How Long, O Lord?

The chaos surrounding Saturday’s GOP caucuses in Nevada, with mass confusion of voters about where to caucus, battles over religious qualifications for a separate caucus, wildly varying procedures, and an apparent inability to count ballots or figure out who should report them, is being generally treated as a sad but isolated phenomenon. Here’s Politico‘s basic take:

By all accounts, the night was a foreseeable disaster, months in the making.

The county party leaders rebuffed the state party’s wishes for a streamlined method of delivering results and state officials here don’t have sufficient clout to order the local officials around.

Substitute the words “state” for “county” and “national” for “state” in the sentence just above, and you have an apt description of the entire ridiculous system we continue to employ in this country to choose candidates for president. Worse yet, it’s the same basic system we deploy for deciding whether people get to vote in the first place, and how (or whether) their votes are counted.

Look, I worked for years in state government, and do take seriously the idea that states can serve as “laboratories of democracy.” But the right to vote, and for each vote to have equal weight, is not something we should still be “experimenting” with in this country. Yet we persist in letting states control virtually every aspect of our electoral machinery, and also our system for nominating presidents.

The national parties could instantly create a more rational (and less expensive) system for nominating presidential candidates if they mustered the will to do so. But after many years of watching the quadrennial fiasco unfold, invariably pockmarked by disasters like Nevada’s, I’ve despaired of it ever happening. After all, if the Florida 2000 craziness did not sufficiently convince Americans that a radically decentralized system of election administration might have an impact on the fair and efficient functioning of our democracy, it’s probably too much to expect that we will ever devise a nominating system where a vote’s a vote.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.