State Matrix

When it comes to promoting democracy, Democrats have lost another year

When it comes to future elections, Donald Trump seems blind to them as he continues to litigate his electoral victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. And while Democrats are definitely into strategizing their “wave victories” for 2018 and 2020, they seem to once again be in a fog when it comes to reforming our electoral system.

Currently we are at the halfway point between our quadrennial fixation with the state of Iowa. Can you remember who won the Iowa caucuses two years ago and who is likely to win two years hence? It would seem to be an appropriate time to reflect upon how absurd it is for a state with less than one percent of the nation’s population to have such disjointed significance in determining who America’s choices will be when it comes to selecting our presidential nominees.

In case you forgot, after Iowa comes New Hampshire, with less than half the population of Iowa. But like Iowa, it is almost exclusively white – a far cry from the modern demographic mosaic of America. Yet presidencies are made and lost in the Granite State where a single slip-up, or tear-drop, can doom a candidate (witness Ed Muskie in 1972).

There is nothing engraved in stone about the order of the states for the presidential sweepstakes. It is also not required that the Democrats and Republican follow the same schedule. The Republicans rarely make claims about promoting fairness and equity in the electoral process, and since their vision is generally in the direction of the rear-view mirror rather than ahead, they can remain comfortable with the system as it is.

Democrats pay lip-service to enhancing democracy. When it comes to voting rights, they do the walk as well as the talk. Thank goodness for that, and most recently Senator Doug Jones of Alabama wants to thank you.

But it was barely a year ago that Barack Obama and Eric Holder were talking about structural changes to our political system to make our playing field more level. Specifically, they wanted to do battle with the forces that support gerrymandering, a system of disproportionate representation in legislative districts that in recent years has strongly favored Republicans.

I have not heard much from either of them about that, and perhaps they are still in the “think-tank” phase because the state legislatures that redraw the districts won’t take office until January of 2021.

But it is not too early, in fact it may be too late, to address the irrational undemocratic system of primaries and caucuses that Democrats utilize select their presidential nominee. Let’s just innumerate a few of the ways in which it is undemocratic:

  1. Caucuses (such as in Iowa) can involve less than 2% of voters. And to make it particularly convenient for interested voters, the caucuses are held on cold wintry nights. It’s as if Putin wanted to secure his nomination by a select number of Siberians in January.
  2. Primaries and caucuses favor the candidates with the most amount of money. The candidates shill “supporters” from around the country to pour money into races in small states. Much of the money is spent on distorting or grossly self-serving TV commercials. Issues are like an after-thought.
  3. Endorsements mean a great deal in primaries. Is there any correlation between endorsements and the quality of the candidates? Doubt it.

There are many alternatives to the system that we have. These include:

  1. A series of regional primaries, perhaps four of them spread over several months. The order of these primaries could vary. The key is that no small state or group of states would have an advantage over others.
  2. Self-imposed limits on money raised and spent on campaigns. Republicans may like it and they would not have to play by these rules. But Democrats could, and it would show that they are the responsible party with money and that their constituency is the broad base of voters rather than a donor class.

Let’s make this simple. Suppose that you want to explain to a fifth-grade student how the president is chosen in the United States. Would you start with Iowa and New Hampshire? I don’t think so. You would talk about interested citizens running in fair elections until on a final winner is determined by a popular election in November.

Come on President Obama and A-G Holder. Let’s get on it now. It’s clean, workable, sensible and necessary. No time to spare.