E Pluribus Unum: Civics for One and All

By James A. Lee
mail@floridanewsline.com

Allow me to join in the chorus of happy sentiments for a New Year. This year is that one in four years that brings two important events: the Summer Olympics and the presidential election. I’ll leave the sports discussion to others.

Presidential elections have been an interest of mine since the third grade when I explained to my classmates why Richard Nixon was going to be the next president and George Wallace the next vice president. My understanding of the electoral process has improved; my prognostication skills, though, maybe not so much.

The first opportunity for anyone to influence the election through any sort of official vote is the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1. Many of us outside of Iowa and the other 13 caucus states may be clueless in our knowledge of the caucus process. The internet offers some reasonably sufficient efforts at explaining it: Khan Academy offers a quick eight-minute tutorial (http://tinyurl.com/j2r5skx) and the Washington Post has an excellent article that goes into greater depth without being overly academic (http://tinyurl.com/h9qabk8). Allow me to offer my take on the subject.

In the nine-month election calendar beginning with the Iowa caucus and ending with the general election on Nov. 8, the political parties will be consumed in the task that is their greatest reason for existence: electing a president.

Now understand, grade school social studies classes teach that not only did the Constitution not create the political parties, it doesn’t even mention them. Furthermore, President Washington himself tried his best to prevent them because of what he called their “baneful effects.” Obviously and despite his enormous contributions otherwise, at that task, he failed.

In the political party presidential candidate nomination process, the caucus is but one small element. That process, generally speaking, goes as follows:

Step 1: The precinct caucuses are very local meetings of a party’s registered members held in schools, churches, community buildings or even homes. In these meetings, one or more sessions of speeches will be given by supporters for the various candidates. After each session of speeches, the caucus members will separate into candidate groups. After the final session of speeches (which can go well into the night) the caucus manager will report the percentage of members supporting each candidate to the state party. These numbers are then used by the state party to appoint delegates proportionally to county conventions.

Step 2: At county conventions, delegates are selected for the district conventions.

Step 3: The district conventions select delegates to the state convention. (In the 36 primary states, including Florida, steps 1, 2, and 3 are all replaced with the primary election held on a single day.)

Step 4: State party conventions select delegates to the national conventions.

Step 5: In late summer, the political parties hold their national conventions to “officially” nominate their presidential candidates. (The result is almost certainly a foregone conclusion.)

Step 6: On Election Day, the Democratic and Republican parties’ (and other “third” parties’) nominees face each other for the final popular vote. (The Electoral College vote held a month later is another conundrum altogether.)

If we think of the presidential election process as the equivalent of a child’s education with college graduation correlating to Election Day, then the Iowa caucus is a child’s first day of kindergarten.

In the greater scheme of things, it isn’t terribly important except, as one of my college professors once told us, the first day of kindergarten is the most important in a child’s education, in that it is the child’s first impression of what will follow. Such is the importance of Iowa’s caucus.