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The Iowa Caucuses: Much Too Silly

MUCH TOO SILLY....In "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," King Arthur and his knights come across Camelot, and at least initially, couldn't be more pleased. After thinking it over, and considering exactly what goes on inside Camelot, Arthur concludes, "On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place."

I've come to think of the Iowa caucuses in the same light. Before the nominating process begins in earnest, Iowa has a certain Midwestern charm, filled with voters who appreciate their role in picking the next president. Like Camelot, it's something to look forward to. But as we finally come upon Jan. 3, and get a look at what's involved, it's pretty obvious that the Iowa caucuses are much too silly.

Because the caucuses, held in the early evening, do not allow absentee voting, they tend to leave out nearly entire categories of voters: the infirm, soldiers on active duty, medical personnel who cannot leave their patients, parents who do not have baby sitters, restaurant employees on the dinner shift, and many others who work in retail, at gas stations and in other jobs that require evening duty.As in years past, voters must present themselves in person, at a specified hour, and stay for as long as two. [...] Now some are starting to ask why the first, crucial step in that process is also one that discourages so many people, especially working-class people, from participating.

"It disenfranchises certain voters or makes them make choices between putting food on the table and caucusing," said Tom Lindsey, a high school teacher in Iowa City. Mr. Lindsey plans to attend this year, but his neighbors include a cook who cannot slip away from his restaurant job on Thursday night and a mother who must care for her autistic child.

Voting by absentee ballot is prohibited. There are no secret ballots, a bedrock democratic principle. The notion of "one-person, one-vote" does not really apply (the NYT noted that votes are weighted according to a precinct's past level of participation).

There's a legitimate debate to be had about whether Iowa deserves to go before the other 49 other states, in every presidential campaign, forever. But this is a different question altogether: if Iowa is going to go first, could they at least use a reasonable process that encourages Iowans to participate?

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