Ben Smith of Politico wrote today (in a follow up to an article in August) about an interesting objection coming from the Reserve Officers Association targeted at the Iowa GOP and the Iowa caucus. The ROA wants to assure that their members have every opportunity to participate in the political process, and that includes helping to select the parties’ nominees for president. (It’s not mentioned in the story, but this may be an even more important issue in states and localities that are non competitive and where a party nominating system is tantamount to election.)
There is nothing new about criticism directed at caucuses because of their exclusionary character. Caucuses exist as a method of face to face discussion, deliberation, and choice. This is what leads some, such as Caroline Tolbert, a political scientist at the University of Iowa (coincidence?) to defend the continuing role of caucuses in our election system.
Caucuses are most often criticized because they only represent the most politically active, and in Iowa as in most states, that skews toward older, wealthier, and whiter citizens. Using the military–one of America’s most diverse political institutions–as a lever to attack the Iowa caucus is a delicious political irony. I can’t help but think of the current brouhaha over no-excuse absentee ballots in Colorado. The legions of “inactive” voters in Colorado surely skews toward poor citizens, highly mobile citizens, and language minorities. No one seems to be worried when these citizens are moved off the active rolls too quickly. But when UOCAVA voters are moved off the rolls, suddenly you have bipartisan support for restoring voting rights!
Enough about underlying political motives. What is more surprising is that Smith, and the Iowa GOP, aren’t thinking very creatively about how they could increase participation by registered Iowans who are out of state on caucus day. There is this new thing I’ve heard about .. it’s called the Internet….
But there is, as the state party noted in August, no easy solution to the question of including deployed soldiers in caucuses in Iowa or elsewhere, and the Iowa parties are probably right to be nervous about it: It’s an issue whose clarity and appeal could, if it caught on, threaten to unravel the whole caucus process.
Is that right? In fact, there are lots of examples of electronic fora that allow citizens to “meet”, “deliberate,” and vote on candidates. One example is the group “Americans Elect”. I have a lot of problems with what they are trying to do with the ballot (described in this radio interview), but their proposals for large, moderated discussion fora, with participants who have been validated as registered voters, sound an awful lot to me like the Iowa caucus in electronic form. The group “Deliberative Democracy.net” has lots of examples and toolkits that the Iowa GOP could draw upon.
This is a way that the Internet provides an easy technical solution that can bring soldiers, overseas citizens, and students in other states together to learn, discuss, and get more deeply involved in the political process. Hell, given that it’s UOCAVA voters, I bet you could find some Internet company, maybe one that sounds like “Google,” would set this up for free!