It is fashionable to hate the caucus. Otherwise reasonable people, some of whom I know personally are quite intelligent, never cease to grumble about it in the most unreasonable terms. What’s their gripe? They’d rather have a primary.
Well, in actual fact we DID have a “primary.” The caucus, as run by the Carson City Republicans in 2012 and by every county’s GOP in 2016 gave you two choices:
1. VOTE & RUN, just like in a primary.
2. VOTE & BLAB, or blab & vote, as you are supposed to do in a caucus.
The vast majority of the people chose to vote & run. And still they complained.
It’s almost funny. EVERYTHING that people were and still are complaining about are precisely the same as if we had held only a primary. We had a record turnout — according to some sources, the Republicans beat their combined total from the last two caucuses — and therefore we had long lines to sign in and vote (the Democrats too had long lines in spite of a huge drop in participation). This part is no different from a primary, except for two small details
(1) The people running the caucus were Party volunteers, not county election office employees (and volunteers).
(2) Instead of using a voting machine, voters had to mark an X on a paper ballot, and drop it into a box marked with their precinct number. I’ll take this opportunity to point out, snide-ly, that it takes even less time to do that then to poke at a screen…
Few people understand that a caucus is a private function, and therefore the way it is run depends on the rules of the Party running it. One difference between the Democrats and the Republicans was that Republicans count and record the actual popular vote for the several presidential candidates, while the Democrats count and report the vote of the delegates (to their upcoming county convention) that the people have elected at the caucus; in other words, the Democrat*ic* Party is NOT democratic, the actual vote of the people does not count; it is not counted and it is not reported.
In Carson City the Republicans were rather professional about it; our volunteers did not wear campaign gear (as is breathlessly reported from Las Vegas) while performing our duties of guiding people through the process. Volunteers stayed till closing time, practically two hours after the crowds left, to help count the ballots by hand and record the results by hand; several people per ballot box, in full view of everybody, to ensure the integrity of the count.
And yes we did fill the room reserved for the caucus, even though overall their numbers were small relative to the turnout. A few people proselytized in favor of pet issues. If there were any discussions about candidates, pro and con, they were in very small groups. Only a couple of people went around placing campaign literature on tables (for Rubio and Carson). A guy was doing brisk business with Trump memorabilia outside in the hallway.
So why caucus?
The second most important function of a caucus is the opportunity to recruit volunteers who are essential to the operation of the Party. Foremost among them are the delegates to the county convention. Close behind are the volunteers who serve on the various committees (events, fundraising, recruiting, candidate vetting, rules, platform,…). The best time to explain the need for volunteers is when they come out anyway, to vote. If you do away with the caucus, you miss a great chance to find the people you need.
The only reason I got involved in Party affairs at all is the 2012 caucus. It was a revelation at the 2012 caucus that we can do more than just vote & run; that indeed there is a GOP in Carson City; no, you don’t need an engraved invitation to join, and yes, you can participate and help make a difference. A primary run by a professional election staff may be more efficient in recording, counting and reporting your vote, but it also leaves you with the impression that you’ve completed your civic duty. A primary does NOT get you involved — you just vote & run — and then what you are left with is the endless grumbling about how “they” select the candidates, “they” finance the candidates, “they” make back room deals, etc. Well, participate and find out to what extent that is or is not true. Participate and do something about it, don’t just complain. And the place and time to start is in a caucus.
So what’s so hateful about a caucus?
The bottom line, this time and always, is money. A primary is a State function, and the State pays for the voting machines and whatever else. A political party is a private entity and a caucus is a private function, and the Party has to pay for all the related costs. So a primary is just a way to shift the costs from the Party to the State. What galls me, as a Republican, that even Republicans by a large majority don’t see anything wrong with that.
Of course the inherent contradictions in the present system (private caucus in February and state primary in June) are downright hilarious. We have a caucus to indicate our preference among the candidates for president (which is a federal office), and we have a primary for all other offices (US Senator, US Congressman, State Senator, State Assemblyman, and all the “lesser” state and local office holders). It’s almost completely backwards!
I have my own ideas and preferences to fix this, and I’m sure you have yours. I encourage you to contact, harangue and harass your State legislators until they do. They are the “they” who created the present mess, and because it’s all codified in the NRS (Nevada Revised Statutes), they are the only ones who can fix it.
And after all this, it’s obvious from that the GOP debate in Houston, put on by CNN, that the people in Iowa, NH, SC and NV wasted their votes.