Commentary

End the Caucus, Please

on

It turns my stomach, but I actually agree with Justin Alfond. And David Farmer. And a lot of liberal Democrats.

Luckily for me, I also happen to agree with Gov. Paul LePage, Mike Thibodeau and Ken Fredette.

Maine should move away from a caucus system to select each party’s presidential nominee, and instead conduct a primary.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of students at a local high school. My mission was simple — to show them how the caucus system (in both parties) worked, and give them an understanding and appreciation for the process.

Being a Republican, I already knew well the system used by Republicans this year.

The GOP decided to hold a sort of regional hybrid primary, whereby caucus sites were set up in 22 locations around the state, and attendees could walk in, vote and walk out without having to do much else. They could also, if they chose, listen to speeches and participate in some local party activity.

Maine can send 23 delegates to the Republican National Convention, and if any candidate received over 50 percent of the statewide vote, he or she would have obtained all 23 delegates. If no one received that level of support, the delegates would be awarded proportionally to all those who gained over 10 percent of the vote.

The attendees of the Republican state convention will choose the delegates to fill those 23 slots. Simple.

But in order to run a mock Democratic caucus, too, I had to do a significant amount of research and learn how their process worked. What I found made my brain hurt.

Democrats conduct local caucuses in each town, not regionally. Statewide, about 47,000 Democrats showed up to participate. When they arrived, they were asked to register their choice for president by standing in a corner of the room. It is all public. No secret ballots here.

Then, once the room was divided, they counted up how many people were with each candidate. Let’s say 500 people showed up to vote in a hypothetical town, and Hillary got 60 percent of the caucus site, and Bernie got 40 percent.

Each town is allocated a number of delegates to the state convention, and the allocation of those delegates will be proportional to the results in that town.

So, if this hypothetical town was awarded 20 delegates to the state convention, Hillary would receive 12, and Bernie would receive eight.

The people in the Hillary corner of the room would then elect among themselves 12 people to fill those spots and represent Hillary at the state convention as delegates. The Sanders people would do the same, and fill their eight delegate slots.

The individual town delegate numbers are then collected, but they are used to determine three different results.

The first is the statewide result. Then, the overall percentage won by each candidate in the First Congressional District is tabulated. Then the same in the Second Congressional District.

Maine Democrats will send 30 total delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, five of whom are unpledged superdelegates who may vote for anyone they wish, despite the statewide vote.

The other 25 will be determined through a rather complex system. Ten are awarded proportionally according to the results in the First District. Seven are awarded proportionally according to the results in the Second District. Five are awarded proportionally according to the statewide vote. And three party leader delegates are reserved for the winner of each of those cohorts of voters.

The collective math gives you a caucus “winner.”

The nearly 4,000 delegates who attend the state convention will end up selecting the human beings to fill those 25 slots.

Try explaining that to a high school sophomore.

Defenders of the caucus system say it’s a way to build the party by involving people in a face-to-face brand of politics that reflects the best of local democracy.

Bull. Caucuses are fun for insane political junkies like me, but they make participating in the selection of the leader of this country more difficult.

They empower “the establishment” by allowing the process to be hijacked by complicated, convoluted vote apportionment schemes drawn up by party leaders and candidates with a ton of money and organizational support.

Yes, a primary would cost a couple million dollars every four years. But I have an idea — pay for the primary with some of that offensively ineffective Clean Election money given to politicians to buy bumper stickers, buttons and lawn signs each year.

Seems like a fair trade for the good of the Republic.

This article originally appeared in the Bangor Daily News.

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to his tenure at MHPC, Matt spent eight years working in national politics in Washington, D.C., most recently as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association. A Hampden native, Matt is a nationally recognized political strategist and communicator.

Recommended for you

Comments