Dating back to the 1800s, caucuses have been essential to the U.S. electoral system. The presidential race begins with caucuses in Iowa where the nominee for the two major parties is narrowed down. However, after the miscalculation and mass confusion that occured just two weeks ago in the 2020 Iowa caucuses, the importance of caucuses in the voting process must be questioned.
Caucuses are run differently than primaries. In a primary, one can simply fill out a ballot indicating their candidate of choice. However, when one casts their vote in a caucus, they must announce who they support in front of friends and neighbors, making it awkward if one chooses to support a candidate who is not popular in the community. The main purpose of the caucuses is to create an open dialogue among locals; however, it fails to do so because of its outdated methods.
Since caucuses require citizens to spend hours talking in local meeting places, the process also removes them from designated family time and draws them away from their jobs. Longer hours mean wealthier voters are at an advantage, as they can afford to leave work early and pay for childcare. The actual process of counting voters takes a long time as well, which can result in lower voter turnout numbers.
This outdatedness was seen in the 2016 election when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) wanted a recount against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory, but there was no paper trail with the results. In the most recent Iowa caucuses, Democrats tried to create a voting record using an app to keep track of the winner. However, this app led to chaos as the technology crashed and precinct leaders couldn’t input the data.
As time has proven that caucuses are outdated ways of collecting votes, primaries have become a much more viable option. Primaries provide a more traditional idea of voting where one gets to keep their vote private. In addition, primaries only take a matter of minutes to complete voting, depending on how long the line is. While there is still room for error, primaries provide a much more organized and efficient structure than caucuses.
Though the caucuses may create a feeling of unity within the major political parties, the fact that so many citizens are pushed away from participation hurts the spirit of democracy. The primary system, which has higher voter turnouts and is more inclusive of all Americans, is the better alternative to the outdated caucus.
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A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 18, 2020, print edition. Email Sam O’Donnell at [email protected]