Thursday, December 27, 2007

Iowa And New Hampshire: Same Old, Same Old

By G. Terry Madonna and Michael Young
27 December 2007

One definition of crazy is to keep doing diligently the same thing over and over when it's not working. By that definition America's presidential primary system is seriously loony, for with respect to developing a democratic process to nominate candidates for president, we have been doing the same thing over and over again for more than 60 years and it's not working.

The glaring evidence of that failure looms before us as the nation awaits the imminent Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary now scheduled for early January--both nomination events take place in small unrepresentative states that will largely dominate if not determine the rest of the primary process. Iowa and New Hampshire were supposed to be the warm up acts for the remainder of the primaries, but instead they have once again become the main event.

It is now too late to change this process for 2008. But it's exactly the right time to consider changes for 2012 and beyond. The time has clearly come for an overhaul of the entire chaotic process.

Two major options exist. One would produce a national primary while the second option provides for the adoption of regional primaries. A real national primary with every state participating on the same day has been proposed since at least 1916 when Woodrow Wilson advocated it. Its major strength is that potentially all Americans would have some role in the process.

Several versions of regional primary plans also have been proposed. Common to all the regional plans, a designated region of the country (i.e. northeast, south, west and central) would vote in alternate months beginning in February of the presidential year.

One regional plan, the so-called American plan would give small and medium states earlier primaries and larger states later primaries. A competing plan known as the Delaware plan would create regions by allocating each state into one of four population clusters based on population.


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Friday, December 21, 2007

Who Elected Iowa?

By Ruth Marcus
Washington Post
19 December 2007

KNOXVILLE, Iowa -- It isn't until his seventh stop, almost two hours into his work on an icy Sunday afternoon, that James Ahn hits pay dirt, in the form of Jennie and Arvin Van Waardhuizen.

So after a series of fruitless knocks at empty homes, after talking fast through a barely opened door to a woman whose commitment to Clinton -- or to caucusing, for that matter -- seems doubtful, Ahn has finally made it into the Van Waardhuizens' cozy living room, where Santa figurines line the mantel.

Within minutes, Ahn has given his basic, don't-let-the-process-scare-you spiel: Get there by 7, stand in Clinton's corner, make sure you're counted. He has jotted down that Arvin wants to see Bill Clinton and has delivered a requested yard sign.

In a mass-media age, there is something charmingly anachronistic about the small-town way presidential politics is practiced here. Iowa and New Hampshire are valuable in preserving the ability of voters, at least some voters, to get to know candidates as more than flickering images on a screen or talking heads in a televised debate.

And yet, to join Ahn on his appointed rounds is also to reinforce doubts about a system of irrationality layered on irrationality. The caucuses draw a small, unrepresentative sample of a small, unrepresentative state. While nearly 30 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2004 New Hampshire primary, just 6 percent went to the Iowa caucuses, according to data compiled by George Mason University professor Michael McDonald. The 2000 turnout figures were even more skewed, 44 percent in New Hampshire compared with 7 percent in Iowa.



Thursday, December 20, 2007

Iowa’s Undemocratic Caucuses

By Gilbert Cranberg, Herb Strenz and Glenn Roberts
New York Times
18 December 2007

Des Moines - THIS year, a dozen polling organizations have conducted about 70 separate polls about the candidate preferences of Iowa caucus-goers.

The polls essentially are counts of votes by likely caucus attendees. If a poll is done properly, its measure of opinion about the candidates should be similar to the tabulation of votes on caucus night. But if a poll does manage to precisely forecast the results of the Jan. 3 caucuses, that is probably more coincidence than polling accuracy.

That’s because Iowa Democrats shun public disclosure of voter preferences at their caucuses — something not generally reported by the press or understood by the public.

An early order of business in each Democratic precinct caucus in Iowa is a count of the candidate preferences of the attendees. For all practical purposes, this is just what the polls try to measure. But Iowa Democrats keep the data hidden. The one-person, one-vote results from each caucus are snail-mailed to party headquarters and placed in a database, never disclosed to the press or made available for inspection.

Instead, the Democratic Party releases the percentage of “delegate equivalents” won by each candidate. The percentage broadcast on the networks and reported in the newspapers is the candidate’s share of the 2,500 delegates the party apportions across Iowa’s 99 counties, based on Democratic voter turnout in each of the 1,784 precincts in the two most recent general elections. So, the turnout for a candidate in a precinct caucus could be huge, yet the candidate’s share of the delegate pie could be quite small — if that precinct had low voter turnout in 2004 and 2006.

Under the formulas used to apportion delegates, it is possible that the candidate with the highest percentage of delegate equivalents — that is, the headline “winner” — did not really lead in the “popular vote” at the caucuses. Further, it is possible that a second or third-tier candidate could garner a surprising 10 percent or 12 percent of the popular vote statewide and get zero delegates. (That’s because to be in the running for a delegate a candidate must have support from at least 15 percent of the people at a precinct caucus.) He or she may have done two or three times as well as expected among Iowa’s Democratic voters and get no recognition for it.


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