Moscow-Pullman Daily News
When farmer Knut Nordsen arrived at his Republican precinct caucus early in the presidential election year of 1896, he wasn’t really sure who the candidates were. For one thing, he didn’t read English well. Still, he wanted to learn more about this William McKinley fellow, a governor of some state back East.
When Solveig Nordsen, Sven’s great-great-granddaughter, arrived at the fairgrounds in Moscow to vote in the Idaho Republican presidential primary March 8, she had watched all the TV debates, kept up with the Donald Trump and Ted Cruz campaigns in the newspaper and checked out some of their statements online. She had liked Marco Rubio but was voting for Cruz as having the best chance of stopping Trump. On May 24 in Colfax, her brother, Jan, didn’t bother to vote in Washington’s Republican presidential primary. Trump was the only candidate left.
In the early 1900s, many states started holding presidential primaries as a way to wrest control of nominations from party bosses, who controlled the caucuses, and give it to the people. In Washington and Idaho, the Republicans have done that. But the Democrats in both states have clung to that antiquated precinct caucus system that worked so well in 1896 and which continues to reward marginally organized activists, even if they aren’t “bosses.”
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The value of the caucus system to help inform voters has long since been superseded by mass education and media technology.
Caucuses limit the party decision-making to those able to be present, often for three or more hours, at a particular place. The primary takes a few minutes to vote, and the voting can be done anywhere using mail-in and absentee ballots.
The jumbled mix of presidential primaries (some that don’t count), presidential precinct caucuses (followed by county, congressional district and state caucuses) and regular primaries confuses and frustrates even the moderately politically aware voter. And on the Palouse, the dates for each differ radically on either side of the state line.
Both Democrats and the GOP should hold presidential preference primaries on the same day all over the Northwest. Caucuses have reached their term limits.