Category Archives: 2020 Election

Can we please be done with fetishizing early voting?

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It is said that about two thirds, maybe more, of Democrats who participated in the Nevada Caucuses of a few days ago had voted, using early voting, prior to the nationally televised and widely watched Democratic presidential debate in which Elizabeth Warren performed so well that pollsters and pundits assumed she would gain a significant boost. But because most of the voters voted before Warren’s very good day, nothing happened.

An uninformed vote is not as good as an informed vote. In the dynamic electoral process in which we undeniably live, especially during a primary, an early vote is a less informed vote, and thus, not as good as a vote on voting day itself.

Early voting and similar programs were created to make it possible for more people to get to the polls. It was not created to help a majority of voters become less informed. Yet, it seems to have had that effect.

Meanwhile, we have placed early voting on a pedestal it does not deserve to be on. During the last election cycle, I witnessed the same scene several times. At the launch of a door-to-door canvas, the organizer implores the volunteers, who will be knocking on scores of doors to engage potential voters, to remember to remind people that they can vote early. Why? Because early voting is how we win! When challenged, when asked how we win by voting earlier instead of later, the response was usually simple and almost cult like: When we vote early we win!

What is behind that idea? This: When early voting started to happen, Democrats did a lot of it, and at the same time, this increased Democratic turnout. (After a few years of early voting in a region, this effect might in some cases flatten out and early voting stops favoring one party.) More turnout is thought to help Democrats, and more Democratic turnout, obviously, helps Democrats. So, early voting gave Democrats a leg up. Why does early voting help Democrats? Because early voting offsets the limitations some people have with respect to time, health, mobility, etc. Republican tend to not have these negative priv-points. Republicans just have the priv. They can mostly vote on election day because they are more likely to be the ones in charge of deciding where other people go, or to have the resources to overcome what might to others be limitations. It is also probably true that Republicans are more politically disciplined than Democrats. A very typical community might have 40% Republicans and 55% Democrats, but Republicans win with margins of 52-48% at the voting booth, because Republicans all get out to vote and Democrats often don’t. But in years when Democrats really rock the vote, they win, barely, in those same places by increasing turnout. It is an old and tried and tested formula. The first 5-8% of extra turnout may be something like 70% Democratic.

This makes early voting a good thing for Democrats, all else being equal.

What has been missed, though, is that people who were going to vote anyway, no matter what, don’t get a better vote when they vote early. Their vote is not worth more. Their vote does not do more, or get more, or count for more. But, it is a vote they may be casting and regretting.

Vote early if you need to. If not, don’t fetishize the ability to vote early. Don’t think your early vote is a better vote. Stop trying to talk everybody into always doing it. Don’t be a totally time-abled and physical-abled person and run around bragging that you voted two months early in the middle of a rapidly changing context. Your vote might be a less informed vote, and thus, not as good as a vote you cast on election day.

Having early voting as an option is a good thing. Actually voting early, way early, when you don’t have to, is not necessarily a good thing.


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How the US National Press Is Hurting Democracy Right Now

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I am astonished at how utterly ignorant journalists from national outlets are of the Iowa Caucus. If the Iowa Caucus going “wrong” can be the virtual end of the Democratic Party as we know it, and the end of all caucuses, you would think the press would know what they are. The press never notices that the total number of delegates awarded on precinct caucus night is less then the total number awarded by Iowa. You would think that if the caucus results being available a few hours after Chuck and Andrea’s bed time was an existential crisis for democracy, that they would also have noticed that half of the delegates that Iowa will send to the National Convention are not ever awarded on on this fateful evening to begin with. Until the TV talking heads can explain how that works, they should really tone down their rhetoric on what did and did not happen in Iowa.

Here is a piece of information that might be helpful. If the following is new to you, then you didn’t really know what the caucuses are. If it sounds familiar, you probably still don’t know, but at least you have a vague idea. If you read and absorb all of this, you still don’t know because this is a 20,000 foot look at parts of a large and important grassroots system.

