Washblog

WSDCC Delegate Selection Plan - public comment #2 - killing the precinct 15% rule

I know I said in the last post, we should go for small simple steps that everybody can agree on. Figure one has to be careful about how much one asks for at any given time.

On the other hand, if you don't ask, then it's guaranteed nothing will happen. Never mind that this is the comment I wanted to make in the first place.

And actually, this one is a lot simpler ... meaning of course that it's going to be more controversial.

However it's all part of the same basic theme, namely that precinct caucuses should be

  • quick (not spending overly huge amounts of time on rules, math, paperwork),
  • understandable easier to keep track of what's going on in your head, and
  • fair, i.e., you are being represented, and the party cares what you think.

though this one is a lot more about that last item.

Capsule summary: The precinct 15% rule doesn't do what you think it does. And it's just bad anyway.

On removing the 15% Rule at the Precinct Level

III.F.5 and III.F.6 should be modified in order that the 15% "viability" threshold not be applied to the Precinct Caucuses. (and the WSDCC should petition the DNC to be allowed to make this change).

Introduction

The precinct caucus is the face of the party; most people attend no other caucus. There are explicit hopes that the 2008 caucuses will serve as a basis for recruiting and long-term party-building. As such, rules at the precinct level, more so than at the other levels, need to be carefully considered with respect to how they affect the process, how they add to or detract from the caucus experience.

I should note that all of the arguments that follow are specific to the case of precinct caucuses. The question of the 15% threshold at the higher levels (Leg. District or Cong. District), which involve much larger numbers of voters and occur after the state-wide viability picture for a given candidate is actually known, is an entirely separate matter and not addressed here.

Problems with the Precinct 15% Rule

At the precinct level, the 15% rule adds significant complexity. It requires precinct chairs to calculate the 15% level, announce it, and allow time for participants to consider what they're going to do about it, a process that can be considerably drawn out if there are 1 or more candidates hovering at the threshold. The paperwork is likewise made more complicated.

Keep in mind every such complication introduced has a higher impact at the Precinct level since participants are less likely to be trained or know what to expect -- even the chair or secretary is likely to be someone random as, in our district at least, only 1/3 of the precincts have PCOs.

Such complications would make sense if they were adequately justified, However the usual justifications for the 15% rule simply do not apply at the precinct level.

  • The 15% rule does not "narrow the field" in any useful way beyond what delegate quantization already does. The precinct caucus is the first pass in the overall process and therefore inherently must consider all candidates, i.e., must be prepared to deal with anyone showing up wanting to vote for any declared candidate.

    ("Delegate quantization" refers the understood and automatic notion that there are only so many delegates to go around, i.e., if you don't vote for one of the N highest candidates in an N-delegate precinct, you will not get a delegate -- it's not clear that any further "narrowing" is actually needed at this point).

  • Precincts are far too small for precinct "viability" to have anything to do with the state-wide viability that actually matters for a Presidential race that ignores precinct boundaries. And no information about state-wide viability will be available until the first state-wide totals of precinct delegate numbers are compiled.

    In particular, it is not unusual for individual precincts to go 85+% for marginal candidates, unnecessarily denying delegates to mainstream candidates supported by minority clusters within those precincts, thus distorting the race (and if one is going to argue that these effects will balance out across the state, that, if true, would merely confirm that the 15% rule has no purpose at this level).

There is, to be sure, no hard data on exactly how the process is being distorted, on how people would have voted without the 15% rule. But that just emphasizes that we don't really know what this rule is doing in the first place.

But, irrespective of that, we can point to specific bad effects at the precinct level, effects that that can turn people off to the caucus process, potentially sabotaging the party's hopes for it:

  • The 15% rule violates reasonable expectations of proportionality and thus causes feelings of disenfranchisement.

    If your preference has 1/N of the votes in an N-delegate precinct and you do not get a delegate, you will feel cheated. Period. This sort of thing leads to feelings that the rules are purposefully Byzantine, which can undermine or negate the good faith efforts of caucus organizers.

