Time to retire ‘quaint’ Dem caucus

It’s quaint. It’s cute. It’s inefficient. It’s time for the Democratic Party’s caucus process to die.

Much was made following the Feb. 1 caucuses, particularly because Hillary Clinton bested Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders by a fraction of a percentage point. Some editorial boards demanded an audit. “Fiasco” and “chaos” were tossed around with abandon. A national press confused by the caucus system wrongly asserted that coin flips might have cost Sanders the victory.

You’d think Clinton and her establishment supporters stole the race, like some developing world despot.

Then, days before the New Hampshire primary, Sanders thankfully provided some clarity.

“We think, by the way, based on talking to our precinct captains, we may have at least two more delegates,” Sanders said last week during a debate. “At the end of the day, no matter how it’s recounted, it will break roughly even.”

Exactly. Iowa’s Democratic Caucus was, for all practical purposes, a tie. Clinton survived. Sanders legitimized his campaign, proving he could mobilize his young followers. On to the next one.

Minor individual hiccups won’t cost Iowa its pole position. If that were the case, the GOP’s train wreck in 2012, where bad counts robbed eventual winner Rick Santorum of any post-Iowa bump, would have done it.

That said, the Democratic Party’s system is mired in the 19th century. And that’s where it should have stayed.

Iowa Republicans use paper ballots. Democrats stand in a corner with the like-minded, like some weird elementary school team-building exercise. Maybe trust falls should be included next time. Paper record? Yeah, good luck. And that’s the problem.

Long after Democrats have wiped their dry-erase boards clean, the GOP’s ballots will live on. Republicans can recount questionable results. An actual, legitimate audit can be undertaken. Not so with the Democratic system.

Let’s be honest here, those crying the loudest about the problems on caucus night aren’t concerned about this specific race. They’re invested in the long-term viability of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status, pumping massive dollars and political clout into the Hawkeye State every four years.

Every four years, much of the country looks at rural, white Iowa and wonders why it plays such a key role in culling the field of would-be presidents. Illinois – with its diverse population and urban, suburban, rural mix – makes more sense, reasoned one pundit on National Public Radio. Officials in population-rich Texas and California grouse about a state of 3.1 million leading the way. And observers throughout the country complain that the personal investment required to show up for three hours on a February night disenfranchises second-shift laborers and the politically ambivalent.

Every four years, the same scrutiny awakes. And then, after the candidates jet elsewhere, it goes back into hibernation. Everyone forgets about it.

Caucuses are, by their very nature, a clunky, inexact way of picking party delegates. But the spectacle is part of the draw, which, for a time every four years, makes Iowa the center of U.S. politics. The threat of this cycle’s hyped-up “chaos” is drastically overblown.

But the GOP improved its system after the 2012 debacle. Paper ballots permit needed transparency and accuracy.

Democrats deserve the same from their party.

-The Quad-City Times. Feb. 12, 2016