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Want to vote? Forget it!

April 13, 2016

Do state party rules ever disenfranchise prospective voters? People like “Dan” think they do. Dan has a job with hours that pretty much prevented him from participating at all in Colorado’s convoluted caucus procedure this year.

That never got a lot of attention until this year’s presidential campaign.

Candidates in both the GOP and the Democratic contests allege that the patchwork quilt of voting formats and state party rules serves to disenfranchise voters and promote the party above the people.

Much is being made of the fact that all these various formats were clearly known before any votes were ever cast.

That’s true. None of these changes were slipped in at the very last minute. Donald Trump had as much chance as Ted Cruz to court delegates in Colorado’s  convoluted and newly-minted (as of August, 2015)  primary caucus format. Bernie Sanders knew about superdelegates before he ever threw his hat into the ring.

To most kitchen table political observers, i.e. the voting public, that’s not the point. The point is whether the parties or the people control the direction of the country.

Most of the time that question may simmer just under the surface, but in 2016, it’s a big deal.

For a look at how voting formats affect the participation rate , two states stand out, one of them being Colorado, and the other Idaho.

Prior to the 2012 presidential election, Idaho’s Republican party used an open primary format. In that year, Idaho’s Republican leadership changed the format to a closed caucus system. The next voter turnout was 44,672 for the Republicans. For 2016, the party went back to a primary format, although it was still a closed contest. The voter turnout in 2016’s presidential primary election was 215,284.

To be sure there were other variables, not the least of them being a more wide open slate of candidates and a far earlier date, as well as what could be called the novelty factor.

Still, a five-fold increase in voter turnout is significant.

To keep democracy viable, the people have to participate. They aren’t going to do that if their voices can’t at least be heard via the ballot box.

That’s pretty much appears to be what professional politicians fear the most.

Looking at the same two presidential election years in Colorado, it appears that neither side likes the caucus or convention format.

With the Republican raw vote total still to be confirmed, the general feeling is that even in heavily Democrat-leaning  Colorado, people want to have a say in the process and many didn’t have that chance.

As of March 2016 Colorado tallied 934818 registered Democrats. Just 122081 of them voted in the caucus. In a year where voters percentages are higher across the board, just 13% of Colorado Democrats voted.

Listen to almost any party strategist or spokesperson trying to explain why a totally open voting process, where, God forbid, everyone gets to vote, is bad, bad, bad for the country, and the first words that come to mind are “elitist ruling class puppet.”

Even the liberty loving Founding Fathers recognized that most ordinary American voters tend to vote strictly on a personal level. Personal, as in “what’s in it for me?”.

To put it bluntly, they didn’t trust the so-called common man to be able or even interested in researching national issues and to vote objectively on issues of national importance. Given the tenor of some of  the “man-on-the-street” segments we see on TV, they may have had a point that’s still valid today.

Nevertheless, that’s how got we ended up with the three branches of government as well as the electoral college concept.

Like it or not, the whole idea of a multi-layered ever more exclusive election process was meant to allow for creating a government that understood its global significance, yet could still keep the people foremost in its mission.

It’s a little like controlling the head on a glass of beer. A little is good, too much sacrifices the liquid for the froth.

That works only to the point that the people retain an equal interest in and benefit from their government.

In most people’s point of view that balance is long gone, hence the chaos of 2016.

It’s one thing to choose not to vote. It’s quite another to be prevented from doing so or to have your vote nullified by an end run around the system.

Hopefully this discussion will outlive the current contest. For that, perhaps we have to thank both Senator Sanders and Donald Trump.

From → op-ed

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