Thursday, January 17, 2008

"At-Large" Caucuses: Plenty of blame to go around

Well, Hillary stepped in it, didn't she. Or did she? And what did she step in?

Even though the Nevada caucuses are set for Saturday at noon, many workers in Las Vegas will be doing their jobs in the 24-hour casino strip. The Democratic Party kindly set up at-large caucus precincts for those workers. Not linked to residence, these caucus sites were explicitly set up to give these hard workers a way to participate without having to significantly choose between voting or working. Unlike the typical practice of assigning a voter to a caucus site by residence, voters from anywhere in the state can caucus at these places. Every single on is located on the casino-heavy "Strip" in Las Vegas. As news coverage can attest, this plan was approved by all parties months ago.

Then, the Culinary union that covers most of these workers endorsed Obama the morning after New Hampshire. Apparently this endorsement has real weight, unlike the types of endorsements that Edwards and Gephardt have collected in the past (union bosses that are ready to intimidate members probably makes the endorsement count for more, granted). And lo and behold, some directors of the Nevada State Education Association almost immediately felt moved to sue the party in order to stop this at-large facet of the Saturday caucuses. While the NSEA is neutral in the primary, many of its directors support Hillary -- this is the connection mention in the news. (The lawsuit failed by the way.)

Of course, Obama's people are flogging this without restraint or veracity, using a common spin of "Hillary sues to suppress votes". Obama got so mad about it that he inveighed against "lawyers [like him] getting involved". The Obama spin makes sense if you believe the following:

  • Hillary's campaign instigated the lawsuit. (Probably. I doubt her allies are going to do something her campaign sees as inimical to their interests, and the campaign did join the suit).
  • The lawsuit has no merit on its own, and is just a campaign tactic.

Frankly, this lawsuit was a campaign tactic and did have merit. Underreported is the fact that the Democratic National Committee, who had final approval of this plan has joined the suit, as did officials of Clark County, which include Las Vegas. Why do such a thing?

Well, if there's any possible way to make the anti-democratic institution of a caucus less democratic, it's to set up special sites for selected groups of voters. We're not talking about stripping people of their rightful chance to participate, we're talking about stripping people of a way to participate to which they don't have a right. Notice that nobody cares about observant Jews whose beliefs prevent them from taking part due to the scheduled hour of the event. Nobody cares about people in rural Nevada who face long-distance drives to get to their "local" caucus site. Plenty of folks work on Saturday afternoon, but they don't count, they're not special like the casino workers. The Culinary workers got special treatment, and that is something that everyone should find objectionable.

(Mind you, that doesn't change the fact that even were the lawsuit successful, it probably would have backfired on Hillary.)

Incidentally, Nevada is getting a strong message with an eye toward the general. The three leading Democrats are making several visits to Nevada and are on the air. Meanwhile, of the Republicans only Romney and Paul are actively contesting the state -- two of the three "front-runners" went directly from doesn't-count Michigan to South Carolina. Huckabee and McCain have shown little interest in Nevada. Good going guys -- ignore the rapidly growing swing state in favor of the go-nowhere solid red state that unfailingly votes Republican.

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