    All that is needed for this particular situation to be able to arise is 7 or more delegates in a precinct (1/7 being 14.3%), which, in 2004, was over 10% of the precincts statewide. See Example 1 below.

    (as it happens, the 15% rule can have similar, though not quite so egregious, effects in caucuses with as few as three delegates. See Example 2 below.)

  • The 15% rule in combination with the proportional-allocation rule, when applied to the relatively small numbers of a precinct caucus, creates unstable situations in which small numbers of votes can shift multiple delegates towards or away from a given candidate. When small groups of voters wield disproportionate influence, you get intensified lobbying, dealmaking, and overly large pressures being brought to bear on said voters, while at the same time the other voters (correctly) perceive that their votes do not matter as much. This draws out the process and leads to bad feelings about it and the party.

    All you need for this is one or more candidates hovering on the edge of "viability". See Example 3 below.

    Conversely, under the base proportional-allocation rule by itself, it is impossible, in an N-delegate caucus, to shift two or more delegates towards/away from a given candidate without shifting at least 1/N of the total vote. In such an atmosphere, the stakes riding on individual votes will be that much smaller. It will thus not be worth it to lobby individuals that hard, the emphasis will instead be on shifting whole blocs with arguments that will need to be more focused on the merits of the candidates. This should lead to a more positive caucus experience.

    To be sure, no matter what the rules are, there will always be nasty boundary situations with lobbying and dealmaking. The point is the 15% criterion creates additional such situations beyond where they are unavoidable.

In short, the 15% rule at the precinct level doesn't really do anything other than emphasize the very aspects of the caucus process that people hate the most. (and by "people", here, I specifically mean the non-party-regular folks that one is trying to attract...)

Can we actually change this?

With respect to what DNC rules say about this, I will simply note that if we do not ever actually go on record as wanting this to be changed, it will never change.

[UPDATE 4/15] Having now found the actual DNC rules, it is now known that the DNC only cares about having the congressional district caucus (i.e., the one that selects national delegates) follow the 15% rule.

Also, the Iowa caucuses use distinct "viability" criteria at the precinct level. As it happens, Iowa's rules are even more complicated than Washington's, so their specific modifications are not something we want to emulate. I merely point this out to show that it is possible under current DNC rules to have different caucus rules at the precinct level and that other states have done so.

One also imagines that the WSDCC ought to be the final authority on its own internal processes. Recall that the state convention is the highest authority of the state party, having the ability to enact charter amendments and such, so the delegate selection process for the state convention affects far more than the Presidential race. Therefore, there is at least some basis for concluding that the WSDCC can have concerns that override those of the DNC, who's sole real interest should be the composition of the delegation to the national convention. (Admittedly, this particular argument depends on how one views the relationship of the DNC and the state parties).

Example 1

Precinct with 7 delegates. 28 people show up. 24 for Kucinich, 4 for Edwards.
(24/28)x7 = 6.0 delegates for Kucinich
(4/28)x7 = 1.0 delegate for Edwards
However, 4/28 = 14.3%, meaning with a 15% rule in place, Kucinich is the only viable candidate, thus gets all of the delegates, and the 4 people who wanted Edwards will feel disenfranchised.

Example 2

Precinct with 3 delegates. 21 people show up. 9 for Kucinich, 9 for Richardson, 3 for Edwards
(9/21)x3 = 1.29 delegates for Kucinich,Richardson
(3/21)x3 = 0.43 delegates for Edwards
Edwards wins the fractional delegate, so everybody gets 1 delegate. However,
9/21 = 42.9%
3/21 = 14.3%
and so, with a 15% rule, Edwards is "not viable" and the 3rd delegate ends up being randomly awarded to one of the other two instead.

Example 3

Precinct with 6 delegates. 54 people show up. 36 vote for Hillary, 9 for Obama, 9 for Edwards. 15% of 54 is 8.1, so everybody is "viable". Delegate awards are 4, 1, and 1 respectively (and these are exact proportions, i.e., 9/54 being exactly 1/6, and so on).

