12.26.2007

America Shrugs At Iowa's Undemocratic Caucuses

In January 2004, Howard Dean's campaign was strategizing the Iowa caucuses. Confident they had locked in enough committed supporters to carry the state, staffers were reportedly thinking of ways of helping John Kerry rise in the final results. With Wesley Clark threatening Dean's dominant position in New Hampshire, the Dean campaign thought that boosting Kerry in Iowa would make him more competitive in the Granite State and siphon votes away from Clark.

Dean's caucus night ended up being starkly different from what his campaign had planned; and boosted by his Iowa triumph, John Kerry did siphon votes away from Wesley Clark, though significantly more than what Dean had in mind.

Four years later, campaigns are preparing similar ploys and alliances. Rumors are circulating of an agreement between John Edwards and Hillary Clinton to help bury Barack Obama; or is it perhaps Bill Richardson that the Clinton campaign is trying to get on board? And will Denis Kucinich renew his 2004 alliance with Edwards?

In this strategic fury, hardly anyone is pausing to wonder what Iowa's openness to such manipulation reveals about America's electoral process. Many criticize representative democracies for reducing individuals to pawns in larger power plays, but only the Iowa caucuses can reveal just how profoundly dysfunctional the system is in its indifference to local undemocratic processes.

Iowa's Democratic caucuses are anything but a straight-up election. Each precinct is allocated a certain number of delegates who are then distributed among candidates who have reached the 15 percent viability level. At the end of the night, only the percentage of delegates each candidate has carried is reported.

Read the rest of my analysis here, at the Huffington Post.

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