Following up on this post from two weeks ago, Democrats who favor banning caucuses for the purposes of presidential selection got more support for their case from Washington state.
In late March, Bernie Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton in the Washington caucuses. He carried every county, winning nearly 73 percent of the district convention delegates and netting 47 national pledged delegates. Turnout was considered high at approximately 230,000, not far off the record of around 250,000 set in the 2008 Democratic caucuses.
Washington held a primary today. The results for the Democratic presidential race were non-binding, meaning they will not affect how many of that state’s pledged delegates go to Clinton or Sanders. Amid nearly triple the turnout (more than 660,000 people), Clinton won about 53.6 percent of the vote. No other races were on the ballot, nor were the presidential campaigns investing in GOTV.
Caucuses consistently generate lower turnout than primaries, because the barriers to participation are much higher. Without question, it was easier for Washington voters to obtain and mail in a ballot for this week’s meaningless primary than to show up at a specific time and place on a Saturday in March, when either candidate had a plausible path to the Democratic nomination.
Kudos to Sanders for inspiring so many supporters to come out and spend an hour or more trying to help the Vermont senator become president. Without his big wins in caucuses, Sanders would be much further behind in the pledged delegate count. But let’s be honest: as others have noted, if Clinton had won the Washington caucuses and Sanders today’s primary, the Sanders campaign would be complaining loudly about how undemocratic and disenfranchising caucuses are.
Iowa Democratic Party leaders will have a hell of a fight to keep our place on the calendar for future presidential elections. A Democratic National Committee dominated by Clinton supporters may well decide that only primaries will count toward choosing the presidential nominee. If the Iowa Democratic Party’s Caucus Review Committee approves real reforms to make our caucuses more inclusive and accessible, we may be allowed to continue our “quirky” tradition. I hope the insiders realize that token improvements to how the caucuses are managed will not be sufficient.