Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Democrats Should Close Primaries And Ban Caucuses

I'm probably going to anger a lot of my left-wing brothers and sisters with this post, but I've promised my readers that you will always get my real opinion on this blog.

I think open primaries and caucuses are a mistake -- and the Democratic Party needs to do away with them. Party decisions, on both candidates and rules, should be the decision of party member -- not the general public. And it certainly shouldn't be the decision of those who are embarrassed to wear the Democratic Party label, or actively support and vote for the party.

I know that the argument those on the other side of this issue make is that open primaries and caucuses bring in new members and makes the party larger. I think that's nighter disingenuous or just wishful thinking. It certainly did work out that way in 2016.

A non-party member ran for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, and he got the support of many people who were not Democrats. Did they join the party, work for the party, or even vote for the party. Sadly, NO. Many of them stayed at home or voted third party, and a significant portion (who took part in caucuses) didn't even bother to register to vote. It did not help or build the party, and the candidate they supported has once again made it clear he is NOT a Democrat (but just wanted to use the party for his own ends).

It is not hard to join the Democratic Party, and the party is very welcoming of new recruits from across the political spectrum. And anyone who wants to help the Democratic Party achieve it generally progressive agenda should join the party. But those who are ashamed or embarrassed to call themselves Democrats should not be allowed to participate in party decisions.

And I'm not the only one who believes that. Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (commonly referred to as "Kos", and pictured above in a photo by Paul Chinn in the San Francisco Chronicle) has written the following on his own blog, Daily Kos:

In my proposed agenda for a new DNC Chair, I argued for closed primaries. Predictably, this generated anger from the Bernie Sanders side of the primary debate, as the issue remains untethered from the primary wars. 
But let me share a crazy story, as told to me by a DNC delegate:
In Nebraska, Kansas and several other caucus states there was a rush of new voters. They were allowed to caucus as long as they registered to vote the day of the caucus. But in several states, they had to follow up with the state to complete their voter registration due to proof of ID requirements. Most failed to do so. Despite asking people repeatedly, in some caucus sites more than 70% of the new caucus goers found themselves not even registered to vote on election day so they couldn't vote.
In Kansas, about 40,000 people participated in its caucuses, out of 446,000 registered Democrats. Already, you see how undemocratic and unrepresentative caucuses are. But get this—you didn’t have to be registered to vote in Kansas to participate in the caucus! And as the delegate above notes, up to 70 percent of caucus goers didn’t bother to register at all
Sanders won the Kansas caucus 68-32. He won the Nebraska caucus 57-43. It stands to reason that a disproportionate number of unregistered voters were Sanders supporters. And they did nothing to help build the party, nor to even elect a saner fucking government than the one we got. That may have been their prerogative, operating under existing rules, but nothing says the party has to enable that.
A party’s job is to build the party. It’s a candidate’s job to win non-affiliated voters. But the party’s job is that—to build the party. Allowing non-registered voters is fucking insane, and I can’t believe anyone thought it was a good idea. If a candidate is that fucking good that people outside the party want to vote for him or her, then great! It’s easy to register to vote to cast that vote. 
But in the same vein, it’s also easy for that voter to JOIN THE PARTY. I still can’t, for the life of me, understand why this is controversial. No other organization allows you to vote for its leadership without being a member. Why should the party be different, when, in particular, it costs nothing to join? If saying “I’m a Democrat” is too high a bar for you, then you don’t get to pick Democratic leadership. It’s that simple. 
But I’d go even further. I would bring the entire primary process in house, remove it from the state’s election calendar. I would hold it by mail. People would register at their state party’s website, then either download or get mailed a ballot. I’d love to dream about an all-internet election, but those fucking Russians (and lingering digital divide issues, particularly with the elderly), so let’s do all-mail for now. 
This would allow the Democratic Party to control the calendar. States would be scheduled based on the party’s interests, not those of Iowa and New Hampshire. This system would expand voter participation by making it dead-easy to vote. And the costs would be a fraction of the cost of a traditional caucus, and really, choosing a party’s leadership shouldn’t be something states should pay for. Let a private organization take care of its own business, on its own dime. 
State parties would have contact information for its voters, giving it a powerful fundraising and GOTV tool. Everyone talks about building up state parties, but that shit costs money, and no traditional national DNC will be able to afford it. But hey, give the Kansas Democratic Party a list with 450,000 registered Democrats (or even half that, if only half decide to vote in the primary), and that’s a powerful new tool for local party building. 
And yes, you’d still have people whining about not being able to participate in primaries, because they don’t want to JOIN an organization they want to influence. That’s fine, they can whine away. But a party’s job is to build itself, not to indulge in those who are too cool or iconoclastic to join the organization. 
Of course, that’s all pipe-dream stuff. No DNC candidate will adopt that platform, because it’s far too radically different than the current system, and things always move slower than we wish they did. Heck, Iowa and New Hampshire have retained their first-in-nation status in the face of hostility from all other 48 states and DC. But it underscores my belief in the core mission of the party—and that’s to build itself, make itself stronger, and do so not just at the national level, but in every state, DC, and territory.
That’s how you build a party that builds a bench, creates electoral infrastructure, drives a narrative, and supports the development of our future elected leadership. Drive-by primary or caucus supporters provide none of that. 


  1. I agree. Those who don't join a party, don't and won't work for the party or the candidate. They have no real investment in the party or it's ideology. They may or may not show up to vote. They have no party loyalty. Register and get involved.

  2. Not sure I understand why appealing to fewer people is a winning strategy.

    1. Did "reaching out" work in the 2016 election -- by allowing a non-Democrat to run and letting non-Democrats participate? I submit that it did not. Those reached out to did not join the party or vote for its candidate -- and many are still attacking the party.
      The primaries are to choose a candidate for the party -- not to reach out (which is more appropriate in the general election).

  3. Why do you think Trump won?

    I think he won because he had a better message and people now see neoliberalism as a failure for main street. They voted with their pocketbooks - as they usually do.

    Allowing Bernie to run allowed the party to gauge where the mood of the people lay. Poll after poll (love your polls btw) showed Bernie beating Trump but Hillary having a close race. This should have given the party an opportunity to adjust for the general. They didn’t and they lost.

    So now you want to stay the course that didn’t work...I don’t get it.

    1. I agree that the Democrats didn't effectively get their message out -- a message that incorporated most of what Bernie was preaching. They need to do better at that. That's not staying the course, and has little to do with whether primaries are open or closed. I still believe Democrats should make decisions for the Democratic Party, and if people want to help make those decisions, they should join the party.

      And Bernie couldn't have won against Trump, or any other Republican. The GOP went easy on him, hoping he would be the nominee. if he had won the nomination, they would have quickly branded him with a hammer and sickle, and he would have even lost the popular vote.


ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED. And neither will racist,homophobic, or misogynistic comments. I do not mind if you disagree, but make your case in a decent manner.