Super Tuesday Results Demonstrate That Caucuses Suppress the Vote

Voting surged in the states that ditched them in favor of primaries.

The good news coming out of Super Tuesday is that turnout went up significantly in several states. For example:

Roughly 1.3 million people, or 23% of registered Democrats, cast a ballot in the Virginia contest Tuesday, nearly double the number of votes recorded in 2016 when 14% of registered Democrats voted. Tuesday’s participation also shattered records set in 2008, when almost 1 million votes were cast and the turnout rate hit 20%…

And turnout was up by about 200,000 votes over 2016 in neighboring North Carolina, where Biden easily won by roughly 20 percentage points…

Voters in Texas also turned out in droves. Results from 97% of precincts show that nearly 1.9 million voters cast a ballot Tuesday, easily exceeding the 1.4 million total from the 2016 primary.

The good news for Joe Biden’s campaign is that the former vice president won all three of those states. But as we look at the reasons for higher turnout on Tuesday, it is important to keep in mind that several factors might have contributed to the overall results.

As part of the DNC’s Unity Reform Commission’s changes to the nomination process, the party adopted measures to discourage states from holding caucuses. On Tuesday, four states that made the switch to primaries voted, and the results are clear.

In all four caucus-ditching states, turnout surged dramatically from 2016 to 2020:

* In Colorado, turnout more than sextupled from around 122,000 in 2016, with all votes counted, to more than 755,000 in 2020, with nearly 99 percent of precincts reporting.

* In Maine, turnout more than quadrupled from nearly 47,000, based on an estimate from Democratic officials, to more than 194,000, with 90 percent of precincts reporting.

* In Minnesota, turnout nearly quadrupled from more than 205,000, with all votes counted, to more than 745,000, with more than 99 percent of precincts reporting.

* In Utah, turnout more than doubled from more than 77,000, with all votes counted, to nearly 175,000, with 99 percent of precincts reporting.

While the caveat that correlation does not prove causation is in order, those results are astounding and certainly provide fodder for the case that caucuses suppress turnout. Here is how Stacey Abrams, one of the most vocal opponents of voter suppression, put it:

In 2016, Sanders won all four of those states, while on Tuesday, he only carried two of them—Colorado and Utah. The split, along with the fact that Sanders won Colorado by 12 points, indicates that the surge in voter participation wasn’t limited to one candidate in the race. There are, however, some Sanders supporters who continue to favor caucuses.

Over the next few months, we will learn whether or not these kinds of results hold when four more states that switched from caucuses hold their primaries, including Washington, Idaho, Nebraska, and Hawaii. Meanwhile, other than Iowa and Nevada, the two remaining states that will hold caucuses are North Dakota and Wyoming.

The decision about whether to hold caucuses or primaries is up to the states. But as they did with the Unity Reform Commission, the DNC can pressure them to make the change. The debacle in Iowa, combined with these results, highlight why that is important. At a minimum, the DNC should exclude states that hold caucuses from being among the first four to vote.

While celebrating the turnout surge we saw in some states on Tuesday, it is still worth noting that we have a long way to go when only 23 percent of registered Democrats in Virginia went to the polls. Frankly, that is abysmal, so there’s still a lot of work to do. That includes fighting any effort to suppress the vote while championing proposals to increase participation. But first, Democrats need to clean their own house and get rid of caucuses.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.