Reforming the Caucus System
Fri, 04/11/2008 - 9:43am
The precinct, county and state conventions are a wonderful way for committed Democrats to meet, network, celebrate our common goals, and build the party. For political junkies like me, they’re also great fun. But they are an incredibly inefficient and frustrating way to register a presidential preference! We need to streamline the presidential selection process while enticing as many people as possible to stick around for the party building.
Here are nine reforms to do just that.
1. Move the precinct conventions to the Saturday evening after the primary. (This step requires legislation, since the convention dates are set by law.) This would give time for election workers to prepare a complete alphabetical list of primary voters. From this list, we could make easy-to-use sign-in forms: sign by your name, mark your presidential preference with an X, and move on. Have one sign-in line for each page or two of the rolls, and even huge precincts will be done with sign-in within an hour.
2. Shrink the county conventions. This is probably the easiest and most important change that we can make. Instead of having one county delegate for every 15 votes for governor, make it one delegate for every 50 votes for governor. In Travis County, that would shrink the county convention from around 7000 delegates to around 2000 (plus up to 2000 alternates). It would still leave room for everybody who wants to hear speeches, talk politics and debate resolutions – in 2004, only 1300 people showed up to the Travis County convention – but would free tens of thousands of people across Texas to spend Saturday with their families.
Smaller counties may want to keep the 1:15 ratio, and that's OK. We don't all have to use the same formulas for county delegates, as long as the statewide delegates are allotted by a single formula.
3. Resolve credentials challenges early. The county credentials committee should meet well ahead of the county convention, resolve credentials challenges, and have their decisions approved by the county executive committee (rather than by the county convention).
4. Do precinct business in the precincts, not at the county convention. If there are no credentials challenges to a precinct’s delegation (or after any challenges have been resolved) the precinct should be allowed to choose its delegates to the state convention at a time and place of its own choosing. Instead of waiting for hours at a cavernous convention hall, taking a vote and having everybody rush home, we could meet at somebody’s house, talk about our selections over a bottle of wine, and make plans for organizing the precinct. The results could then be reported to the county party before the county convention, as would applications for at-large delegates, which would make the nominating committee’s job a lot easier.
5. Allow electronic check-in, the day before, for county convention delegates. Many airlines allow passengers to check in and print their own boarding passes. Why can’t we allow delegates to check in and print their own credentials? This also would provide an easy way for delegates to register their presidential preference. Although there are serious security issues and programming challenges to be overcome, we have four years to work on it.
6. Put more time between the primary and the county conventions. (Like step 1, this requires cooperation from the legislature.) 46 days, instead of 25, would allow the county party, the credentials committee, and the various precinct delegations to prepare for the county convention.
These steps would allow us to use the county conventions to do county business. We could hear from all of our candidates, visit all the tables, say hi to our friends, debate resolutions fully, and still get home at a reasonable hour. Many of these ideas would also work on the state level, specifically:
7. Resolve credentials challenges early. The statewide credentials committee should be formed as early as possible, should tackle credentials challenges weeks before the state convention, and should have their actions approved by the SDEC, rather than by the state convention.
8. Where possible, do Senate District business in the Senate Districts. If a district is based in Dallas, Houston, or El Paso, why should its members have to meet in Austin to pick their national delegates and state committee members? Once all credentials challenges have been settled, each SD caucus should be free to meet when and where it chooses. Some far-flung rural districts may still want to meet in conjunction with the state convention, but they should be asked to finish their business before the state convention is called to order.
9. Use the state convention for state business. If all of the statewide committees are already set, and all of the SD-based national delegates are already selected, then the state convention can concentrate on state business: electing state officers, choosing at-large national delegates, hearing speeches, debating platform and rules, and of course lots and lots of networking.