Of all the weird things I would have predicted for 2017, “caucuses are awesome and we should switch to them!” as a national movement would not have been on the list. I feel pretty confident in asserting that the bulk of the people currently agitating for caucuses are doing so 100% because their preferred candidate did better in caucus states, and not because they live in a caucus state.
Minnesota has caucuses. I’ve been going to them for years. THEY ARE TERRIBLE.
Let’s assume just as a baseline that you love going to meetings. (Because that’s what caucuses are: meetings.) Do you love enormous, overcrowded meetings where you can’t hear and have only a vague idea of what’s going on? What if the room is too warm because there are about five times as many people in it as are supposed to be in it?
Do you like having to park a mile away and walk the rest of the way to your meeting? Do you like having to stand outside in a long line just to get into the building, which turns out to be people just trying to look at maps to determine which meeting they’re supposed to go to, and once you’ve done that, would you like to stand in yet ANOTHER line to get into your specific room, where you’ll then have to stand because they ran out of chairs?
Do you love it when the people running things are inexperienced volunteers who have held meetings before, but they were the sort of meeting that only 15 people came to, and now there are people spilling out of every doorway? (No one ever gets good at running these because presidential caucuses happen every 4 years. And if there’s a Democratic incumbent they’re pretty much a formality.)
Because, I mean, if you’re a fan of all this — even if your state doesn’t hold caucuses for the presidential race, they probably do hold party meetings of some kind and you could still go. (The horrible traffic snarls and parking hassles might be harder to arrange, but you could simulate them by driving very slowly to your destination and parking a mile away and walking, if that’s an important part of the experience for you.)
Minnesotans have done caucuses basically forever and we are so fed up with them that we passed a law this spring switching to a primary for 2020. It passed with overwhelming majorities in both houses of the legislature, because after the 2016 caucuses, legislators were inundated with irate phone calls and e-mails from constituents saying, “THIS SYSTEM IS TERRIBLE. WE WANT A PRIMARY.”
In 2016, Minnesota had 204,000 Democrats show up to caucus, and 114,245 Republicans. In Wisconsin, which has a similar population and general voting turnout, they held a primary a month later. 1,000,000 people cast a Democratic ballot, and 1,000,000 cast a Republican ballot.
Caucuses suppress turnout. (That’s obvious to everyone, I hope?)
But more than that: caucuses rely on suppressed turnout.
Because two million Minnesotan cannot caucus.
As it was, on March 1, 2016, traffic backed up more than a mile on Snelling Ave an hour before the caucus was convened because people were trying to get to the site. A bunch of my friends in Minneapolis stood in line for an hour before they were even able to get into the building. If you multiplied the number of people attending by five, it would completely shut down Minneapolis and St. Paul.
When your system relies on people not showing up, it’s not a functional system.
(Finally, regarding the claim that they’re cheaper: in Minnesota, the parties had to cover the cost of the caucuses, so yes, they were cheaper for the state. You know what? If you put every precinct in a ward in one location, and reduce voting hours from 13 hours to 1.5, that’ll be cheaper. You know what we call it when it happens in a general election? VOTER SUPPRESSION.)
For more on caucuses, please see the series of posts I wrote last year, doing my part to explain this somewhat mysterious system to novice users:
Do you want to be in the room where it happens?
How to find your caucus location.
Minnesota Caucuses: The Basics
Location and time, who can caucus, how the presidential preference ballot works (new in 2016: it was actually binding on both parties), accessibility, obstacles.
Minnesota Caucuses: What Actually Happens
Signing in, parliamentary procedure, resolutions, guest speakers, recruitment, delegates, counting the ballots.
Minnesota Caucuses: FAQ
How to minimize the time spent at your caucus if all you want to do is cast a goddamn ballot; just how does the whole “party” thing work anyway; what does it mean if it’s a mess and everything goes wrong; CAUCUSES ARE TERRIBLE, HOW DO I DEMAND A PRIMARY LIKE NORMAL STATES HAVE?