© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Commentary on Primary: A real one would be much better than caucuses

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 20, 2012 - With only a few day until the Missouri primary, there has been plenty of discussion regarding the differences between primaries and caucuses.

Primaries are carried out in a way that is very similar to general elections. The voter enters the voting booth, casts a vote, and is then free to leave the polling place. In contrast, caucuses require a much longer time commitment, and in today's fast-paced world, time is something there never seems to be enough of.

During a caucus, the voter must remain present at the voting site for the duration of the event. This creates a problem for voters who may have prior commitments such as a work schedule, military deployment, health issues, lack of available/accessible transportation, and other factors. All who can't attend forfeit their right to vote. Individuals serving our country abroad, or even in the states, but in locations far from home, have no way of voting. This is a particular shame, as the caucus disenfranchises those serving our nation.

Since caucuses are funded by the political party, they are not as transparent and open as a primary, which is financed by taxpayers. Additionally, receiving funds from a party means that caucuses are not subject to the same standards that primaries are in providing equal access for those with disabilities. In a caucus as close as the one we saw in Iowa, potentially limiting access to caucusing sites, inadvertently, by not providing facilities accessible to all members of the public should be a cause of concern.

Perhaps the largest difference between the two candidate selection processes is the voter turnout. Caucuses have a history of producing an alarming low voter turnout; this is most likely contributed to the time commitment. Take the 2004 election, in which, according to The Century Foundation, nearly 30 percent of eligible voters in New Hampshire voted in the primary, whereas only 6 percent of eligible Iowa voters voted in the caucus. While the percentage of voters in the New Hampshire primary is not outstanding, the number of caucus goers is substantially less.

It should be no surprise that caucus participation is so low when you recognize that citizens are being disenfranchised. It is shocking that while Americans are willing to pay the ultimate price to secure and help foster democratic practices in Iraq and Afghanistan, those very practices are, in fact, undermined by the caucus process here at home.

Timothy P. Green, D-Spanish Lake, is a Missouri state senator. 

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.