Lum: Just say ‘no’ to the caucus

Su Lum

I didn’t attend the presidential caucus this year, and doubt that I ever will again. I still haven’t recovered from the great caucus trauma of 2008, when I was trapped in an airless, steaming-hot corner of the original (un-mourned) youth center, which will soon fall to the wrecking ball of the city for more bureau space.

That was the Obama/Clinton Democratic-candidate race, and if any event ever screamed, “Change from the caucus to the primary voting system,” that fiasco did.

Colorado is one of 10 remaining states hanging on to the outdated caucus, the others being Alaska, Hawaii (these two latecomers should have known better), Maine, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Wyoming and Iowa.

The idea of the caucus is to get neighbors together in clumps, to be bullied or coaxed by local political organizers into supporting their candidates of choice. This might have been a good idea back in the days of whistle-stop train campaigning and FDR’s Fireside Chats, but it holds a lot less water when every semi-alert citizen of the United States has already been subjected to a series of political debates and 24-hour TV news coverage for months on end.

I don’t know about you, but when caucus time rolls around, I have already decided what my vote will be and deeply resent being ordered to appear at 7 p.m. on the given evening or else forfeit my right to weigh in.

Some citizens have to be at work, some are halt or lame (I am halt going on lame), some are sick or out of town, some can’t get a baby sitter and some are just fed up.

The caucus system disenfranchises so many voters that I’m surprised there hasn’t been a citizen revolt. Some states don’t even require that their delegates follow the will of the citizens. You can have a caucus where Bernie wins and the delegates can trot off to the convention and cast their votes for Hillary.

With a primary, we could fill out our mail-in ballots or go to a polling place at our leisure without arguments, discussions or feeling buttonholed.

Ideally, this election would be held at exactly the same date and time as all the other states, obviating the Toonerville delegate scramble starting with Iowa of all places. Nothing disparaging against Iowa implied, but how could that non-event have become such a big deal?

Advertising should be limited to three or four debates, broadcast and televised at no charge to the runners, and the same would hold true for the national election once the primaries have picked the candidates.

A same-day primary would eliminate such follies as Super Tuesday, superdelegates and, unless there were some ties, both the state and national conventions. Raise your hand if you love the noisemaking, state-flag-waving presidential conventions.

I know there’s too much money involved in the entire scenario to expect any immediate changes, but instead of starting with the Electoral College and working down, we could at least begin by getting rid of the caucuses. One step at a time.

The country is at the point where it needs to recognize a third party: the independents. They are a group too large to be ignored, and in some states (including Colorado), the independents cannot vote in caucuses or primaries that pit Democrats against Republicans. Instead, at least two months before the vote, you have to declare your allegiance to a party you may hate just in order to vote. You can change it back, but what a hassle.

I’m sure there are a few little details to be ironed out before we get to a perfect system, but we can get started on changing the caucus to a primary system while the caucus angst is still heavy in the rarified air.

Su Lum is a longtime local who is feeling marginally positive about this. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at