Campaign Updates

Why we need better nominations

Wednesday June 29 @ 8:00pm EDT

This post was originally a response to a message on Facebook. While the nominations process is not something we're campaigning on, I felt compelled to offer an explanation of why it's poor reasoning to fall back on the system of primaries and caucuses to defend forcing people to vote for the two major party candidates.

Thanks for taking the time to comment. If you've only watched the video, I'd encourage you to take a look at our website. The 'Issues' and 'FAQ' pages would be particularly relevant, since they provide more details about what our campaign is trying to do.

So far, we've tried to build our campaign by focusing on the general election alone. There are numerous problems with the nomination process that brought us to this point, but the principles behind 'none of the above' don't depend on criticizing the system of primaries, caucuses, and conventions.

But I'm always open to principled, rational debate with others who are willing to honestly look at all the arguments, so let me offer a few thoughts on the nomination process.

First, I'm going to presume from your profile picture that you'll be supporting Donald Trump in November. More by way of observation than argument, I want to note that I don't think your candidate shares your perspective, since he's been critical about several parts of the process.

On to more substantive arguments. You're absolutely correct that we live in a representative democracy. But let's be clear: the nomination process for the president is nowhere spelled out in the Constitution. Primaries, caucuses, and party conventions have developed over time to address constitutional silences on how we find the people we think could be good presidents.

But because none of this is spelled out in the Constitution, it doesn't have the level of 'sacredness' and importance that other aspects of our government do—like the separation of powers or checks and balances. When I teach intro to American government, I point out that the nomination process has seen regular and, one could say, continual change. For almost 30 years early in our country's history, presidential nominees were chosen by members of Congress. Moving away from that method started roughly 200 years of adjusting and making changes, and there's no reason to believe that what we have now is perfect.

What makes further change difficult is that today no single entity controls the whole process. The system we have developed gets it shape from laws passed by state governments and by the policies established (non-democratically) by the national political parties and the state political parties. This has important consequences. On the one hand, it means that the level of representative democracy varies across the states. A citizen in one state may have far less ability to participate in the nominating process than a citizen elsewhere.

Perhaps that's not the biggest problem, and is a consequence of how federalism operates. But because of the large role played by formal party organizations, it does mean that the process is designed and controlled in large part by groups that the average citizen has no power to influence democratically. This becomes a real problem when decisions are made to shape the process in ways designed, on purpose, to decrease the power of the people. Caucuses, closed primaries, and required party registration all make it harder for the average citizen to influence the process. Instead, these methods work to protect the power of the political parties themselves—not 'the people' per se.

Part of your argument rests on the concept of plurality. You're correct about the importance of plurality, but I'm not sure you're really capturing what a plurality is or what has happened so far in this election cycle. It's not that a plurality had their voice heard; a MINORITY of Americans had their voice heard, and the "winners" were chosen by plurality. A plurality victory is, when it comes down to it, a 'we couldn't do any better' type of outcome, which isn't really anything to brag about. I don't think you fully understand the implications of that. A plurality does not necessarily mean that more people disagreed with me, as you say. What it absolutely means is that more people disagreed with your candidate or chose not to vote than actually wanted to vote for him. Since our campaign is simply advocating for the democratic right to voice a 'none of the above' choice, it would be far more correct to say that a majority—not just a plurality—likely agree with our position.

A plurality can be a shockingly small number in comparison to the total possible. Good numbers are still hard to come by, but here in Michigan we had 2.5 million people turnout in our primary; 1.3 million of those voted in the Republican primary. That's out of an estimated 7.8 million people who are of voting age in the state. Putting it altogether,a 36.5% plurality of a 17% minority of the entire voting population of the state chose a nominee through an informal process. Even if those numbers were larger, it doesn't invalidate my right or ability to be unhappy with what happens in the general election itself.

From my perspective, though, a much bigger problem with our nomination process comes from the fact that it's spread out over time. We like to say that through primaries and caucuses 'the people' of the country make a choice—as if it's all happening at the same time. But the environment in which later states participate is very different from that of the early states. Changing media coverage, inflated hype cycles, candidates gaming the odds of whether to stay in or get out—all this and other forces mean that early states dramatically shape the kind of decisions that voters in later states can make. To lump every citizen participating in the nominating process together and talk about 'fair choices' is just as absurd as suggesting that guests who show up late to a party have as free a choice of what food to eat as everyone else—even though the earlier guests ate everything and left only a sardine pizza and some room temperature Zima.

As I said above, you are absolutely correct that we live in a representative democracy. And accepting an unfavorable choice when you're in the minority is both necessary and what makes representative democracy work instead of devolving into anarchy. But let's be clear. The election has NOT actually happened. We have NOT yet chosen a president. And were not talking about whether I'll accept 'the decision that the people have already made.' We're talking about the fundamental right of citizens to express their dissatisfaction. Denying people that right is not representative democracy—it smells more like fascism.

You say that I'm arguing that participants in the primaries and caucuses are 'incapable of making the correct decision for themselves.' Never have I said anything remotely like that, and nothing could be further from the truth. What I'm saying is that the fact they got to make a choice in the informal nomination process does not take away my right to choose in the actual election. They each made their decisions—I'm saying that they don't get to take my next decision away from me, no matter what it might be.

Thanks for the chance to work through these complicated issues about how we shape our political community.

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