Caucuses Fatally Flawed

In his May 16, 2008 article, “Comparing ‘Apples to Apples’ Clinton and Obama Are Much Closer in Pledged Delegates,” Jay S. Jacobs, Nassau County, NY, Democratic Chairman and “Pledged” Delegate for Hillary Clinton, decodes the convoluted Democratic Primary and Caucus system. Although you may think it’s a moot point with how it all turned out, Jacob’s explanation makes clear by the numbers that the caucus system is not a true reflection of the voters. (The article was written from the perspective of three weeks before the race concluded on June 3, 2008 with the last primaries.)

Barack Obama’s estimated 163 “pledged” delegate lead, when fairly analyzed, is not what it appears to be. Out of his delegate lead margin only 12 delegates were earned in primaries while a full 151 delegates, fully 93% of his lead, were earned through caucuses. That is important because of the assumption that “pledged” delegates were elected “democratically,” a premise which is fatally flawed based on the disparity of voter representation between primary-elected and caucus-elected delegates.

So how, actually, were the “pledged” delegates, up to this point, “elected”? According to CNN’s breakdown of overall pledged delegates, Obama has 1608 with a lead of 163, over Clinton’s 1445. In the 33 primaries, Obama has accumulated 1278 delegates to Clinton’s 1266, a margin of 12. Through 17 caucuses held to date, as well as the Texas caucus, Obama has garnered 330 delegates to Clinton’s 179, a margin of 151.

Only 1,086,494 voters participated in all of the caucuses, while 31,161,414 voted in primaries. Obama captured 63% of the caucus-goers but only 49% of all primary voters. Clinton won 36% of all caucus attendees and more than 48% of all primary voters. Immediately, that would suggest that there is either something very seriously different about the voters in caucus states or something seriously wrong in the representation of voters’ interests coming out of the caucus process in those states.

Worse yet is the impact on the delegate count. While 2549 delegates earned in the primaries represent an average of 12,225 voters, in the caucuses each of the 515 delegates elected represents a mere 2,110 votes. Each caucus vote, then, is weighted 5.8 times greater than each primary vote when it comes to allocating delegates.

The obvious conclusion is that there is something very unfair with the caucus process. And, if there were any doubts about the fairness of the system, just look to the one state that divided delegates using both – on the same day – Texas. I was an observer at one of the Texas “precinct conventions.” While mine was relatively well-organized, many others were not. Reports of verbal and physical fights were rampant. Complaints of a lack of checks on participant qualifications are widespread. There is a reason why only 41% of the precincts had reported two weeks after the event.

Once again, the results in Texas speak for themselves. In the primary, over 2.8 million people voted, giving Clinton 51% of the vote and 65 delegates. Obama received 47% of the vote and 61 delegates. However, the results from the caucuses – done on the very same night – yield a very different result. Obama earned 38 delegates from the “precinct conventions” to Clinton’s 29 – yielding him a margin of 9 votes in caucuses that saw a fraction of the voters who participated in the primaries where Clinton’s margin was only 4 delegates. In effect, the winner of the popular vote (Clinton) is the ultimate loser in Texas (sound familiar?).

To further make the point: in Nassau County 109,721 Democrats voted in the New York Primary. That represents 10% of the total of ALL voters who voted in ALL of the 16 caucuses to date – from just my county! If we add the 89,490 Democrats who voted in Suffolk, we can see that although Long Island’s vote was more than 18% of the total of ALL caucuses combined, our 22 delegate delegation will be only 4.4% the size of the total delegates (515) elected in all of the caucuses. Why don’t Long Island’s voters count as much as Wyoming’s?

The result is that Obama’s current delegate lead is almost entirely based on the less-democratically run caucuses which turn-out proves exclude many voters and which grants attendees disproportionately greater voter power than that granted to primary voters, exaggerating delegate allocations. For those that argue that Super Delegates must follow “the will of the people”, let’s at least be fair and compare “apples to apples” by discounting the value of delegates chosen in the caucuses giving them the same per-vote weight earned by delegates in the primaries. That democratic adjustment alone would reduce Obama’s caucus delegate lead from 151 to 26, reducing his overall lead from 163 to just 38 – certainly within reach of being overtaken by Clinton in upcoming primaries, even without Florida and Michigan.

* Reprinted with permission of the author. Previously published in Newsday.

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