There is no such thing as “a caucus.” On “caucus night” there are hundreds of individual caucuses, and although there are prevailing rules, they are independent conversations happening among voters during which several tings are decided, including electing a very large number (maybe thousands?) of delegates to go on to engage in other levels of activity, things like resolutions to shape the party platform, party business, party officers, and so on. Oh, and during the Iowa precinct caucus process, there is the first part of a multi-part process that involves deciding on some of the national delegates. So in that sense, what we think of as the Iowa Caucus is one piece of a multi-part part of a multi part thing. The day Chuck Todd can tell us how that works without screwing up the explanation is the day he gets to tell us what went wrong in any given year.

“The Iowa Caucus” is also not “A caucus” because it is the first of several stages of meetings. The first one is called a caucus, and the later ones are called conventions. But the conventions are still caucuses, and at them, delegates are elected, generally among the larger initial number. I believe (I’m a Minnesota caucus guy, not an Iowa caucus guy, so I many have this muddled a bit) that Iowa ultimately selects, during precinct caucuses, delegates who will ultimately be selected among to operate at the County level, Congressional District level, State level and National level. These are grassroots party activists who engage in several important party activities, basically running the party, thus ensuring that the Iowa Democratic Party remains a grassroots organization with lots of knowledgeable and engaged volunteers.

Here is a common conversation on social media I am having these days:

Other person: “Caucuses suck. They dont’ work. There should just be a primary. The system is broke. Bla bla bla.”

Me: “Which caucuses have you been involved in, I’d love to know specifically what is wrong.”

Other person: silence because they have never been to a caucus and have no clue

Make no mistake. There are people who are involved in caucuses who don’t like them. But, that doesn’t make them right. Most of the complaints they have are invalid for one of the following reasons:

1) There are things wrong with caucus, and things wrong with primaries. You can’t only complain about the one and not the other.

2) Things like “accessibility” and the like are often complained about. That is a factor, but it can be fixed, and good organizing units have fixed it. For instance, the caucus I help run is done at a huge facility that is among the most accessible in the region, and since the facility is capable of handling many thousands of people all day every day, our caucuses don’t stress things like handicapped parking, etc. (Other caucuses are not as good as us, but that is not the problem of the caucus, but a problem that can and should be fixed.”)

3) Complaining about the caucus but ignoring the entire party structure, with conventions, central committees, etc. is like saying you don’t like a person because of their hat. Maybe they have a stupid hat, but their hat is not as bad as your determination that they are a bad person because they have a bad hat.

4) It is said by haters that a caucus limits participation because it is held at a certain time at a certain place. That is true, for some potential participants. But it is also true that the caucus and convention system on balance enhances involvement, and that matters. In addition, as noted several times already, the caucus is part of a larger process. Anybody in Minnesota’s Senate District 44 want to get meaningfully involved in DFL politics but can’t do the caucus? Find me, I’ll fix you up. You can be very involved, influentially involved, meaningfully involved. But not if we have only a primary.

For every complaint about caucuses, I have one countervailing complaint about primaries: You can’t really buy a caucus (no, you can’t), but you can buy a primary. In a time when we should be eating the rich, do we really want to give up the last of our grassroots power?

I’ll just add this to complexity things. Tonight I’m going to caucus with some people over support of a particular candidate for a local race. Two night ago, Iowa had its precinct caucus, and on Feb 25th Minnesota does that as well (though there will be nothing about the presidential race at that caucus). I’m a member of the DFL Environmental caucus, which does not caucus. Recently, the Democrats in Minnesota, whose caucus is in the majority in the house but not in the Senate, formed the House Climate Change Action Caucus. And so on.

Not only is the thing that they call the “caucus” only one part of a larger, and good, thing, but the word “caucus” is a bit like the word “desktop” in that it means many things. Until Chuck and Andrea and the other national reporters can keep all of this straight, and not just some of it, it is irresponsible of them to force changes in our political system because they are annoyed at the scheduling of events.


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Biden/Sanders/Warren

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Following on what I talked about here, we are starting to see a pattern in the Democratic primary. Patterns change, so watch for the change. But right now, according to recent polling by Morning Consult, this is turning into a Biden-Sanders two person race, with Elizabeth Warren the consistent third placer, but at a level that might exclude her from picking up delegates in several states because of the 15% rule (see this for more info on that).

