Presidential primaries, like the one being held today, have the look and feel of any old election. Voters go to the polls, cast ballots and check the eventual reporting on who won and who didn’t.
Even though the primaries, at their essence, are functions of political parties, the selection of someone to represent a particular established group, they have a straightforward bearing.
Gamesmanship gets alleged from time to time where it concerns nominee selections. Just four years ago, the Democratic National Committee got accused of gaming the process in favor of candidate Hillary Clinton and against primary opponent Bernie Sanders.
The charter of the committee has, in writing, a vow of “impartiality and evenhandedness” among candidates seeking its nomination. When a lawsuit sought to right the DNC’s alleged wrongs, a judge declined to intercede, insisting “their redress is through the ballot box,” not the courts.
In other words, don’t assume fairness ... win it with votes.
Both parties have engaged in shenanigans over the years when leaders with clout or mastery of the rules wanted certain outcomes. Primaries at least give a nod to transparency in this process.
Missouri used to have a caucus system to determine its preferences for presidential candidates. Many partisans favor such a system, believing such a setup places the selections squarely in the hands of the people who will ultimately do the campaign work for the eventual nominees.
In an open primary state like Missouri, without registration by party affiliation, any voter can feel free to cast a ballot not for a favorite candidate but a less-worthy candidate they want their real choice to have as an opponent.
This round-about rigging can go on without legal repercussion during any Missouri primary, including today’s.
Jay Ashcroft, Missouri’s secretary of state and chief election official, says the state budget would benefit to the tune of $9 million-plus with a return to the caucus system. Opponents of this idea say more Missourians participate with primaries.
This primary season, with a couple of dozen Democratic candidates and multiple debate nights to accommodate them, has had its share of chaotic moments. Even among folks from the same party, sharp exchanges erupted, a necessary evil for distinguishing one’s agenda in a crowded field.
Mayhem could breed in the former system, as well. This newspaper’s archives recall a night 28 years ago this week, a district caucus gathering in the Buchanan County Courthouse.
Democrats vying that year included former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, former California Gov. Jerry Brown, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and an Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton.
A candidate needed eight participants to form a caucus. Eleven immediately jumped in as uncommitted, and of the two Brown backers, one got swayed to uncommitted. Cuomo, by this point, already had lost two supporters to uncommitted. Tsongas got eight participants before losing all of them.
One fellow, attending his first caucus, said, “I thought I might hear someone say something that would tell me this is the man to support. All I’ve seen is confusion.” He sided with uncommitted.
Clinton ended up getting 10 out of the 16 delegates selected by local Democrats. One might remember he went on to serve two terms as president.
Sure, the process sometimes seems like a kick-boxing match taking place on a Tilt-A-Whirl in the middle of a hurricane, but the disorder doesn’t always wreck the result. Republicans had a free-for-all primary season in 2016, and a Republican resides in the White House.
The primary today should be tame. Go ahead and take part.