This election cycle we’ve seen an influx of excited new voters the likes of which I’ve not seen since my McGovern days. Passionate. Idealistic. Energized. The downside is a generation of new, inexperienced voters seem to be drawing a very wrong conclusion about politics. If your candidate loses it’s not voter fraud, suppression and it wasn’t rigged by the party. Like baseball, there’s no crying in politics.
One overarching lesson I’ve learned from years of politics is, you lose an election, you walk it off, wipe your brow and move on to the next battle. You get tough, make your ground game and GOTV efforts better. Stronger. You don’t dwell on a loss blaming everyone else. At the end of the day, you got beat by a better organized campaign in that state. The only response is to work harder. Look at the weaknesses that caused the loss and try to course correct. The only thing in a political campaign is the next contest and winning it. Party politics can be bruising, bare knuckled, brawling battles. It can at times be vicious with no quarter given nor expected. It’s not for the sensitive, the naive or unprepared. It can and should be driven by ideals. And won with a healthy dose of pragmatism and reality. Some of that is graduate-level politics.
The reactions that spawn rampant conspiracy theories is fomented by a beginner’s lack of understanding of politics 101.
First off there is no Constitutional right to participate in a party’s candidate selection process. The state party sets the rules for who is allowed to cast a vote in a primary or caucus. There are 50 states and a lot of territories who all make their own rules.
States with a primary have election rules set by the state. You walk in and identify as a Democrat or Republican or any other party having a primary. The partisan election is separate from the non partisan election even though they happen at the same time. Usually there other issues to be decided on election day. You have local school levies, zoo levies, library levies and bond issues for infrastructure among other things. You have similar county issues that need decided. You then have state issues also. Amendments to the state Constitution. Repeal votes. There are bond issues. All of these need voted upon whether you vote in the partisan primary or not.
In these elections eligibility and procedure are set by the state. The parties, as I mentioned above, set the rules. It could be an open primary where anyone can declare by asking for a partisan ballot. It may be a closed primary where you have to be already registered as a party member prior to the election. Then there’s a chance it a semi-open primary. There anyone of either party can cast a vote for candidates in either primary, but only one party.
For closed primaries, the state party sets the rules. There may be a deadline prior to the election to register as a member. Some state parties require party declaration when you register to vote. In any given primary the parties can and often have widely varying rules. As a voter it’s up to you to know those rules of what party you choose. They determine whether you can cast a partisan ballot or not. It behooves candidates as part of their get out the vote push to get ahead of deadlines and make sure potential voters understand requirements.
So, closed primaries limit only party members to select the party’s candidate. Not being allowed to vote in one of those if you’re not a member is not voter suppression. Nor is it rigged. Politics 101.
Open and semi-open primaries allow non party members have a voice in choosing the candidate they don’t belong to. This isn’t inherently more democratic, it’s simply allowing more involvement hoping to encourage permanent party loyalty. Politics 101.
Then there’s the caucus. These are independent of state oversight other than registering voters. Like primaries, the rules are set by the party. And also like primaries, these rules vary from state to state. In general, there are set hours, usually in the evening. One criticism of caucuses is it’s difficult for shift workers to participate. Another complaint is a person’s vote isn’t by secret ballot in many. This can possibly lead to voter coercion.
Basically you split into groups supporting a candidate. Many require a certain floor for the number of supporters a candidate needs to show up to be eligible for delegates.
So, you vote for local delegates who go to a county convention to decide state delegates to attend the state convention. Those delegates choose the delegates for the national convention. This is a general look at a caucus. Again the setup and rules are different for every caucus State.
Some slam the caucus system as very undemocratic as the turnout is extremely low. It’s difficult for many to attend. Some are intimidated by having to vote publicly. The caucus is usually home to the most dedicated and energetic candidate supporters resulting in outsized influence. Then there are those who laud it as classical democracy in action. Party direction driven from the local level. Politics 101.
Needless to say voting in the United States can be extraordinarily complicated and confusing. Actual voter fraud is nearly nonexistent in elections. Voter suppression is driven by the state. It’s outrageous and rampant in very red states. It’s simply to drive down participation by entire classes of voters who may not support their party. Losing a vote is neither. Politics 101.
We seem to have a shocking lack of knowledge of education in what was once called civics in America. The lack of knowledge of election mechanics and how the the three branches of government function and interact. The executive is misunderstood. Congress is misunderstood. Judicial seems to be a total mystery.
One of the tenants this nation was founded on is an informed electorate. In that responsibility as a nation we’ve failed abysmally. The media drives inaccurate views of government. People who vote feel they have unfettered to participate in any election. This includes party specific votes. Yes there a Constitutional right to vote. That right is unused by far too many. participation in party primaries is vital to set the tone of candidates in the General Election in November. Part of being an informed elector is understanding the process you’re participating in. Learn. Get involved in the framework and vote.
Just remember, there’s no crying in politics.