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In Which I Caucus - The Mad Schemes of Dr. Tectonic [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Beemer

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In Which I Caucus [Feb. 5th, 2008|11:22 pm]
Beemer
So it turns out that the actual reason I was unlikely to vote in a presidential primary? Is because Colorado doesn't have them. We have caucuses instead. And I did actually participate in one last night.

...eventually.

It was held at a high school 5 miles from my house and it took me 45 minutes to get there. (My guess is that this was actually due to an accident, though, and not the ten-times-usual-turnout for the caucuses this year.) Then I had to stand in line, outside, in the show, for about twenty minutes. The actual caucusing is a bureaucratically complicated procedure that consists mostly of people who have no idea what's going on trying to figure out which forms to fill out to apportion, via somewhat dubious math, delegates -- some of whom are totally superfluous -- to three different conventions reflecting our votes, the distribution of which was not meaningfully affected by the ten minutes of discussion between initial straw poll and final vote, despite how into it several of the participants got.

At least Colorado moved it up far enough in the calendar to actually matter this year.

My primary (har har) conclusion from all this is that democracy is a badly-engineered system that really doesn't scale well at all and has some very bad assumptions built into it that don't reflect the realities of modern life, like the size of the populace and the effect of mass media. But, as Winston Churchill famously said, it's "the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

So my question is, why haven't we been busy inventing and trying out new forms? This can't possibly be the theoretically optimal form. C'mon, people! Hurry it up! We need a better system, let's get on it!
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: melted_snowball
2008-02-06 02:59 pm (UTC)
That would be, "because it's working just fine, thank you, for the people who have political power."
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[User Picture]From: toosuto
2008-02-06 03:11 pm (UTC)
Ugh. I was trying not to say it out loud. Now I have to go curl into a ball in the corner and cry...
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2008-02-06 03:14 pm (UTC)
That's only a valid excuse for people who have political power not to do anything.

Oh, fine, I suppose for everyone else it's "because the current system isn't bad enough to want to replace it wholesale."

I guess what I really wish people would do is when they're unhappy with how things are (or aren't) working, rather than thinking about which components (i.e., individual politicians) should be swapped out, to think about what characteristics a better system would have. If your spark plugs go bad every 5,000 miles, which is more likely: that you keep buying faulty plugs, or that there's something about your car that's making them go bad?
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From: chaosqueen42
2008-02-06 03:57 pm (UTC)
It's 'cause those fat cats in Washington won't tell the carmakers to make better cars! And spark plugs! Damn those fat cats! Too bad there's nothing we can do!
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[User Picture]From: melted_snowball
2008-02-06 04:32 pm (UTC)
For the others, there's professional sporting.

Panem et circenses, I say.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2008-02-06 05:59 pm (UTC)
What, no eggs?
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[User Picture]From: bryree
2008-02-06 04:47 pm (UTC)
"because the current system isn't bad enough to want to replace it wholesale."

Well, that and for something this large (i.e. a new form of government), the only test is to do it. And what if it fails? Does it naturally fall back into representative democracy or does it fall into a form of autocracy or stratocracy? (more likely IMO.)

Methinks it is a strong case of "The pain known is better than the pain unknown." Sadly.
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[User Picture]From: nematsakis
2008-02-06 03:17 pm (UTC)
I've been paying attention to the primaries for the first time ever this year. I'm actually a proponent of the electoral college, believing that some kind of hierarchical voting is appropriate for a democracy as large as ours. But in comparison to to the primary/caucus system, the electoral college seems downright modern!