If even a single voter defects from each of Edwards and Obama to Hillary, that kicks both of them down below 15% and now Hillary gets all of the delegates, despite only having support of slightly over 2/3 of the precinct. Without a 15% rule, at least 5 people would have to change their votes before even one delegate would shift.

< Washington needs to hold a Presidential Primary | Patty Cant & Reid Feingold & chirp chirp >
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One of the things not addressed in your post is that there is the opportunity for Delegates to become Delegates for Uncommitteed at both the Precinct and Legislative District Caucus levels.  

This is one way to keep delegates moving forward in the caucus process. It was used all the time in 2004 when one or more candidates didn't have enough delegates to reach the 15 percent threshold and joined forces to keep some of their delegate(s) moving to the next level. And using "uncommitted" Delegate status is a tool used to get MORE delegates for a couple of candidates moving forward than either of those candidates would have gotten had their remained a Delegate for their respective candidate.

People will be trained on how to do this before the precinct caucuses and the caucus materials the state party had put together in 2004 explained this quite clearly.  Everyone attending my precinct caucus was able to understand it how switching to a different candidate or "uncommitted" had value.  No one at my precinct, LD, or CD caucus ended up with bad feelings about the party or feeling disenfranchised as you seem to suggest will occur if we keep the 15 percent rule.

by Cherisse on Mon Apr 09, 2007 at 09:06:40 AM PST

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in my words, the caucuses are a pain in hte ass that do wonders to encourage and enable the mayberry machiavellis, and, by the way, bring a few people in.

IF 'the party' gave a crap about us little peeeee-ons, 'the party' would be trying real hard NOW to get interest in the caucuses drummed up, 'the party' would be doing stuff to get us PCOs and us neighbors working on the local potholes and the local street lights, so, come caucus time

people felt a connection to 'the party' instead of the caucuses being a means to access a candidate who'll be ... running from the status quo!

right now, it sure seems to me that the point of hte caucuses is too get more people to doorbell / phonebank to get more money to beat the fascists cuz the fascists are horrible, AND

we can't do anything about anything cuz we gotta beat the horrible fascists.

rmm.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/connelly/310805_joel09.html

"Sadly, Democratic officials seem hellbent on rendering our primary meaningless, or killing it outright.

A bipartisan panel, charged with setting a primary date, met last month. The Republicans wanted a Feb. 5 date, same as California. The Democrats pushed for March 19, long after the issue will be decided.

About 1.3 million people voted in the 2000 Washington primary. Precinct caucuses -- the Democrats' preferred venue -- are likely to draw at most 100,000.

With their confusing rules, the caucuses are designed to favor marginal candidates, and are beloved only by those on the ideological extremes.

The 2008 race looks wide open. Why can't we open up the contest, host the contenders, and welcome as many voters as possible to participate?"

http://www.liemail.com/BambooGrassroots.html

by rmdSeaBos on Mon Apr 09, 2007 at 11:27:02 AM PST

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But in fact we don't. Each Precinct would need to have at least 6 delegates. Over 5000 of our Precincts have 5 delegates or fewer. 700 have only 1 delegate and are really winner take all.

by Kelly Wright on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 08:37:11 PM PST

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   That doesn't seem to be exactly true. The DNC rules as I've read so far, only apply once we reach the CD level.
   The suggestions in this post and wrog's earlier post on delegate selection could be enacted at the precinct, County and LD levels, and still pass DNC muster.

Dave Gibney Pullman

by gibney on Fri Apr 13, 2007 at 10:18:38 PM PST

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  That this change for the precinct level passed as a technical amendment. Congrats to wrog.

  It appears my primary AND caucus proposal was not adopted, although Whitman's (my) proposed changes to caucus dates may have been refered back to the Rules Committee.

Dave Gibney Pullman

by gibney on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 06:34:49 PM PST

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