That poll shows Biden in a moderately comfortable first place, but with Sanders a little behind, then Warren in a close third for Super Tuesday voters and nationally. Styer surges strongly ahead of Warren in early primary states. If that turns out to be a thing (and since he paid for it, I suppose Steyer will get it?) then that might down-shift Warren on Super Tuesday because of mo-jection* logic. Buttigieg and Bloomberg variously perform just below those noted so far.

Check out the source cited above, but here are the graphics for your handy review:



  • Momentum based projection.

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Election Season Starts Friday!

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As we begin primary voting in Minnesota (early voting here starts Friday, January 17th) we are reminded that the actual election season, not just the never ending campaigning season, is upon us.

One thing you should know before discussing the primary process, there are new rules for how delegates are to be awarded.

The total number of delegates in play on the first vote will be 3,768. To gain the nomination, a candidate will have to get a majority of this this number, or 1884 plus one or more, on the first vote. There are the usual “pledged” delegate vs. “unpledged” (the latter sometimes called “superdelegates”) but with fewer of the latter than in previous years, and they will not be voting on the first ballot. If no candidate meets the 1884+ threshold on the first ballot, all the delegates are released from prior pledges, and superdelegates are thrown into the mix. Then, 4,532 delegates are in play, and a majority, or over 2266, will be required to win.

That is something of an oversimplification. If a single candidate goes into the convention with something like 2,267 pledged delegates, then superdelegates will be allowed to vote. Notice how close the supermajority of pledged and the 50% threshold of all, are. It feels like astrology, but I digress.

Among the pledged delegates, there is a 15% threshold rule per state in allocating delegates. If a candidate gets 15% or more of the vote/caucus delegates, they are in the running for allotted delegates. Then, among those who pass 15%, the delegates are allotted proportionately. If no one gets 15%, then the threshold shifts to one half of whatever the front runner got. So, if the leading candidates gets 12%, then the new threshold is 6%.

Here are two of many possible examples of what could happen in a given state.

The Iowa Caucuses are on February 3rd. In polls, Biden and Sanders are about even, with Buttigieg and Warren competing for third place and all seem to be at or above the threshold. However, the difference between public opinion polls and outcomes is potentially large in a caucus state, because the variation affected by “ground game” is directly reflected in polls when there is a primary, but not in a caucus. In Iowa, keep an eye on Klobuchar, who claims to have a wining or at least result-surprising ground game in the Corn State. That is not a false claim. In other words, anything can happen in Iowa. Iowa will be deciding the commitments for some 41 pledged delegates.

I currently predict, and this is a pure thumb suck estimate, that the four current front runners (Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren) will roughly split Iowa’s 41 pledged delegates, with Sanders taking the largest share, and Warren the smallest share.

Then comes the famous New Hampshire Primary, on February 11th. New Hampshire has 24 pledged delegates, a very small number, but the Granite State is famous for being a tail wagging the giant sausage making political dog of democracy. There is a good chance that New Hampshire will break in a very similar way as Iowa, with Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg all reaching the threshold and sharing delegates with Biden and Sanders getting equal numbers at the top, Warren third, and Buttigieg fourth. But, either Warren or Buttigieg, or both, could fail to meet the 15% threshold. The latest Boston Herald poll has Buttigieg way below that number and Warren near it. Other recent polls have both below it. New Hampshire may well be the make or break moment for Buttigieg.

Then comes the Nevada Caucus on February 22nd. As usual, Nevada has less polling than other states, but there is enough to identify Biden, Sanders and Warren as, once again, the top tier, but with Warren repeatedly polling at just below the threshold. Buttigieg hovers just below them, and not looking like he’d get the 15% threshold. There is a good chance Biden and Sanders will split Nevada’s 36 pledged delegates roughly evenly. This could be a make or break caucus for Warren. But, maybe not.

Then, on Feb 29th, we have the South Carolina primary. The first two events are mainly white semi-rural or rural people deciding who should be president. Nevada Democrats have significant diversity but mainly Hispanic, and a strong labor component. But elections are won or lost on the basis of African American support in this country, and South Carolina is the first event with significant African American participation. Here, Biden is way ahead of everyone else, with Sanders and Warren sharing a distant second place, and hugging that 15% threshold a little too closely for comfort. It is possible that Biden will walk away with all of South Carolina’s 54 pledged delegates. Recent polling has shown Steyer as a factor in this state, and if that is correct, it could be Biden and Steyer splitting those delegates at about a 2:1 ratio. That all depends on if we believe Steyer is for real. I, personally, am not sure.

