The Case for a Caucus
Primary elections (and a runoff election of note) were held on June 24th in numerous states. Candidates for office were chosen to represent various political parties. The voters spoke one way or another. Millions of dollars were spent. The airwaves were clogged with advertisements, the mailboxes with literature, and the streets with signs. All of this should be changed, and here is why.
The purpose of a primary election is to select candidates for the general election. In many states, such as Oklahoma, the primary is "closed", meaning only those who are registered to vote Republican by a certain date may vote in the primary election. The reason for this restriction is that the primary election is the process to select the candidate that will represent that political party - and the platform, beliefs, values and virtues of that party - in the general election. In other states, there is an "open" primary, meaning anyone registered to vote can cross party lines (which obviously can present some serious problems).
Problem #1: Campaign Finance
In a "closed" primary state, frequently whoever spends the most money wins. While spending money is certainly an expression of free speech and should not be restricted politically, "purchasing" elections is a serious issue. There are two major Supreme Court decisions that have dramatically changed the landscape of elections. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission freed independent groups such as labor unions, corporations and associations to spend whatever they want on an election - as long as it is independent of the candidate's campaign. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission struck down aggregate donations to political parties and candidates - meaning, there is no longer a cap on what an individual can donate (it was $117,000 for every two years to national parties plus federal candidates, with $46,200 of that being to candidates and the rest to a political party). Both of these decisions are good Constitutional rulings. The left frequently complains we need to reform "campaign finance" and "campaign spending", but they would do so at the expense of our Liberty. There is another way, which will be addressed shortly, that decreases the impact and influence of donations when choosing who the Party will nominate for office. The sad result is this - our elections have become auctions.
Problem #2: The Platform
A political Party (think Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or others) is a private association that organizes to advance political leaders who adhere to their Platform. The Platform is the statement of principles, that theoretically will tell you where a candidate stands on most things. In the Oklahoma Republican Party, for example, each Precinct (there are about 2500 in the state) can write their own "planks" for the Platform. At the County Conventions (77 of them) the "planks" are put together by a "Platform Committee" and then voted on by the Convention. The Platform can - and frequently is - amended (or changed) prior to final passage by the County Convention. At the State Convention, the County Platforms are blended together by the State Platform Committee to come up with the State Platform. It is then voted on - after amendments - by the State Convention. All the people in precincts are volunteers, putting forward their time to make a difference. The precincts choose the delegates to the county conventions, and the county convention delegates choose the delegates to the State Convention. Sadly, no candidate has any obligation to pay attention to any of this, nor are they bound in any way to the Platform.
Problem #3: Private vs. Public
The Republican Party is a private association. The Democratic Party is a private association. The State of Oklahoma pays for them to choose their nominees for office. Let that sink in for a moment. Why does the State pay for a private association to hold an election? This should make almost everyone mad - especially anyone who is an Independent. In some states, due to election law, voters from one party are allowed to vote in the other party primary. Obviously, this brings up a whole new set of problems - but it can only occur when the State pays the bill for the elections.
A Caucus could be used to select nominees at Party conventions. The name submitted by the respective Party would then be the only one on the ballot with a "D" or an "R" after their name - and they would reflect the Platform of that party, since they would be chosen by the same people who created the Platform. Since the Parties are private associations, it would be up to them, separately, to decide exactly how they conduct their business. Anyone who wishes to file for office could do so - but only as an Independent. All Independents would appear on the General Election ballot (in November) along with the nominee of each Party. Sound familiar? It should - it is how we determine who will be on the ballot for President of the United States.
A transition to such a system would require some time. It would probably be best accomplished with certain positions - such as all the statewide elected offices, and the US Senators. Candidates for Congress could be selected at the District Conventions (the Oklahoma Republican Party currently holds these every four years to select delegates to the National Convention, but that could be relatively easily changed to every two years). Countywide office nominees could be easily selected at County Conventions. The greatest difficulty in Oklahoma lies with the State Legislature - there are no State Senate or State House Conventions. To complicate this, many of these offices cross county boundaries, so you can't do them at County Conventions. A possible solution would be to do the nominating at the State Convention - and to follow the original federal model, modified for the state. Here is an outline of a potential Oklahoma plan, with state legislators thrown in:
1. Select Presidential nominee at the discretion of the party - current Republican National Convention Delegates are chosen at District Conventions (3 from each of the 5 districts, along with the same number of alternates, and the Electoral College Electors and Alternates) and the State Convention (25 delegates, 25 alternates, plus Electors and Alternates), and the three members of the Republican National Committee, which are the State Chairman, National Committeeman, and National Committeewoman. The Democratic Party has a different process, but they have one.
2. Select Governor and other statewide office nominees at state party conventions.
3. Select US Senator nominees at state party conventions.
4. Select US House nominees at district party conventions.
5. Select countywide nominees at county party conventions.
6. Select State Senate nominees at state convention, with the state convention divided by state sentate districts. 24 potential nominees every two years.
7. Select State House nominees by popular vote election (current system) until such time as the public becomes familiar with and accustomed to the new system, then implement State House District convention process every two years. Set a timeline for this to take effect.
8. All Independent candidates for any office would continue to be on the November ballot.
9. Restrict Platform voting to off-election (odd) years.
10. Restrict Party office elections to off-election (odd) years.
There will be those who object to this plan because it is not democracy. The United States is a Republic, not a Democracy. There is a giant difference between the democratic process and democracy. This proposed solution respects and uses the democratic process, many times, but it is republican in form (small "R"). A quote that may or may not have come from Benjamin Franklin, but nevertheless gets the point across, about democracy:
"Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for lunch."
We elect people to represent us - that is what all politicians are. Right now they represent big money donors, corporations, unions, trade associations, consultants, and everyone under the sun - EXCEPT the average person. If a current office holder is no longer representative of the Party Platform, the involved citizens who are paying attention to things will simply choose another candidate. The candidate would represent the Party, and be chosen by the Party, with a nominating process paid for by the Party. Otherwise, they are actually an "Independent" and there would be no restriction to them running under such a banner. This process would involve people at many levels, and would not restrict them from being involved. Indeed, it would REQUIRE them to be involved. Fortunately, almost the entire structure to accomplish this already exists. To be involved in selecting all the nominees of a party, a person would need to attend the following events (and vote at them):
1. Precinct meeting
2. County Convention
3. District Convention
4. State Convention
5. State Senate Caucus every other State Convention
While these four events take time from every day lives - and the State Convention would likely be a two day affair - it is a small price to pay for good government, a reduction of corrupting influences, and shifting the power from big money to citizen involvement. The integrity of the popular vote would remain - in the November general election. The power of incumbency at many levels would be reduced.
The "R" or "D" after someones name would actually have meaning, and so would the Platform.