The Real Deal: What is wrong with Caucuses?

Ryan Fox

You may have heard that, on Feb. 1, the Iowa Caucuses were held. Now, like many Michiganders, you may have been wondering what a caucus is, and why on earth Iowa of all states is so important. Well, to answer the first of those questions, caucuses are remnants of a long ago era where the parties had complete control of the nomination process. Caucuses are inefficient, drawn-out processes that lead to sometimes ambiguous results. With this article, I plan on answering some of the most asked questions around caucuses and why caucuses are still used.

There are thirteen states and three territories that hold caucuses. Some of these include Iowa, Hawaii and Nevada. The rest of the states, including Michigan, hold primaries. Michigan’s primary is open, meaning that voters that aren’t in the party can vote (so if you are registered, make sure to do so). In such primaries all a voter has to do is show up at their local precinct and vote at the door in whatever party’s election they choose to. Caucuses, on the other hand, are far more complicated. Voters arrive at caucus locations based on their county or precinct, and then debate amongst themselves over which candidate is the best choice.

Here we find the first structural problem with caucuses: voters are debating with their friends and neighbors. The power of peer pressure has as much power as what the candidates believe, and this can make it so worse candidates do better based on whose supporters are the more convincing. Once voters gather in their caucus locations, they divide into different camps and stand in different parts of the room based on their candidates.

Now, what happens next differs from state to state, but there are multiple chances for caucus goers to change their minds until a final count. Once that count is made, whatever candidate has the most people standing on their side of the room wins that precinct.

Iowa is a particularly important caucus because it is the first caucus or primary held in the national election cycle. The candidate who wins here has momentum going into the rest of the primaries and caucuses and thus may do better overall. The problem with this past Iowa Caucus is the sheer number of errors that were made by both Democrats and Republicans. There is evidence of fraud on both sides, and several precincts in the Democratic Party were decided by a coin flip.

Coins flips? Is that a joke? No, it’s not. The Democratic Party in Iowa decided to elect who might be the leader of the free world with coin flips. There are better ways to elect candidates to Student Council in High School.

Primaries are better in almost every single way. Voting in a primary on average will last less than an hour, while caucuses can go late into the night. Open primaries allow for voters who aren’t affiliated with either party to participate, which gives easier access to independents. Finally, primaries are more cut and dry, whoever wins the state gets the delegates (in most circumstances). The caucus system is over complicated, easily defrauded, and discourages participation. Considering Michigan is so far behind on many things politically, this is one category that we are definitely leading the curve in. Hopefully all states will follow Michigan’s example and switch to an open primary system.