The 2016 Democratic caucuses were such disasters in 14 states that 10 of them decided to switch to primaries. Wyoming, like Iowa, is one of the four that stayed the course.
As we all know now, Iowa’s choice badly backfired. The “first in the nation” became a national political laughingstock last week when it took three days to report final vote totals, which no one trusted.
If there’s a saving grace for Wyoming Democrats, it’s that Iowa set the bar so low that just reporting in a timely manner will make the Equality State caucus look like a roaring success.
But Wyoming also has its 2016 caucus to atone for. It was a nightmare.
I’ve never been a fan of caucuses, precisely because they result in the kind of outcome Wyoming Democrats had four years ago. Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton, 56-44%. But she walked away the state delegate winner, 11-7.
How could that happen? Well, as the Wyoming Democratic Party’s then-executive director Aimee Van Cleave explained, caucus rules required three different ways to calculate the results. Sanders and Clinton split the 14 “regular” delegates, but four “superdelegates” were chosen by party officials and all of them backed Clinton.
Van Cleave reported receiving harassing phone calls, and someone let the air out of her tires. A post on the Wyoming Democrats’ Facebook page suggested she should be burned alive.
Recriminations were the order of the day. Van Cleave’s mistreatment was blamed on Sanders’ supporters. Backers of the Vermont senator, meanwhile, complained about absentee ballot forms sent to registered Democrats by his opponent — along with a letter from former President Bill Clinton — that had the Wyoming Democratic Party’s post office box listed as the return address.
That trick wasn’t allowed under the rules, because it gave the impression the state party favored Clinton. Van Cleave said she asked for and received an apology from Clinton’s camp, but the damage was done: Hillary trounced Bernie in absentee voting.
Still, when the final caucus votes were counted, Sanders won. And then he received four fewer delegates. On MSNBC, “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough cracked that it was a “crushing victory” for Sanders and wondered why Democrats in Wyoming had even bothered to vote.
“The system is so rigged,” Scarborough said.
Today, Wyoming Democratic officials say they are confident in the process they will use during the party’s April 4 statewide caucus. Wyoming won’t be using a new smartphone app developed by the company Shadow, which was blamed for most of Iowa’s problems.
Wyoming turned instead to software developed by RealBallot, which has already been tested in elections throughout the country. After the Iowa debacle, Nina Hebert, the Wyoming party’s communications director, told the Casper Star-Tribune, “At this point we are excited for our caucus and expect everything to run smoothly and have our results reported in a timely manner.”
If the software does have problems, Hebert said, the party has three fail-safe back-up reporting methods ready to go.
That’s comforting, but I also remember reading Iowa Democratic officials’ optimistic prediction that its 2020 event would be “the most accessible, most transparent and successful caucus ever.”
As a Wyoming Democrat I’m hopeful the party will pull everything off without a hitch, but am skeptical about the switch to a ranked-choice system. A manual ballot will allow voters to list up to five candidates, in order of preference.
Votes at the county level will be counted in stages. If one or more candidates gets less than 15% of the first-choice vote, the lowest-performing candidate is taken out of the running. Second-choice votes will then be allocated among the remaining candidates. The process will be repeated until all remaining candidates have more than 15%.
If a registered Democrat is unable to attend the April 4 caucus, there are two other ways to vote. Voters can mail in absentee ballots by March 20, or go to the designated station in each county on March 28.
I realize this system is designed to winnow candidates to get the ones most acceptable to the majority. But there’s an easier way to do this. It’s called a primary, and most states employ one for presidential races.
Call me old-fashioned, but what’s wrong with everyone filling out a ballot, counting them and declaring a winner? Candidates’ delegates are still apportioned according to the percentage each receives.
In any event, I will be going to the Laramie County Democratic caucus on April 4 to see how the new system shakes out. It’s really the only choice for me. I never return anything mailed to me on time, and the only place I’ll be on March 28 is at my fantasy baseball league’s draft in Casper. I’m a loyal Democrat, but I do have my priorities.
Why is it imperative that Wyoming Democrats participate in the caucus? Because this is the one time their presidential vote is meaningful. This ultra-red state’s three votes in the electoral college (abolish it!) will automatically go to the Republican nominee. The caucus allows Democrats to at least have a small role in choosing the nominee.
Wyoming will send 13 “pledged” delegates and four superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in July. That’s a small slice of the 1,990 needed to win the nomination on the first ballot, but let’s not forget that every vote really does matter. Wyoming’s tiny delegation put John F. Kennedy over the top at the 1960 convention.
The national party changed the rules after 2016, so this year 771 superdelegates — chosen by party officials — won’t vote unless no candidate receives a majority on the first ballot. Then the magic number becomes 2,375 delegates to win.
What’s the chance the whole shebang will be a free-for-all? Pretty good, considering there are still 11 presidential hopefuls at a time when it’s more important than ever for the party to unite. To have a legitimate shot to defeat President Donald Trump, Democrats must muster a get-out-the-vote drive that tops every previous election.
What does my party have to pin its hopes on? Well, the progressive wing I belong to has two candidates, Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Moderates are looking at Joe Biden (who took a nosedive in Iowa), Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. If none of those five capture the party’s fancy, billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer have mountains of cash to stay in the race all the way to Milwaukee.
Talk about a fractured field. Moderate pundits say progressives can’t beat Trump, and vice versa. Democratic mega-donors are reportedly terrified that no one in this bunch can win and threatening to find another candidate to back. John Kerry, who says he won’t run again after winning the nomination but losing the general election in 2004, has already been run up the flagpole and lowered. Unless someone emerges as a clear front-runner soon, more bad ideas are sure to emerge.
I’ve already changed my candidate of choice three times, and we’re not even to the caucus stage yet. Electability matters, but so do core principles. Yet, I believe I share this belief with most of my fellow Democrats: We’d vote for our neighbor’s dog before we’d cast a ballot for Trump.
I remember watching MSNBC two weeks before the 2016 election. All the pundits could talk about is whether Clinton would get 300 electoral votes or 350. Four hundred? Yes, a few agreed, even that was possible.
Let’s face it, American politics were turned upside-down by Trump four years ago, and nothing has been normal since. The world is likely to get a whole lot crazier in the next 10 months. Color me excited — and extremely nervous.