PRIMARIES V. CAUCUSES.

Today, Barack Obama is expected to win three regular old primaries, which should somewhat quell worries about his weakness in that format when compared to his exemplary track-record at caucuses. But to play devil's advocate with Mark's post defending the caucus format on the Obama campaign's superior ability in organizing caucuses (update: Mark rightly points out he wasn't defending caucuses as a format), I do want to bring up a few other reasons why caucuses may favor Obama supporters.

It's a real concern that many working class people are limited in their ability to caucus. This is true even when caucuses are held on the weekends, since service workers are some of the least able to set their own schedules and take weekends off. Unlike voting, a caucus can take up to two hours. But you can't just show up anytime within those two hours when you are free. You have to be "on time," because after a few minutes of milling around, the doors do close. That's how I saw two immigrant women disenfranchised in Iowa -- they were 13 minutes late.

Caucuses favor high-information voters, regardless of their economic class or level of educational attainment. When I tagged along with John Edwards canvassers in Iowa, many people who had lived in the state their entire lives, and who were registered Democrats, had no idea how the caucus worked. Indeed, some were even confused as to how a primary election was different than a general election. They were passionate about unseating the Republicans, but were unsure of how caucusing would accomplish that goal. It's easy to see how the caucus system might actually benefit an insurgent candidate more than a primary does: Caucus-goers are already politically engaged voters, the type of people who've likely taken the time to learn about a new candidate. Those who are intimidated or uneducated about the caucus format, and thus don't end up participating, are likely to lean toward the better-known, establishment candidate. This year, that's Hillary.

Caucuses favor native and fluent English speakers, and we know Latino voters favor Clinton. Once you are at the caucus site, the "vote" is conducted as an (often unruly) public meeting. At the caucus I observed in Des Moines, there weren't any written or spoken Spanish translations available -- even though there definitely were Spanish-speaking immigrants who attempted to participate, and who faced a language barrier. In Nevada, where a substantial Latino community participated in the caucuses, there was quite a bit of Spanish-language outreach, and Spanish speakers at many caucus locations. So providing at least a written explanation of the process in Spanish is an important reform that should be instituted nationwide at caucuses.

I happen to believe that no matter who wins or loses caucuses, they are an inherently undemocratic forum and should be abolished. And I assure you, dear commenters, this is not because I go to sleep at night clutching a photograph of Hillary Clinton to my breast. (I don't.) I just think that considering the pathetically low voter turn-out rates in this country, we should be working to make participation easier whenever we can.

--Dana Goldstein

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