Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Political Desk: Primaries Matter, or Do They?

So, those of you in Washington State have received (yet another) ballot by mail. This one is for the presidential primary, due next Tuesday, May 24. You should review it, carefully consider the candidates, fill out the ballot, burn it, and bury the ashes in your backyard.

Wait, what?

I know, I know, I'm the goo-goo (good government) type who exhorts everyone to vote on everything. Off-year elections. Hospital Boards. Local taxes. Initiatives. Leader of the Legion of Super Heroes. How can I come before you with a straight face and tell you that you don't have to vote?

Well, to be honest, this really IS a case where your vote doesn't matter. Unless it does. Look, just follow along with me down the rabbit hole and decide for yourself.

Washington State doesn't always have a presidential primary. It didn't have one in 2008, because neither party wanted to spend the state funds on this. And that is one of the problems with primaries in this state - we the people are paying for them, but we the people don't really control them. I suppose it depends on your opinion of how deeply engaged the political parties should be with the actual running of government.

The de jure (by the rules) idea is that the parties are not officially part of the government, but are rather a good or service provided, and as such can choose their candidates any way they see fit, and should pay for the process themselves. That's a good idea.

The de facto (in reality) idea is that parties are an engrained part of the government, and the people support their internal processes with their taxes, and as such EVERYONE should be able to vote in everything. That's a good idea as well.

However, the process we have is that the parties choose how they're going to select the candidates, can exclude or ignore people, and we foot the bill. Sort of the worst of two worlds.

Add to that the frustration the fact that these elections are so far back in the nomination calendar that any choice we have is usually negated by what has gone before. Mind you, the Secretary of State has tried to change this, but the political parties would not budge from the late date. 

So, if all this doesn't convince you to ignore this situation, let's look at the process and how the parties treat the primary.

First off, you have to declare a party on the envelope. And your vote within should conform with your declared party. Really a Democrat but don't like to admit it? Really a Republican but want to vote for the Democratic Party? Kind of Independent? Fine. They've already said they aren't checking. You can be an Independent voter and decide you want to be part of the process, and if they ever check, merely say "Yes sir, I was a Republican when I voted in that primary. It was the worst five minutes of my life."

On the DEMOCRATIC Party side, they have said at the outset that this vote doesn't count - it is effectively a beauty contest, a state-paid poll. All the action has already happened in the caucus system. Under this system, people get together on a Saturday at the local level and chose, by mildly arcane processes, who they will support. It is democracy on the down-low, right in your face, and that's a good thing. It is also a marathon. The first caucus that everyone can attend chooses delegates, who then go to a second caucus, where the process occurs again, and then a third, winnowing the choices down to those who will go to the convention in New York and vote for their candidate.

This makes caucusing an activity for the hard-core - those who believe passionately for a candidate or have been deeply invested in the party for years. Because it happens over series of long, brain-numbing meetings, it tends to self-select even further to the most devoted and dedicated of the group. For the initial caucuses, a number of Facebook friends made the first hurdle, and then a few weeks later regretted the fact a few weeks later when they were trapped in six hours of meetings without break and had not even voted as minutia are being debated. As a result, the winner of a caucus can over time see their support erode or strengthen as the weak fall behind and are devoured by wolves.

The Democrats made an infographic.
At this year's Democratic caucuses, with the non-establishment candidate, Mr. Sanders, took the field, with 74% of the vote. So he'll get 74% of the 118 national delegates, right? Not quite. If everything holds, he get 74% of the 67 delegates that are chosen by this method. Another 34 delegates are chosen by the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, which in turn is made up of representatives chosen by the precincts (which again, are those who are invested in the system). Supposedly these 34 members are supposed to reflect the will of the caucus results as well. THEN there are the super-delegates, which you may have heard of.

These super-delegates of Washington State are 13 in number, and represent high muckities within the party at the state level - congresspeople, the governor, etc.  These folk are overwhelming declared supporters of Ms. Clinton, but there is an off-chance that the primary will have an effect on these votes, because, you know, will of the people and all that.. So your vote may have an influence on their ultimate decision. Or not.

Let me hit the candidates real quick:

Bernie Sanders is an excellent choice, and I respect delegates who are supporting him. I like a lot of what he says, and ultimately he would get my vote in November. Hillary Clinton is an excellent choice, and respect the delegates who are supporting her. I like her experience, directness and tenacity and ultimately she would get my vote in November. And since I WILL be voting for the Democrat this year, that makes the current huggamugga even less of a matter.

You may disagree with my conclusions. This is fine. I encourage you to engage your franchise.

On the REPUBLICAN side, they DO believe in the Primary. Kinda. But they have already had precinct caucuses back in February, and district caucuses more recently, and right after the Tuesday election with have the state convention which will decide who goes to Cleveland for the national convention. What they've done at each caucus is select delegates who who will then vote, supposedly, according to the results of the Primary.

But this applies to just the first ballot at the national convention. After that the delegates are free to vote their consciences, and there was a move afoot to stock the delegation with supporters of one candidate in the hopes that, should the election go more than one ballot, they would be free to change their votes. But that is not happening, in that Donald Trump has an apparent majority and will be the nominee on the first ballot. So right now a good chunk of the GOP is resigning themselves to voting for Mr. Trump, justifying it in name of party unity, of saving the Republic from Democrats, or in the forlorn hope that Mr. Trump might have better advisors to keep him from embarrassing them completely.

So, if you're a Republican, you don't need to vote because things are apparently already settled. Unless you feel the need to register a complaint about the process or the presumptive nominee. This is the political equivalent of a stern letter to the Times, but there are a number of candidates who have officially dropped out of the race, but who are still available to be voted on. Go engage your franchise.

I know what you're thinking - you don't like ANYBODY that is left in this demo derby of a political season. This would be the moment to go elsewhere, like the Libertarians. They have their OWN national convention, not being large enough to rate a place on the taxpayer-paid ballot, and have a slew of candidates, most of whom are still officially in the running. The main ones at the moment are a former GOP Governor of New Mexico, a guy who plays a Libertarian on Fox Business, and the founder of McAfee software, who has just returned from his adventures in Central America. Needless to say, they are all angry at each other. Because that's the type of year we're looking at.

So, there we have it. It is convoluted, messy, and in many ways patently unfair. Yet it is the system we have. I wouldn't blame you if you passed on this one - indeed, I will probably vote, out of habit if nothing else. Even though that I am fully aware that this will just encourage them.

More later,