Different states allocate delegates in different ways, the democrats have superdelegates, and as far as I can tell there is no easy way to double-check the numbers the media feeds you.
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From: chaosqueen42
2008-02-06 03:55 pm (UTC)
Ok, I have to be pedantic and point out that what we have is not democracy, but representative democracy. In a true democracy, we would not be electing delegates -- or in November, electors -- to do our voting for us. Representative democracy has some advantages, especially when people are spread out over large distances, and when you trust the local wealthy landowners to make the best decisions for your town -- like, say, where this country was 200 years ago. Today, given the kind of technology and education we have, it does seem strange that we hang on to some of the more archaic parts of this. We probably do have the capability to have one-person/one-vote presidential elections, but we don't. And don't get me started on how we ought to have proportional elections for the Senate and House.

Although we had a huge turnout this time, it still seems to me that the Colorado delegates make a small dent in whatever the eventual outcome will be. I'm feeling very cynical.

Thanks, Dr. T, for doing the right thing and going out there.
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[User Picture]From: boat_of_car
2008-02-06 04:57 pm (UTC)

speaking of pedantic...



In actual fact, What we have in the States is most accurately described as a Consitutional Republic ( I've always thought of it as more of a Representative Republic), and we are rapidly heading toward what is best described as an illiberal democracy: at the moment, we're still voting, but we're moving toward a situation where the actual rights and needs of the ruled are not considered much by the rulers, even if there seems to be a consensus.

The problem, it turns out, is that as Dr. T pointed out, democracy just doesn't scale well, and tends to be run by the most vociferous, rather than the wisest. The age of modern technology is both a blessing and a curse in this respect: it has never been easier to explore options, and also never easier to be told what one's opinion 'ought to be'.

AND FURTHERMORE (my English professor father once said nothing good or useful ever followed that word, but here i go again anyway) I don't think I'd trust the judgment of most 'eligible' voters, which is a good thing because the actual percentage of them who bother to vote is depressingly small. (did I cover everything? hmmmm).

Have you considered Mace Windu?
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2008-02-06 06:01 pm (UTC)
(shrug) I imagine for roughly the same reason that engineered languages have never caught on on a large scale. The tool we have does what we expect it to do.
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[User Picture]From: baronet
2008-02-06 08:24 pm (UTC)

Caucus structures

So Colorado doesn't have a 15% minimum support level as Iowa does, or we are far enough along that both of the candidates left got that level easily.

I presume that the arcane math was intended to deal with the rounding off of delegates such that each unit sent an integer number of them in the rough proportion of the number of number of supporters they got. How big is each unit? a single caucus location that covers one congressional district? multiple congressional districts?

I'm just curious.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2008-02-06 08:35 pm (UTC)

Re: Caucus structures

So Colorado doesn't have a 15% minimum support level as Iowa does, or we are far enough along that both of the candidates left got that level easily.

The latter.

Yup, it was rounding math. There's one caucus location per county, and delegates get elected per precinct. Our precinct had about 25 people there for the presidential part, but that eroded to about half that number by the time we got to the congresscritter part. And we were selecting 6, 2, or 4 (I think) delegates for the county, state, and congressional-level conventions. We had a couple people switch votes so that things would come out even and they wouldn't have to figure out how the rounding was supposed to work...
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2008-02-06 08:39 pm (UTC)

Re: Caucus structures

Oh, and my precinct? Is about eight blocks by four blocks. Considerably less than a square mile.
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From: detailbear
2008-02-07 04:12 pm (UTC)
I must disagree. The best form of government is benevolent dictatorship. It's just difficult to keep that 'benevolent' part going.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2008-02-07 04:18 pm (UTC)
Benevolent and competent dictatorship.

The tricky part is that I think it's beyond any individual human's capacity to effectively run a country of any significant size.

This is why we'll probably have to hand it over to an AI at some point...
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[User Picture]From: mellowtigger
2008-02-08 12:44 am (UTC)
Thank you!

"Despite his personal extravagance, he has attempted to share the country's oil wealth. In a country mockingly dubbed the "Shellfare State" (in reference to the significant influence of the Shell Oil Company)[citation needed], Bruneians have free education and medical services. There is no personal or corporation tax in Brunei."
- wikipedia, regarding the beneficent dictator, the Sultan of Brunei
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