This morning in Pasco, Washington, the Washington Democratic party voted by a 3-1 margin to select delegates via an early March primary, rather than caucus system they’ve used for many years. In 2020, Washington State’s Democratic party will select its delegates through a vote-by-mail primary. Washington was the largest state to use caucuses in 2016. This is a major victory for democracy, and should be celebrated. A shout-out to both Robert Cruickshank, friend and sometime reader commenter of this blog, and Christopher Roberts, grad school colleague of several us and Mayor or Shoreline, for standing up for democratic inclusion. Happily, the debate seems to have been largely free of people using it as an occasion to relitigate the 2016 primary, which is something of a minor miracle.
As I’ve argued in this space, the recent but strong norm that party leadership should be determined via mechanisms of intraparty democracy is a salutary development, but caucuses (like the UK Labour party leadership selection process) offer the worst of both worlds–a superficially democratic mechanism that suppresses participation and selects for a s skewed sample of the party’s voters is worse than straightforward Schumpeterian elite leadership democracy. Hopefully Washington won’t be the last state to make this important change.
…..you can read a live-tweeting account of the arguments made for and against this change in Roberts’ thread linked above. Lots of bad arguments for caucuses that are easy to ignore. But I hope the party will take heed of how many pro-caucus people testify to caucuses as a mobilizing tool–connecting people to fellow Democrats in their community and getting more involved and engaged with the party. The actual mobilizing effect of caucuses is an empirical question i can’t speak to, but I can’t imagine it’s enough that we should consider massive voter suppression a price worth paying. But I hope the party leadership remains mindful that opportunities for engagement like this are important, and insofar as we’re losing an admittedly very flawed one, we should think about how to create more opportunities to find replacements for this mobilizing function, especially outside of the Democrat-dominated parts of the state.