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How caucuses disenfranchise voters

How caucuses disenfranchise voters

By on 25 Mar 2016commentsShare

If you live in a caucus state, like I do, you’ve heard party officials talk about how the caucus system is more democratic, more small-government, more conducive to building party unity than holding a big primary. Here’s Washington Democratic Party spokesman Jamal Raad, touting the system to me over the phone: “We’re not trying to be representative of the Washington State electorate. We’re trying to be representative of Washington State Democrats. And we actually make it very easy. You just have to show up and affirm that you’re a Democrat to participate. … It’s like a block party.”

But it’s a block party that not everyone can attend. And that’s a problem, especially for the environment, because the people left out tend to be those who care more about it.

The caucus system was once more common in our national elections, but Washington, where Democrats vote on Saturday, is one of only 12 states and a handful of territories that hold onto it. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both appeared here in recent weeks, seeking votes. But many potential Democratic voters will find it tough to cast ballots for either candidate. Instead of simply walking to your local polling place and then going on with your day, caucusing is an event. And if you don’t have the time or ability to participate, you’re just plain out of luck.

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Scholars like the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Thomas Patterson suggest that the caucus system  disproportionately disenfranchises minorities, low-income earners, and young people, who are much less likely to show up than older, whiter, wealthier voters. And those who don’t show up — young voters, voters of color — tend to be more progressive on issues like climate change, the environment, and infrastructure spending. For example, voters under 30 tend to be slightly more concerned about climate change, at 54 percent vs. 51 percent for all age groups per a 2015 New York Times/CBS poll. And both black and Latino voters are more likely than white ones to say climate change is manmade, according to Pew.

Here’s how the caucus works in Washington: It starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, generally taking place at community centers, libraries, town halls, school gyms, or — in my precinct — a dance studio. Once all the participants are gathered together, precinct captains will be selected, votes will be cast, tallied, and the results announced. Like the Iowa Democratic caucus, caucus-goers can attempt to sway undecided voters if there is no clear majority, and then a second tally is taken. The second tally is what determines how many delegates each candidate receives at the national convention in July.

This is not a quick process. It’s projected to take two hours, minimum. So to have your say, you must make time for at least two hours on a Saturday, right around the time you’d normally be taking the kids to soccer, setting out for brunch with your gals, or sleeping through your hangover. And we wonder why voter participation is low. Even people who want to take part in the caucus often can’t — me, for instance. I’ll be 3,000 miles away, stepping off a plane right around the time the first tally is taken.

Clinton herself called this a problem when she was running against Barack Obama in 2008: “You have a limited period of time on one day to have your voices heard. That is troubling to me. You know in a situation of a caucus, people who work during that time — they’re disenfranchised. People who can’t be in the state or who are in the military, like the son of the woman who was here who is serving in the Air Force, they cannot be present.”

In Washington, you can participate if you’re in the Air Force, or any other branch of the military. The party provides exceptions for people who are unable to attend due to military service, work, religious obligation, disability, or illness. Those who qualify can submit a surrogate affidavit form to the state party rather than attend the caucus on Saturday — although they’ve got to do it a week in advance.

Theoretically, this should take care of some concerns about disenfranchisement. But of course, that presumes that you’ve actually heard of the surrogate affidavit form, which most people haven’t. And regardless, this workaround doesn’t cover voters who don’t have the excuse of military, work, religion, disability, or illness. It leaves out caretakers, for instance, who may be unable to bring along the elderly person or young children in their care. And it leaves out people like me, who don’t have a valid excuse at all. Simply not going to be in town this Saturday? Sorry, no voting for you.

When I asked Raad, the Democratic spokesman, about these concerns, he said the party is aware of them. That’s  why party officials added “work” to the list of acceptable reasons to use a surrogate affidavit form for the first time this year. He also said they are reaching out to Asian-American and Spanish-language newspapers to spread the word about the caucus, although he wasn’t aware of any efforts being made to specifically reach other communities.

