by Judy Ferro
It’s been the wildest and craziest presidential nominating race ever!
And, like a truly wild and crazy ride, it has scattered nuts and bolts for people to “tsk tsk” over for years to come.
The biggest piece of fallout is a big Constitutional question: just who has the right to vote for nominees?
Courts, including Idaho’s, have generally upheld the right of parties to have closed primaries where only members can vote. A dozen or so states do so.
This year—for the first time I know of—an attempt was made to stop a primary on the grounds that “members only” is a form of voter suppression. New York State has 2.5 million voters registered as unaffiliated—that’s a couple Idahos worth of voters.
The court refused to stop the election, but did schedule a future hearing.
New York is particularly under fire because it cuts off the right to declare party affiliation six months prior to the primary. Idaho has a nine-week cut-off; to vote in the Republican primary May 17, voters had to affiliate by March 11. (New voters, however, may register at the primary.)
California allows party affiliation up to 15 days before its June 7 primary. That’s particularly fortunate since a recent poll by the L.A. Times indicated that up 2.5 million voters who thought they were registered as independents were actually registered as members of the American Independent party. The California Democratic primary is “semi-closed,” open to those registered as Democrats or “no party preference.”
At what time does the right to organize as a party become voter suppression? That’s important because, across the nation, 42% of Americans now consider themselves independent.
And can caucuses be considered a form of voter suppression?
This year Washington had 250,000 people take part in the first round of the Democratic presidential caucuses. Although that’s a huge number to have sharing ideas on issues and candidates, it’s just one-third of those expected to show up for the May primary for other offices.
And an experiment to increase participation went sour. Washington Dems held precinct caucuses in heavily populated areas. The one I observed in Seattle went amazingly smooth. There was no check-in line or ballots—people brought signed pledge forms and turned them in only when making their final vote. On-line absentee votes had been printed out and successfully delivered to thousands of precinct leaders at 500 different caucus sites. It was amazing.
Then came the problems. Since only large cities had precinct-level caucuses, the party was basing the delegate count for candidates on attendance at legislative district caucuses. That meant a person’s precinct- level vote only counted if the delegates they elected showed up at the legislative-level caucus—and that attendance there had to be limited to elected delegates.
Registration snafus led to waits of six-hours or more—at least two caucuses ended in parking lots after the rented facilities closed for the night.
That brings up a separate Constitutional question. How long can voters be required to wait before the delay becomes a form of voter suppression? This has been a general election question, but this year Arizona cut the number of polling places in Mariposa County—which includes Phoenix and environs—from 200 to 60. The result—six hour waits—is not only under Justice Department investigation but the subject of a federal lawsuit by Democratic groups.
Okay, our nominating process is full of warts and glitches, but it is great that millions of voters are engaged and demanding representation!