Much has been made about the proposed changes to the Caucus/Primary system in Utah's Democratic Party. These changes will be voted on by delegates at Saturday's convention.
From my understanding their are two options: leave the current system of requiring 60% of the vote at convention in order to avoid a primary, or ditch the caucus/convention system and go to a direct primary.
Like the Jim Matheson plan for Health Care Reform (where repealing or keeping ObamaCare seem like the only two possible options), the election reform plan is a false choice.
You see, there is more than one option available.
First, I dislike the way the system is now. Delegates are elected by their neighbors who are available on a Tuesday night and feel like doing something political in March, which isn't very many people. Furthermore, 60% seems too low a threshold and too arbitrary a number for a candidate to reach to get completely out of running a primary, especially in a two-person race. Also, when there is more than two candidates in a race, and nobody gets 60% on the ballot, there is a second ballot for the top two candidates, and there is a provision where there could be a third. Most delegates don't like sitting around for a second or third ballot that may or may not happen, so they leave. While I don't mind the food options that are an attempt to keep delegates in the building, I really think that this is foolish, and puts too much power in the hands of the super-involved.
Disbanding the caucus/convention system is a no-brainer then, right? Not really.
You see, those delegates are elected on a two-year cycle. Having the delegate system in place allows for less-engaged Democrats to have more engagement in the electoral process. If you don't get those people out to their caucus meetings, they won't ever come to a convention. I was amazed at how many delegates I spoke with at last year's convention were first-time convention goers. There were shocked to see a room full of Democrats. For some of them, it gave them the desire to help candidates. None of that would have happened if they didn't have any reason to go to the caucus meetings.
Also, delegates elect party leadership. If we do away with this system, will we have delegates to elect our leaders? If we do, will it be only the super-engaged people that become delegates? If we scrap delegates altogether, and just say "show up to convention and you'll be able to vote," won't it allow for bringing in unknowns to vote for a candidate like we've seen in past Young Democrats of Utah elections?
So, scrapping the system is not good, and keeping the system in place is not good, so what do we do?
Well, there is another way. This is a simple version that is meant to provide a path to real reform.
1) Make the threshold a two-thirds majority. 2/3 is a number that is used a lot in the legislative process, and is a great place to start. It's higher than the 60%, but not by much.
2) One ballot, and one ballot only. With only one ballot, it would be less confusing for newcomers to the process. Also, you cut down on the cost of food trying to keep delegates at the convention site. Plus, it's much easier to get people to your convention on a Saturday if you say "we'll be done at approximately this time" versus "We'll be done after the third vote that may or may not happen, so you'll be out at 1, or maybe 6, just plan on spending the whole day with us, doing nothing while we count the ballots."
3) This is really more a #2b, but we'll make it it's own line item: Instant Runoff Voting. Basically, instead of voting for only one candidate, you could rank your preferences. For instance, if there were 5 candidates, and you liked 4 of them, you could say "Bob's my number 1, Emily #2, Stacy #3, and Valerie #4, but I don't want to ever vote for Jeff." When the ballots are counted, the top line still alive gets the vote for that ballot. If nobody gets to the 67% threshold, the person with the least amount of votes is eliminated. The ballots that had that person as their #1 then get resorted by the next available candidate. This goes on until someone either hits 67% or there are two candidates left, at which point they go to primary. So, let's run an election scenario using the ballot above. There are 100 delegates in this district, so 67 is the threshold needed. The results, after round 1:
Your ballot counted for Bob in this round, since Emily was the lowest vote total, she gets eliminated, and all of her votes go to those delegate's second choices. Round two results:
none of the above 1
Your ballot again counted for Bob in this round, since he was your first choice. Of the people who had Emily at the top of the ballot, 11 voted for Valerie, putting her on top. One person decided that Emily was the only candidate they could support, so their vote goes into the "none of the above" category. These votes still count towards the total, meaning the threshold is still 67. Because Bob was the low vote total, he is eliminated. Round three results:
none of the above 3
Since Bob was eliminated in round 2, and Emily was eliminated in round 1, your ballot counted for Stacy in this round. Since nobody can get to 67 votes, and Jeff would be eliminated, we wouldn't need to count the votes; Valerie and Stacy move to a primary.