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Friday, May 30, 2008

The "Washington Two-Step?"

Anybody remember as far back as February 9th? I know, I know, that was years ago in internet time. Decades ago in media-story-enfatuation time.

For those with memories as hazy as mine, here's a refresher. February 9th was the date of the Washington State Democratic presidential caucuses. At the time, there was quite a lot of confusion over why the Democrats used a caucus while the Republicans use a primary, and whether Democrats had to vote in the primary too in order to be counted, et cetera. Many people expressed resentment over being dis-enfranchised because they had to work on saturdays, or were physically unable to attend. Everyone complained about the overcrowded venues.

As a result, a lot of people began to question the wisdom of selecting our state party's presidential candidate preference by means of a caucus. Wouldn't it be much easier, they all said, to use the primary? With the state trending towards mail-in ballots anyway, it seems an obvious conclusion.

But, like it or not, political parties have the right to select their candidates by whatever means they like. And, like it or not, Washington's Democratic State Party chairman, Dwight Pelz, loves the caucuses.

Dwight's political experience goes back to his days as an on-the-street community organizer. Coincidentally, much like Barack Obama. Dwight understands very well what it takes to get people involved in the process, and it's not easy. Which is why Dwight loves the caucus system. Love them or hate them, caucuses are a very effective party building tool.

Today, in what Dwight will certainly see as a vindication, Texas has released some data on the party building results of the caucus portion of Texas' unusual "two step" system. Again, if your memory is hazy, Texas holds a primary and a caucus, and selects half of its national convention delegates by each mechanism. Or something like that, anyway.

As usual, DailyKos (this time Kos himself) has the story.

As Markos points out, because of the caucus half of the "two step," the Texas Democratic Party now knows exactly which precincts across the state they're strongest and weakest in, they know where to allocate their resources as we move into the general election season, and they have hundreds of thousands of new voter contacts--names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses collected on caucus sign-in sheets. The Texas Democratic Party is well positioned to do what it needs to do to keep the state in play for November.

Nevertheless, all the criticisms of the caucus system are still valid: caucus do exclude people who for whatever reason can't dedicate several hours on a saturday to attending one. And certainly, if a state party does a poor job anticipating the turnout (as happened here this past February), the caucus experience really can turn into a miserable, hot, crowded, clastrophobic affair. Clearly, some balance must be found between the benefits of a caucus and its down-sides.

Dwight Pelz would do well, in considering changes to the Washington Democratic Party's process for 2012, to consider Kos' summarization of the situation:
Perhaps Texas DOES have the best idea -- a hybrid system that has both a primary, with the broader access it offers -- and a caucus for party-building purposes. Make the primary a mail-in ballot for maximum participation (like Oregon), and perhaps we'd be on to something.

Comments:

Blogger Jeremy Burton said...

Not from WA (TX actually), but I believe the state party has tried to do a hybrid in the past and was rejected by the RBC of the DNC.

May 30, 2008 3:23 PM  
Blogger Howard Martin said...

Believe it or not, Dwight is not the sole decision-maker on this. Ultimately, it is up to the County Democratic Chairs, who in turn, are dependent on the support of their LD Chairs. It's a bottom up and top down issue.

May 30, 2008 3:54 PM  

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