At this point, what we know now will still be true: Biden and Sanders are front runners. Warren is a factor, likely Butigieg is a factor. If nothing unusual happens, we will be entering Super Tuesday with a Biden-Sanders fight. However, Warren could outperform and pop, or Butigieg could take the threshold in three of these four states, or Steyer could buy his way in, er, I mean, well, whatever, you know what I mean. The point is this: We are watching a horse race with two odds-on horses, both old white guys but one progressive and one centrist, and one of them likely to win. But, there are these two or three other horses in the race that could woosh by either or both of them in these first four furlongs.

But then, Super Tuesday comes along. Sixteen entities, mostly states, vote on Super Tuesday, for a total of 1357 pledged delegates. Using information from polling, or if no polling exists, the thumb-suck-estimate method, assuming that no candidate has an unexpected break-through event in early states (or otherwise), and assuming that Biden, Warren, and Sanders are the only candidates likely to be viable for most of the primaries (Klobuchar will take a good number of Minnesota votes), the following shows a reasonable estimate of the outcome of Super Tuesday. Remember, this is based only on polls (this is not a predictive model) and polls are sparse in many of these states.

This is, in my view, the “null model” of what is going to happen between now and the day after Super Tuesday. It is a model to be defied by individual candidates, broken by the voters, altered by circumstances, manipulated by the Russians, etc. There is more uncertainty in this season’s Democratic primary than seen in the recent past, especially with a couple of billionaires showing up at the last second to buy the presidency, and according to the polling, making a dent.


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E. Jean Carroll vs Donald Trump: He said she said?

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My close personal friend E. Jean Carroll is not going to go away. Trump lawyers tried to deflect her law suit, but they were rebuffed by a judge in a ruling Thursday.

Carroll says she is “filing this lawsuit for every woman who’s been pinched, prodded, cornered, felt-up, pushed against a wall, grabbed, groped, assaulted, and has spoken up only to be shamed, demeaned, disgraced, passed over for promotions, fired, and forgotten. While I can no longer hold Donald Trump accountable for assaulting me more than twenty years ago, I can hold him accountable for lying about it and I fully intend to do so.”

Trump says, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. “You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy.”

I guess it is just another he-said, she-said.

More


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The Trump Letter

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The Trump Letter is here as a PDF.

I recommend instead that you read The Lazlo Letters.

In letters to stars, dignitaries, and chairmen of the country’s most powerful organizations, Don Novello’s alter ego Lazlo Toth pestered his victims for photographs, offered outlandish advice, fired off strange inquiries, and more. The strangest part? Practically everyone answered, leaving Toth with a hilarious collection of outlandish correspondence unmatched in the history of American letters.

The Lazlo Letters contains nearly 100 notes to public figures, including then-President Nixon, Vice President Ford (“I’ve been Vice President of a lot of organizations myself, so I know how you feel.”), Bebe Rebozo, Lester Maddox, Earl Butz, and America’s top business leaders. The replies, says the author, “classic examples of American politeness.”

In an on-going correspondence with the White House, Toth suggests everything from ridiculously corny jokes for the President to use, to a campaign song sung to the tune of “Tea for Two.” He asks the president of a bubble bath company just how to use the product, as the packaging instructions specifically state to “keep dry.”

“No matter how absurd my letter was, no matter how much I ranted and raved, they always answered,” reports the author. “Many of these replies are beautiful examples of pure public relations nonsense.” One is not: columnist James Kilpatrick has a lone sentiment for Toth-“Nuts to You!” 247,000 copies in print.


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A big tent need not include the outhouse

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Democrats need to understand that we are a big tent party. In fact, we are THE big tent party.

So, when Colin Peterson, representing Congressional District 7 in Minnesota votes in favor of environmentally irresponsible mining, or against health care reform, or against sensible gun control, or against a woman’s right to choose, he looks like a Republican, acts like a Republican, and smells like a Republican, but we accept that because we are a big tent party and he represents a very conservative district. Continue reading A big tent need not include the outhouse


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