As I observe the current election season, I am becoming convinced that the voting primary is by far more representative of the electorate than caucuses. Because most people have to leave their homes to participate in a caucus, this method of choosing a candidate effectively excludes those who are homebound, hospitalized, having to work or be out of town on caucus day, or the single parent with a number of kids having to drag them along past their bedtimes. This is why I will be watching figures on the number of voters returning their mailed ballots here in Washington.
Back when Washington had a caucus system, I had a variety of experiences. Several times I hosted our precinct caucus in a precinct largely composed of students, but we still had a number of Democratic voters among the permanent residents. Even so, there were times I had only one or two attending. When they consolidated the number of caucus sites to places like the Washington State University CUB or a school, that’s when attendance rose. Precincts were separated into different parts of the room. Yet even then, there were times when I was the only participant in my precinct who had ever participated in a caucus before — one time this included the appointed leader and a political science professor. I almost had to take over to get anything done.
I strongly believe that the act of voting should be as convenient and easy as possible. For that reason, I am sold on mail balloting as being the fairest and most inclusive. I don’t want any citizen left out for reasons of health, mobility, work obligations and the like. This group includes a high percentage of seniors and physically immobile who are effectively disenfranchised by the caucus system.
There is also the issue of privacy — attending a caucus reveals your party preference. So does voter registration if you want to participate in the primary. I recall a situation in Ohio where one had to declare a party just to vote. My husband had a job with the state where he needed the cooperation of a number of state government officials to do his job properly. Since his party affiliation was public, he worried that some stanch party animals would resist cooperating because of a difference of preference since Ohio was largely Republican at the time. This effectively disenfranchised him for the duration of that job.
I also am sold on the idea of voting by mail for several reasons. One, it saves money for the county not having to rent, equip and staff polling places. Two, It is more convenient for voters, therefore more inclusive. Three, and maybe the most important, it is less prone to tampering. I deeply resent those states that can’t seem to regulate their voting procedures to prevent that.
Those precincts where venality and dishonesty is allowed to rule undermine the foundation on which our country depends. Reason four is a paper trail if some snafu occurs. Trust in the election outcome is a basic underpinning of the effectiveness of our country’s government. The outcome of every national presidential and congressional election affects the entire nation.
I urge every Washingtonian and Oregonian to fill out your ballot and mail them in by the due date. Let’s set an example for the rest of the country for honesty, efficiency and inclusiveness. If we yell loud enough about our feelings, maybe the rest of the country will follow our example and change. We should not be at the mercy of the lack of integrity and inefficiency of others.
I think it is time for Congress to enact a national standard of performance with penalties for failure to abide by them. Maybe it should be as drastic a disenfranchising those entities who fail to meet minimum standards until they conform. Making the stakes high enough should be sufficient incentive for better performance.
Lenna Harding lived her first 20 and past 43 years in Pullman. A longtime League of Women Voters member, she served on the Gladish Community and Cultural Center board.