Political parties flourish from state subsidy

Reader Commentary

 

April 11, 2019



By Krist Novoselic, Deep River

Washington State Democratic Party members last week voted to not use a caucus system for nominating their presidential candidate. The party will now use the results of a state funded primary ballot. The old caucus system is an archaic ritual, seemingly designed to waste participants time and exclude as many people as possible. It was a good idea to scrap this kind of caucus. However, to have taxpayers instead fund the workings of what should be a private group is wrong.

In 2016, I voted for Gary Johnson for president. With that campaign, I witnessed how candidates can be systematically marginalized—and this is most evident with the major-party organized presidential debates. The respective Democratic and Republican parties collude under the guise of a commission to impose arbitrary rules which effectively exclude candidates from these televised major events. The two big parties hold other systematic advantages. The media provides significant coverage to the major party national conventions. In addition for 2016, congress paid $100 million — $50 million for each party’s security at their convention.


These are political decisions which serve to establish the dominance of two parties. Washington State continues to give its own gift to the major parties by organizing and funding how party delegates for presidential candidates are determined for the 2020 conventions.

Next March, every voter in our state will be mailed exclusive party ballots. Voters who choose to participate will then need to pick a party. Voters, on an individual party ballot, will then be required to declare their party affiliation when they choose a nominee. That declaration will be public information—available to the interests who flood our post boxes with campaign junk mail in the fall election season.

The 2016 presidential primary in Washington cost taxpayers $9 million—even though the Democratic Party at the time chose to ignore the results. The respective Democratic and Republican parties, in various forms, flourish as soft-money conduits around individual campaign contribution limits. They raise and spend millions of dollars on campaigns. Considering their flush finances, there is no need to give them the gift of taxpayer funded nominations for their national candidates.

There is an effort within the Democratic National Committee to open up their caucuses. This is a good idea. One change is having absentee ballots available instead of making participants give up a large part of a Saturday to attend the old fashioned caucus. However, now accepting state aid, there will be no innovation on the part of Washington Democrats.


Washington Democratic and Republican parties could learn about private initiative from the French Left. The Socialist Party conducts their own primaries—organizing and paying for the nomination of their candidate for president. We can have a similar system here in Washington. Party precinct committee officers, who are elected on the regular primary ballot, could set up an “unassembled caucus,” also known as a “firehouse primary.” With this system, instead of a time consuming event with wily rules, a voter who chooses to affiliate with a party shows up, casts a ballot, then splits. The parties could also provide absentee ballots or use technology to make their nominations more inclusive. This can foster grassroots, community based democracy.

I found both 2016 major party nominees unacceptable and voted accordingly. Regardless, next March, I will get a ballot in the mail expecting me to pick among two entrenched parties that keep moving toward the fringes. But this is not an election—as nobody gets elected to any office. It is a taxpayer funded ballot used at the pleasure of two dominant parties who can afford to pay for selecting delegates to their respective national conventions.

 

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