban Caucuses

For residents in primary states, caucus voting seems bizarre, mysterious and confusing — but some voters in states like Iowa, Colorado and Nevada have the same problem.

Caucus voting is inherently undemocratic. And despite the fact that caucuses clearly limit voter participation and promote unfair election results, some states still use them — mainly because individual state party committees decide how to run elections.

That needs to change — it’s time for the United States to categorically ban the caucus system.

At a caucus, voters must show up to a precinct in a specific location, listen to presentations about the candidates and then take a series of what are, effectively, straw polls — arguing with their neighbors all the while.

With each successive round of “polling,” the precinct tries to narrow down a candidate to support. Once the precinct reaches a decision, it selects a delegate for representation at the state convention.

The system takes place entirely in public, and it can last for hours.

Here’s why caucuses don’t work.

A long line of people outside an elementary school.

A long line at the Hawaii Democratic Caucus in 2008. Photo credit: Bart Lum

1) It’s impossible to vote secretly

The secret ballot is supposed to be a mainstay of American politics. People have the right to make their own decisions about which parties and candidates to support, without being forced to explain themselves. Secret balloting enables individuals to participate in the electoral process by creating a space for private decision-making.

At a caucus, voters must support their candidate with the entire community watching. That can create a lot of pressure, especially in places where electoral tensions run high.

A woman explaining something on a large pad of paper.

Photo credit: Detroit Metro Mashup

2) They facilitate voter intimidation

Whenever people talk politics, things can get heated. The stakes are even higher in a caucus where the public nature of discussions can enable voter intimidation.

In 2016, reports of intimidation were a consistent problem across caucus states. Participants claimed that some voters were shouted down, bullied and pressured into switching their support, while non-English speaking voters couldn’t even understand what was happening. That’s not fair, and it prevents people from casting their votes freely.

Campaigning in a veterans' hall in Iowa.

Photo credit: WEBN-TV

3) They’re often inaccessible for disabled people

Disabled voters already have lower turnout than non-disabled people, and they often struggle with access at ordinary polling sites. Caucuses are even worse.

Some caucuses take place in private homes and other locations that are physically inaccessible, thanks to the small size of precincts. In these settings, disabled people cannot get inside to caucus and support their candidates, which deprives them of the fundamental American right to cast a vote and play an active role in the democratic process.

A stack of Obama campaign fliers on a table at a caucus site.

Photo credit: WEBN-TV

4) Their timing is hard for people with busy schedules

Many Americans have busy schedules, especially single parents and low income people who may work multiple jobs. Caucuses require people to show up during a very narrow time window, instead of allowing voters to drop into a precinct throughout the day. Early voting also offers flexibility to those with tight schedules.

While it is possible to cast an absentee ballot for a caucus, many people want to participate directly in the electoral process — and the rules for obtaining and using absentee ballots can be arcane.

People gathering at a caucus site.

Photo credit: Jon Bell

5) They inhibit voter turnout

Statistics indicate that voter turnout is lower in caucus states. While many factors affect the number of voters who show up, the strong correlation between caucusing and low turnout should be a cause for concern.

For whatever reason, fewer people show up to caucus, which means that a smaller percentage of a state’s population gets to actually decide who should be the nominee for president. Since presidential elections are supposed to represent the will of the people, not just a privileged few, this is a big problem.

 

Photo credit<: Brent

61 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Randy Q.
Past Member 1 years ago

Thanks!

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Fred F.
Fred F1 years ago

In Oregon we vote by mail. Nice and easy. No one has to miss voting because they can't get off work. My one complaint is that we don't have open primaries that would allow independents to vote in democratic or republican primaries. Considering that both parties need independent votes to win elections we ought to get a say in the primary. Our vote by mail system allows recounts and has a paper trail unlike many of the computer voting terminals adopted after the irregularities of the 2000 election. We as a country need vote by mail,open primaries and the abolition of the electoral college. While we're at it we need to dump the superdelegates used by democratic party bigshots to rig primaries. Letting more people vote and having that vote count equally should be our ongoing goal.

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Veronica Danie
.1 years ago

Thank You!

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Harry S N.
Past Member 1 years ago

Act ually, caucuses are much fairer than primaries that are full of electoral fraud, voter suppression and worse.
What is best about caucuses is that people on one side get to talk with people on the other side, to see if discussion can effect a vote change.
PS Actually, caucuses are very American. In them, local delegates represent a large block of voters at the final vote. That's a lot like Congress was intended to be - representatives going to the capital, to spend about two months doing the nation's business, then returning home to their real jobs. what we have now is two major parties that are both corrupt, because the primary goal of most members is reelection, not serving their constituencies.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld1 years ago

AnnieLaurie,
Your example is the reason why the parties still hold caucuses. They do not want the general electorate voting. It would dilute their own votes, and they would lose control of the system. The party (especially the Dems) still wants their chosen people elected, regardless of what the people want.

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Julie W.
Julie W1 years ago

I keep reading about your elections, and still have no idea how they work! Coming from a country where we have 'one person, one vote', it all sounds like a chaotic mess to me. I can't get my head around such a complicated system.

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AnnieLaurie Burke

Amen to the headline! I vote in every election. I live in WA, where we mail ballots to be returned within a generous time window, to increase voter access and participation. But the State Democratic Party went with a caucus as their presidential candidate selection tool. The caucus was held at 10 a.m. Saturday morning of a holiday (Easter) weekend. I got 1.5 days’ notice via e-mail. I tried to participate, but when I tried to find the nearest voting location, I was told "my address was not recognized". Well, first, the State Dem Party always recognized my address when they asked me for donations; and second, if they had trouble with my street address, they could have told me the nearest location to my "city" (a small town you'd miss if you blinked driving through). So a very tiny, fanatic, elite group with the resources and time to go to the caucuses made the decision. I am fortunate in having a car and could have transported myself if I'd known the location. Some folks don't have transportation, and public transportation is a joke in this rural area. I was told by one supporter of the winning candidate that, " if people really wanted to vote, they would find a way to get to the caucuses". That's what the GOP says about strict voter ID requirements --- "if people really want to vote, they'll make the effort to get the proper ID".

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Joe Langer
Joe Langer1 years ago

At the Minnesota caucus this year multiple resolutions were submitted to establish a primary. Even the people who attend caucuses want to do away with them.

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Jan N.
Jan N1 years ago

I said it yesterday regarding superdelegates and I'll say it again: the entire system needs a massive overhaul.

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