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This week, the national Democratic Party held a meeting of the Rules & Bylaws committee. This committee is tasked with helping to find ways to improve basic party functions by developing and improving the rules that our party abides by at every level. These rules can involved in everything from delegations to election practices to inclusion. During a post-election gathering like the one held yesterday, the task is to look back at the 2020 election and determine how we can continue to improve the process and give our candidates the best opportunities to win in a general election.
Caucus versus primary
The biggest question that will face the committee is how the party can look to better improve the way in which we determine our nominee for president. In time periods when Democrats hold the presidency, we are most likely to see opportunities to change the rules that can benefit all of the party. The reason for this is simple: Absolutely no one wants to advocate changes in a wide-open field because if their solution is not the one adopted, they could alienate voters and find themselves on the wrong side of a campaign to win the nomination.
With President Biden in office, however, we have an ideal opportunity to look at how we can better improve the process, especially how the caucus system impacts our nominee, the placement of Iowa and New Hampshire at the front of the line, and how we improve participation.
I will openly state my opinion: The caucus is, in every way, a means to disenfranchise. It’s limiting to people with disabilities and to people who are poor, it’s time-consuming, and it’s a relic of the past. The one large benefit of a caucus has always been allowing a candidate who may not win to bring to the table an important issue that motivates a set of Democratic voters, and makes sure the issue they represent is heard and can be put forward into the Democratic platform or allow their voters to find a candidate who can take them seriously. History is full of examples of candidates who have managed to change the Democratic platform in this way, and that’s great for the party. In the current era, however, we have access to better tools. Rank choice voting and broad social media reach mean that having a group of people gather in a gym all day isn’t the only way to make sure that an issue is heard and integrated. In fact, candidates who may not make the stage are free to make their case anywhere. We had a few make their case right here on Daily Kos.
The party can develop rules and guidelines that help us move forward and allow voices to be heard. What the party does not have power over—and this is important—is forcing any state government that currently runs a caucus to pay for an actual primary. If the state government doesn’t want to provide it, the party can’t tell them they have to do it. Instead, the state party organization has to look for new ways to provide those opportunities using their own funds.
Secretary of state races are critical
One thing that the party learned this last election cycle is how critical the position of secretary of state truly is to develop a party of the future. For too long, the Democratic Party has overlooked many races like secretary of state, state attorney general, and county officer races, but as 2020 showed us, having people in office who work to make sure people have an opportunity to vote makes a huge difference—epecially in comparison to allowing those who oppose the right to vote to have an outsize impact.
Voter suppression tactics can go beyond legislative efforts. A secretary of state committed to running a fair and free election means voters have better access, a better plan, and more awareness of how to participate. In speaking to the committee, Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state for Arizona, discussed the need to have advanced COVID-19 planning as a way to assure voters that voting was safe and provide them with a plan for how to participate. Just making voting more welcoming helps the entire process.
If the Democratic Party wants to make sure we have real long-term investment, putting elections board officers, state attorney generals, and secretary of state officeholders into place will be critical to future success.
There is, however, a looming issue that I have often felt the party is on the verge of facing, and it will become a sticky subject for many Democratic voters. We need to address issues regarding systemic racism in the basic makeup of our state organizations. The 2020 census is likely to make this situation even more problematic.
I want to use this as an example: Many state organizations divide up their representation to a state committee or a state executive committee based on the divisions of U.S. House districts. Let’s say a state has five House districts, and each House district gets 20 seats on the state committee. (Each of the districts represents an equal share of the population.)
This methodology has allowed states to find a way to provide geographically diverse representation. This is important because it makes sure rural voices are heard; I can agree with that point. Alternatively, it can create a situation of an unbalanced organization that allows super-majority Republican states to determine who actually controls the Democratic Party on a state by state basis.
Let’s continue with the fictional five-seat state. In that state, one district is overwhelmingly Democratic, has always been an urban center Black and brown voting district, and has never had a significant Republican challenger. Three other districts are incredibly Republican. One district is a mixture, but it leans slightly Republican.
When a statewide election is held, more than 40% of the Democratic vote comes from the single district that’s overwhelmingly Democratic. On the state committee, however, that district receives 20% of the seats.
So despite providing the majority of the support and votes and representing the minority population in the state, that district can find itself receiving less opportunities to shape the policies of the state organization that it represents. As Republicans move to redraw the lines, Democratic state organizations tied to this methodology find themselves at risk of disenfranchising more Black and brown voters and putting too much weight behind districts that are weighted against the Democratic platform.
How does the national party address the problem of the state party finding a way to cover this data disparity?
This is a complex question, and no one is quite sure what the real answer to this question is, but it’s something to look forward to regarding the outcome of redistricting this year. The Democratic Party has to continue working on growth in rural and red areas, but it has to find a way to balance that by allowing the voices of voters who are showing up to have a significant say in the outcome of the party platform, officers, and committees.
You can watch the entirety of the national Democratic Party Rules & Bylaws committee meeting from this week on YouTube or below:
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