Bernie Sanders won the Washington state Democratic caucus by a “yuge” margin of 46 points, his largest margin of victory in his campaign. However, what is less known is that the highly publicized record voter turnout of 244,458 for the caucus was still relatively small compared to the much higher voter turn-outs for primaries and general elections. When this largely blue state held its primary election two months later, Hillary Clinton turned the tables and won by 5 points with 785,800 people voting. That’s a whopping three times more people voting in the primary than in the caucus. The caucus counted for official pledged delegates. The primary, despite its vastly larger turnout, did not count for anything. No additional pledged delegates awarded.
That scenario was repeated earlier in Nebraska, a red state. Bernie Sanders won the caucus by a 14 point margin garnering him the largest portion of the pledged delegates. Hillary Clinton won the primary with a much larger voter turn-out that garnered her a 6 point win margin, but that only got her a moral victory.
As a former Colorado precinct chair who has run caucus meetings, and has participated as a delegate in county and state conventions, I certainly have enjoyed the events and the comradeship of a block of like-minded, passionate Democrats. The caucuses bring out the loyal party activists, wonderful and knowledgeable people who you would enjoy drinking a beer with. However, what was also painfully apparent to me is that these events are not inclusive of the large majority and diversity of the Democratic Party.
I knocked on hundreds of doors the past few years encouraging fellow Democrats to attend our Tuesday evening caucus meetings, and heard all kinds of genuine apologies for why attending a caucus would be too difficult for them: Voters were working that evening, parents were staying home with children, grandparents were babysitting a grandchild, physically handicapped individuals answered the door in a wheel chair, senior citizens were just too elderly and frail to physically to make the effort; some didn’t own a car or another means of transportation to get there. Some voters had the ability to make it, but told me that they just didn’t feel comfortable in the caucus venue itself, having attended in the past.
However, in a primary election with the ease of early voting and mail-in/drop-off ballots, these barriers hindering voters from participating in our democracy are not present. A working mom, for example, will find time in her busy week to sit quietly in the solitude of the kitchen table after the kids have gone to bed and fill in the ballot. Her primary election vote should count. On the other hand, her excused absence from a caucus effectively amounts to disenfranchisement.
Bernie Sanders, an outspoken critic of closed primaries, is conspicuously silent on the unfairness of caucuses. And understandably so as he has benefited enormously by the caucus process winning 11 of the 13 states holding Democratic caucuses to date. He barely lost the Iowa and Nevada caucuses to Hillary Clinton. Otherwise he might have had a clean sweep of the caucuses. The young people who he has inspired to attend the caucuses in large numbers are highly passionate and largely responsible for his caucus wins. Kudos to him. Hillary Clinton, to her credit, does not complain about the unfairness. She simply cites the fact that overall she has 3 million more votes than Bernie, largely because of the larger voter participation in her primary election wins.
The results of the primaries in Washington and Nebraska dispel the false notion that Bernie supporters make that if Bernie’s margin of victory in his eleven caucus wins were scaled up to the typical kind of voter turnout in primary elections, Hillary’s 3 million vote lead in total votes would not seem so large. On the contrary, without the unfairness of the limited participation of voters in the caucuses, Hillary Clinton would have already locked up the nomination.
More inclusiveness of all voters in primary elections should be embraced by everyone, and to do that we must start the process in the respective state legislatures and state parties to scrap the archaic and undemocratic caucuses entirely. In my state of Colorado, members of the state legislature have twice proposed legislation to scrap the caucuses and select party candidates by the primary system. In the first attempt, the legislation was defeated. In the second it was approved in committees but not taken up for a full vote prior to adjournment of the State Assembly. Voters in all caucus states need to put continual pressure on state legislatures to scrap the caucuses.
One person…one vote.