Caucus system still needs serious reform

The Iowa Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Iowa have agreed to hold their off-year caucuses on the same Saturday in January 2010, according to the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich. She says the date will be announced soon. UPDATE: The caucuses will be held on Saturday, January 23, starting at 1 pm. A joint statement from both parties is after the jump.

For those who wonder why anyone would attend a caucus in a non-presidential year, caucuses help build community and give ordinary people both access to the party machinery and influence over a party’s platform. Obradovich notes that next year’s caucuses will be particularly important for Republicans, because the GOP nominee for governor may be decided at a state convention if no candidate wins at least 35 percent of the vote in the primary. Precinct caucuses select delegates for county conventions, which select delegates for district conventions, which select delegates for the state convention.

Obradovich also writes,

Both parties have a good track record of working together to make decisions regarding the caucuses. This one is a good example that should help secure Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status for 2012.

Iowa leaders will show national party officials they are doing what they can to improve the process as decisions are being made about the primary calendar for the next cycle.

Improving the caucuses will require a lot more than moving the date to a Saturday. While many Iowans will find it easier to attend a precinct caucus at that time, others will be excluded because they work weekends or have religious beliefs that preclude politicking on a Saturday. In addition, disabled people who find it hard to leave home, or caregivers who are unable to find substitutes during the caucus time, will continue to be left out of the process.

Before the 2008 caucuses I wrote a series on the Iowa Democratic Party’s caucus system, linked here. Part 2, part 4 and part 9 discuss the barriers to participation in precinct caucuses. Part 5, part 7 and part 8 discuss some of the problems created by caucus math.

Obradovich suggests that some kind of absentee ballot should be introduced to accommodate religious Jews if the 2010 caucuses are moved to a Saturday afternoon. That’s a step in the right direction, and there’s no reason it couldn’t be done. Maine already allows absentee ballots at caucuses. Absentee ballots would require some changes in the realignment rules during caucuses used for presidential selection, but in my opinion that’s a good thing.

Although I enjoy attending my precinct caucus, I would like to see substantial reforms to the process. This post discussed seven ideas that David Yepsen proposed last year, along with two other rule changes I advocate.

Please share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

Joint statement from the state chairmen of the Iowa Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Iowa:

DES MOINES, IA – Iowa Democratic Party State Chairman, Mike Kiernan, and Republican Party of Iowa State Chairman, Matt Strawn, made the following joint statement concerning the date and time for the 2010 precinct caucuses.

“We are proud to announce the Republican Party of Iowa and the Iowa Democratic Party, with the support of our respective State Central Committees, have agreed to hold the 2010 Precinct Caucuses on Saturday, January 23 beginning at 1 p.m.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time either Party has held its precinct caucuses on a Saturday.  Our decision to hold these important organizational meetings on a Saturday was made to encourage greater participation in an off-year caucus and get more Iowans actively involved with the work of our Parties.

“Getting more Iowans involved in their local precinct caucuses is good for Democrats, good for Republicans, and good our political process.  Iowans will be making some critically important decisions in 2010 and the more people actively involved in the process the better for Iowa.”

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