Nevada confirms: caucuses are silly

Rick Santorum actually won the Iowa caucuses, but it took a couple of weeks to figure it out, as a series of darkly comical misadventures befell Iowa’s efforts to tally the vote. 

Here we go again!  The Nevada caucuses were held on Saturday, but the state GOP was still counting votes over 24 hours later.  A Politico report describes what the state’s former GOP director, Chuck Muth, called “the Nevada GOP’s national embarrassment”:

Here in Clark County, home to two-thirds of the state’s population, officials counted ballots, by hand, until 4 a.m. before calling it a night. Counting resumed again at 9 a.m. By 11 a.m. local time Sunday, only half of the county’s ballots had been counted.

“About midway through the night I said, ‘This is ludicrous,’” state GOP Chairman Amy Tarkanian said Sunday morning. “So I sent my state party people down there, including my husband, and said, ‘Go help them count, this is crazy.’”

Gosh, why should counting ballots by hand at 4:00 AM be considered “crazy?”  It’s not as if Clark County is dominated by a huge city containing one of the greatest concentrations of computerized data-processing power on the planet.

Tarkanian went on to say that she wanted to avoid “a situation like what happened in Iowa.”  She’s got about 12 days left to avoid that.  In this case, the overall winner is not in doubt – Mitt Romney won Nevada by double digits – but Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are in a close race for second.  Also, Nevada’s delegates are assigned proportionally, so exact vote totals for all contestants are crucial.

So what happened in Nevada?  The overall turnout was actually rather low.  It seems the problems boiled down to… politics, of course.

By all accounts, the night was a foreseeable disaster, months in the making.

The county party leaders rebuffed the state party’s wishes for a streamlined method of delivering results and state officials here don’t have sufficient clout to order the local officials around.

Then state officials planned to release results via Twitter — eschewing the traditional means of distributing them through The Associated Press for a method they had not yet tested. Cooler heads ultimately prevailed and the AP was given access to initial numbers, but the @nvgop Twitter feed through which results were streamed developed a relatively scant following — just over 2,000 followers as of Sunday morning.

It didn’t help matters that, due to redistricting, the county clerks in Clark and Washoe counties — the population hubs where Las Vegas and Reno are located — renumbered all of the local precincts last month. So voters in the state’s two largest cities were confused about where to caucus.

Also, the date of the caucuses was changed at least twice, and for some reason a mob of Ron Paul supporters showed up at “special Saturday evening caucuses” arranged for people who couldn’t vote on Saturday morning due to religious obligations (i.e. the Jewish Sabbath.)  The second-largest county in Nevada submitted its results on an improperly-formatted Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

Nevada is far from the only circus act scheduled for this primary season.  Florida lost half its delegates by moving its primary up to January, in defiance of party rules… and then violated party rules again, despite December warnings from no less than RNC chairman Reince Preibus, by making its early contest a “winner-take-all” affair that dumped all 50 delegates into Mitt Romney’s column.  The Gingrich campaign is already working on contesting this.

Meanwhile, Missouri is scheduled to experience the unbearable delight of two primary contests: a totally non-binding “just for show” primary in February, followed by a caucus to assign delegates in March.  This happened because the national Republican Party instructed Missouri to hold its primary in March, but state law says it must be held in February.  Violating Party rules would cost Missouri half its delegates, just like Florida… so what the hell, why not just have primaries in both months?

Could I make a little suggestion to the Republican Party?  And really, the Democrats too.  I’d prefer a greatly compressed primary schedule in which nobody goes “first,” and a cascade of tiny states determines the election narrative before 80 percent of the country has a chance to weigh in.  Why is a digital age observing arcane horse-and-buggy traditions during its national elections?  

But if we can’t do that, could we at least avoid these “caucus” voodoo rituals?  Nothing should be non-binding, nobody should be changing the rules just weeks before the primaries, conflicts between state and Party rules should be hammered out long in advance, everyone should remember when everybody goes to church or temple – because they’ve been doing it on the same mornings for centuries – and it’s really not that hard to collate results from a handful of counties without distributing Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.  And if you really must use spreadsheets, did you guys know it’s possible to lock them so nobody can rearrange the columns?


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