In 2008, according to Harvard’s Patterson, the national average voter turnout in caucus states was just 6.8 percent, four times less than participation in primary states. In Washington state, it was even lower: Only 0.9 percent of eligible voters actually caucused. And the tiny percentage that shows up tends to have different views than the general public. “Even after accounting for many other factors, caucus attenders were more ideologically extreme than primary voters,” wrote Brigham Young University political scientists Christopher Karpowitz and Jeremy C. Pope in a 2014 Washington Post editorial. “In terms of their willingness to take consistently conservative or liberal positions on the issues, caucus attendees look a lot more like members of Congress than they do average Republicans or Democrats.” The Washington Democratic Party is hopeful that with a heavily contested race, this year’s caucus turnout will be record-setting. But that will still mean just a tiny percentage of the state’s voters helped choose the nominee for president.

This “block party,” it seems, isn’t about the people: It’s about the Party.



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How caucuses disenfranchise voters

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The world is still losing its forests, and these beautiful satellite maps tally the toll

The world is still losing its forests, and these beautiful satellite maps tally the toll


A little more than 300,000 square miles of forest was established or replanted worldwide between 2000 and 2012. Unfortunately, almost 900,000 square miles was destroyed during the same time period — logged, ravaged by fire, or attacked by insects.

Those are the main conclusions of a study that examined hundreds of thousands of images snapped by the U.S. government’s Landsat satellites. Academic researchers partnered with Google staff to produce stunning maps displaying the world’s forests and areas that have been deforested or reforested since 2000. Those maps were used to produce the following short videos:

About a third of the deforestation occurred in the tropics, and half of that was in South America. Logging and clearing of land for farming were responsible for much of the loss. Hearteningly, the researchers found that deforestation has been slowing down in Brazil, where worldwide concerns about the loss of the Amazon have helped spur domestic efforts to save the rainforest. But that slowdown was offset by increasing losses in other countries.

“Although Brazilian gross forest loss is the second highest globally, other countries, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Argentina, and Paraguay, experienced a greater percentage of loss of forest cover,” the scientists wrote in the paper, published Thursday in Science. “Given consensus on the value of natural forests to the Earth system, Brazil’s policy intervention is an example of how awareness of forest valuation can reverse decades of previous wide-spread deforestation.”

The tropics lost more forest cover during the study period than any other region. The second-worst hit were the boreal forests of spruce, fir, and larch in and around the Arctic, with fire the leading cause. Previous research has shown that these forests are burning at a rate not seen in at least 10,000 years, with climate change increasing temperatures and drying out the landscape.

That wasn’t the only worrisome climate-related finding in the new paper. The mountains of the American West are losing forests due not only to logging, but also because of fire and disease — with mountain pine bark beetles marching up mountains as temperatures warm, feasting on banquets of ill-prepared pines.

The loss of forests is making it even more difficult for the Earth to suck back up all the carbon dioxide that we’re pumping into its atmosphere.

Here’s a non-interactive version of the online map:

ScienceClick to embiggen.

High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change, Science
Global Forest Change, University of Maryland

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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The Conservative Fundraising Racket, Part 674

Mother Jones

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This morning in my inbox I have a “personal appeal from Rand Paul.” Nothing unusual about that, but check out the subject:

Dear Concerned American:

“I owe these unions.”

President Barack Obama couldn’t have stated it any more clearly.

And after spending an estimated BILLION dollars to re-elect Barack Obama and maintain control of the U.S. Senate, the union bosses couldn’t agree more.

They’re wasting no time demanding PAYBACK.

Top AFL-CIO union boss Richard Trumka has already made clear that he expects Big Labor’s Card Check Forced Unionism Bill to be a top priority in Obama’s second term.

….Since Barack Obama doesn’t have to face the voters again for re-election, the union bosses understand this may be their last — and best — opportunity to make Card Check Forced Unionism the law of the land.

That’s why it’s vital you act today!

Vital indeed. And “VERY expensive,” of course. So please make a generous contribution to the National Right to Work Committee.

The fact that Rand Paul opposes unions—and supports the NRWC—is no surprise, but this pitch is a sign of just how much of a racket conservative fundraising has become. There’s no question that card check is something that both unions and Democrats support, but it couldn’t even pass in 2009, when Democrats controlled the House and had a supermajority in the Senate. It has zero chance of passing now, and everyone knows it. Rand Paul certainly knows it, and the National Right to Work Committee knows it.

But there are frightened legions of Fox News viewers out there who don’t know it, and Rand Paul wants a chunk of their Social Security checks. Right now. For a campaign against a nonexistent bill that he knows perfectly well isn’t going to take place. Nice work.

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The Conservative Fundraising Racket, Part 674

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