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Caucus voting twice affected U.S. presidential race

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One form of voting procedure is the caucus, which originated in Iowa. In recent years, this procedure spread to other states during political parties’ presidential primaries. This type of voting is different from our state’s voting machine system.

The concept of voting by secret ballot is lost in caucus voting, since voters must publicly state at a polling site their preference for their party’s candidates and state how they are voting on initiative referendums. In a situation like this, some citizens do not want their neighbors, friends or relatives to know how they voted regarding their choice of candidates. Therefore, some of them will not show up for the primary caucus.

Another aspect of caucuses is that these procedures are held at a specific time, and in order to vote, a citizen must be there. In the city, we have a 15−hour time span in which to vote: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Under caucus voting, both secret ballots and choice of voting time would be lost to the registered voter. It is difficult to imagine such a system being used at Queens school polling sites.

Until 1976, the Iowa caucus was not considered important in terms of the presidential primaries by the national news media. Early that year in January, former Gov. Jimmy Carter of Georgia won the Iowa Democratic Party caucus. It was, however, considered important in New Hampshire, with a Democratic primary occurring there a few weeks after the caucus.

In New Hampshire, Carter’s Iowa win received a lot of publicity and helped him win that state’s primary, which in turn led to his becoming the Democratic presidential candidate frontrunner. He would eventually be elected president that year.

Looking at the caucus process in terms of the recently concluded presidential campaign, the increased numbers of states having caucuses had a major impact on the results of the presidential primaries, with President−elect Barack Obama winning most of the caucus states over U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D−N.Y).

In the Republican primaries, the best example of caucus influence in selecting a presidential candidate occurred in West Virginia on Super Tuesday this year. In that state, three Republican candidates were battling to achieve success in the “winner−t­ake−all” caucus. These candidates were U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.

According to the West Virginia caucus procedures, the Republican voters present at the various polling sites were told to separate into three different groups, each of which represented a candidate. A majority of the registered Republicans favored Romney, with his group achieving the highest number of votes, with Huckabee and McCain in second and third place, respectively.

That was not the end of it, however. Those attending the caucus were now allowed to change their vote if they wished and vote a second time. The results were that the McCain supporters switched to supporting Huckabee, thereby giving him more votes than Romney, which led to him being declared the winner of the West Virginia primary and winning that state’s delegates.

The McCain and Huckabee forces had worked together to prevent Romney from winning the West Virginia caucus. If these tactics can be used in the West Virginia caucus, then the same tactics can also be used in other caucus states.

Is the loss of secret ballots, in addition to curtailing the amount of time used for voting and being able to vote twice, procedures that are in the best interest of our nation’s democratic elections? Hopefully, states using caucus voting will take a hard look at their caucus voting and their effect on presidential elections.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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