With two wide open races in the presidential contest this year, there has been a lot of reporting on how caucusing works, since many people are unfamiliar with it. But I've yet to hear why we use the caucus instead of the primary.
I'm a political novice, more interested in the big picture than inner party workings. But the caucus seems to be a throwback to the original government of the colonies, the townhall meeting. This may have been a great system of democratic government in small groups. But as many pundits are fond of pointing out, we live in a republic, not a democracy.
The caucus system, whatever it's strengths may be, serves to intimidate first time voters. To say that it's rules and procedures are confusing to most people would be an understatement. Just look at the confusion in Nevada, where the MoveOn party can't even seem to understand who won.
But the biggest flaw in the caucus system is the small window of time in which they are held. In a primary vote, most polls are open 12 hours, and there are state and federal laws requiring that employers give time off to vote. The caucus takes place over a 2-4 hour period, and you must be present and registered promptly at the starting time.
Primary voting, even with it's longer oppourtunity to cast your vote, also makes it possible to vote ahead of time, or from a foreign country. I cast my vote in the 2006 elections from Iraq, which is well over 6400 miles away from Minnesota. On Feb 5th I will at Camp Ripley for military training, less than 170 miles from my home in Owatonna. But the distance may as well be the same. The caucus is a 'must be present to win' system.
Police and firemen are disenfranchised, since they can't all leave their stations to caucus. Minnesota still has several hundred National Guard and Reserve soldiers in combat zones, and hundreds more serving stateside. Their voices will not be heard.
There has been much talk in the last few years of internet voting, or voting by mail-in-ballot for everyone. But before we push voting into the 21st century, we still need to pull it out of the 19th century and get rid of the caucus.