In Our View: Maximize Voter Input

Presidential primary, if used properly,would be better than relying on caucuses

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Did you miss having a presidential primary in Washington state this year? Were those Republican caucuses on March 3 (and the Democratic caucuses-to-be on April 15) enough to satisfy your desire to help select presidential nominees for the respective parties? And are you glad the state saved about $10 million by not having a presidential primary this year? (The same decision was made, for the same reason, in 2004).The Columbian editorially supported the decision to suspend the presidential primary and save the public money. Another reason -- we pointed out -- was that the primary had so little influence. Republicans were using the primary to select only half of their delegates, and Democrats were totally ignoring the results and selecting all of their delegates through the caucuses.

In other words, our state didn’t need a $10 million beauty contest … at least not in 2012.

But there remains a much better process for Washingtonians to help nominate presidential candidates, and we’ll start our presentation with two questions, one for local Republicans and one for statewide Democrats:

Clark County Republicans, as a party that laudably stresses outreach and inclusion, would you rather have 4,300 people participating in caucuses (as happened this year) or 38,176 people voting in the local GOP presidential primary (as happened in 2008)? We know, you’re mighty proud of that 4,300 turnout earlier this month, and you should be. It was about triple the crowd four years ago. But wouldn’t you rather have almost nine times as many people under your big tent?

Statewide Democrats, as a party that also seeks to maximize participation (in a Democrat-dominated state, no less), wouldn’t you rather listen to 1.4 million voters (the total in both parties’ 2008 presidential primaries) instead of about one-tenth that number of caucus attendees (estimated in 2008)?

Clearly, by favoring caucuses over a presidential primary, both parties are missing a marvelous opportunity to promote inclusion. Why do they do this? The News Tribune in Tacoma also wondered about this in a recent editorial. After all, “the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats don’t go to (the caucuses). Most voters probably don’t know what they are, exactly.”

Then, who does go to the caucuses, and who holds the greatest influence in the overall process? “Highly motivated party regulars,” the TNT correctly pointed out. “Officials. Campaign workers. Newcomers enthralled by one of the candidates. People who have time on their hands.” Most ordinary people sit it out, as illustrated by the aforementioned statistics. And we’re led to the same conclusion we’ve drawn before: Political parties are more concerned about political parties than they are about the people.

If the two parties would ever agree to select all their delegates based on presidential primary results, two things would happen. Participation would increase eight- to 10-fold, and this reformed system would be worth $10 million.

Sounds like a great deal to us. Party officials, are you up to it?