Cancel the Caucuses

BY KOBI AZOULAY
Staff Writer

Listening to the media report the night of the Iowa caucuses might have made the voter turnout seem historic, but looking at the big picture reveals a shocking revelation.
Based on 2014 Census Bureau statistics, there are about 2,380,059 voting-age citizens in Iowa. Only 357,983 of them, or about 15 percent, participated in the caucuses this year.
That is less than one-fifth of the voting population deciding which candidates start the voting season with a win (unless you are Bernie Sanders, who is already losing by hundreds of super delegates).
The Republican caucus broke its record by about 60,000 people, but calling this year’s caucus record-breaking masks the consistently low turnout the Hawkeye State puts up every year.
Other caucus states also experience low voter turnout. According to the United States Election Project, Iowa had the highest voter turnout percentage than any other caucus in 2008 at 16.1 percent. Most caucus states see voting percentages in the single digits.
With twelve states using the caucus system to divvy up their delegates (four with only one party using it), the poor vote totals actually make a pretty big difference in who becomes each party’s presidential nominee.
Believe it or not, some delegates are actually decided by pure luck. Many precincts that end in a tie decide who won their delegate by flipping a coin.
Seriously.
The smartphone app the Iowa Democratic Party used to report delegate totals this year did not require noting whether a coin flip decided the win, so it is unclear exactly how many occurred.
Social media research and an interview led the Des Moines Register to report Hillary Clinton winning six coin flips and Bernie Sanders winning one. Sam Lau, an Iowa Democratic Party spokesman, said that precincts reported seven coin flips with Sanders actually winning six.
Instead of going through all of this confusion over a game of chance deciding votes, America should get rid of that situation altogether. It is time to move to a system that helps maximize caucus states’ voter turnout to their fullest potential.
America’s other 38 states provide a decent model to start with.
Primaries are not perfect, and still experience turnouts below half their population, but they consistently have more people voting than caucuses.
The higher primary turnout is because they provide much more time than caucuses, and require less effort.
Caucuses do not usually start until 8 p.m. and caucus goers must debate and stay for possibly hours until the vote occurs. Primaries often open as early as 8 a.m. happen all day and only ask for a vote.
The increased convenience at primaries is very likely why more citizens vote in them.
Improving our democracy should be the biggest goal we have as a country. When more than 80 percent of people in a fifth of our states are not deciding who they want to be in the general election, do we even have a real democracy?
That question is also relevant when considering that usually about 40 percent of citizens do not vote in general elections, but that is an article for another day.
Switching all caucus states to primaries will not perfect America’s democracy, but based on all of the evidence it should be a no-brainer that this would be a great first step to improve voter participation.

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