- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2008


It’s time for Democrats to kill the undemocratic and elitist caucus system for selecting national convention delegates for the presidential nomination. Instead, all delegates should be selected in primaries.

The Democratic National Convention - the national party’s supreme governing body, to meet in Denver this year - can do it - or at least take the first step to doing it by passing a resolution establishing a new “Presidential Selection Rules Reform Commission.” Such commissions have been established many times before, beginning after the 1968 convention, to change the delegate selection rules. A new one is needed more than ever.

The most important item on the reform agenda should be to require all states to hold primaries and kill the caucus system. There is no doubt that party caucuses discourage voter participation and are, in fact, undemocratic for a variety of reasons. Most people who work for a living can’t afford and senior citizens are not able to sit around for three hours in order to vote.

Second, caucuses are frequently gross violations of the one person/one vote principle that I always thought was protected under leading Supreme Court cases.

Two examples:

* According to some caucus-state rules, if a precinct is entitled to elect four delegates to the county convention, and the vote is 59 percent for presidential Candidate A and 41 percent for Candidate B, the mathematical rules are likely to require a equal division of delegates (because Candidate A did not get to 60 percent). A landslide of 59 percent to 41 percent results in a 50-50 dead heat. This is nuts!

* Even nuttier is the “Texas Two Step” system. On March 4, more than 2.8 million voters participated in the state’s Democratic primary. Then came Step Two: at 7 p.m., the party caucuses began and people got to vote a second time. (I am not making this up.) But not all votes are equal. If you lived in Houston or Dallas and the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate won a large percentage of votes in your precinct, your vote could count two or three times more than if you lived in South Texas, in heavily rural Republican counties.

How can that be small-“d” democratic? How can that be constitutional under one person/one vote principles? Doesn’t that embarrass a party that calls itself “Democratic”?

Speaking of embarrassment, the result of these arcane rules for Democratic caucuses is incredibly small voter turnouts. The average turnout for all caucuses held in 2008 was less than 10 percent.

Even in the highest-profile caucus state of all, the first one attracting all the media hype for months - King Iowa - the turnout among eligible voters was less than 20 percent, meaning more than 80 percent of eligible voters stayed home.

Other caucus states with low turnout: New Mexico, with 11 percent; Nevada, with 9 percent; North Dakota, with 6 percent; Minnesota, with 7 percent; Maine, with 5 percent; Colorado, with 5 percent; Nebraska, with 3 percent; and Idaho, Wyoming and Kansas, with 2 percent each. You did not read that last number incorrectly: That is 2 percent!

Other needed reforms in the presidential delegate selection system include:

* Abolishing proportional representation and requiring winner-take-all results in state primaries, thus bringing the nominating system into alignment with the Electoral College system for electing presidents. Isn’t that what this is supposed to be all about - electing a president?

* Limiting primaries to pre-registered Democrats, rather than allowing Rush Limbaugh and others to encourage independents and Republicans to do same-day re-registration, motivated only by mischief to muck up the Democratic results.

* Eliminating superdelegates. After what happened in 2008, it is silly to pretend they can exercise their independent judgment, as they were intended to do when they were created in 1982. They can’t and they didn’t. If the political bigwigs who are the superdelegates want to go to the convention, then give them free tickets.

One final rational, sensible and fair idea: Why not have five regional primaries, starting on Feb. 1 and on the first of the each month through June 1, with the order rotated every four years so that every state gets a chance to go first?

The only answer is that the words “rational,” “sensible” and “fair” are usually oxymorons when associated with the phrase “the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating system.”

Aren’t Democrats embarrassed by all this? If so, then the National Convention has the power to do something about it.

Don’t hold your breath.

* Lanny Davis is a prominent Washington lawyer and a political analyst for Fox News. From 1996 to 1998, he served as special counsel to President Clinton. From 2005 to 2006, he served on President Bush’s five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

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