28 Nov 2009
November 28, 2009

DNC Change Commission # 3 – Caucuses


The 2008 caucus process generated an unusual amount of attention and controversy, largely because far more people participated in these processes than had ever done so in the past.  Those who favor having caucuses instead of primaries in their states argue that a mix of caucuses and primaries is appropriate, candidates can have more direct contact with caucus attendees and engage in “retail politics,” and caucus participants become Democratic activists.  Those of us who participated in caucuses (which we used in Virginia for decades until 2004) think that caucuses can be confusing to voters and severely limit participation. But the folks in Iowa and other states like their caucuses, they have long been part of the nomination process, and they will continue to be an option.

The Convention Resolution provides that the Commission consider new procedures that will ensure that caucuses are adequately planned, organized, and staffed; they take place at times and locations to allow for full participation; they use appropriate balloting measures; and candidates obtain lists of delegates.  The Commission is also to evaluate ways of increasing participation, including through absentee voting.  DNC Staff presented the October Change Commission meeting with  options of developing a best practices guide for caucuses or having the guide and also having the Rules and Bylaws committee implement guidelines to measure state adherence to these practices.

Providing best practices to enable the caucuses to be as transparent, fair, and regular as possible makes sense and the RBC need not micromanage the process.  For 2012, it should just provide the guidance and see how things work out.

Generally speaking, there are two types of caucuses – (1) the assembled caucus (mass meeting) where people stay in a room until all the delegates are elected and (2) the unassembled caucus (firehouse primary) where people vote and leave.  There is no problem with pre-caucus absentee voting (and maybe even mail-in and conceivably e-mail voting) in an unassembled caucus.  An assembled caucus makes any kind of absentee process much harder – proxy voting and videoconferencing have been suggested, but caucuses simply provide less opportunities for participation than primaries.

This is the last of three postings that discuss the rules issues the DNC Change Commission will consider at its (final) December 5, 2009 meeting.