After the epic fail of Iowa’s caucuses—falsely naming Mitt Romney the winner for more than a month—now it looks like there’s trouble brewing in the Maine caucuses as well. Romney was named the narrow winner in Maine on Saturday over Ron Paul—gaining him a triumphant top-of-the-fold photo in the Sunday New York Times—but it now appears that several counties that held caucuses were not calculated in the “final” tally. According to the Bangor Daily News, there is growing pressure on the state GOP to reassess the votes and at least potentially declare a new winner. There’s got to be a better way to pick a presidential nominee.
The high-stakes nature of each early caucus state—giving the initially declared winner momentum, media attention, and money—makes these apparently rampant bureaucratic errors unacceptable. In addition, the caucus system is fundamentally unrepresentative, disproportionately dominated by semiorganized bands of activists, and leads to low turnout.
Even after the endless media hype surrounding the GOP primary contests this year, turnout was essentially flat in the Iowa caucuses between 2008 and 2012, despite the absence of a Democratic contest to siphon off participants. Turnout was dramatically down in caucuses in Nevada, Minnesota, and Colorado. In Maine, fewer than 6,000 voters bothered to participate—roughly 2 percent of the registered Republicans in the state. Overall, caucus turnout is averaging about 10 percent of registered Republicans in each state.
Moreover, those 10 percent who do turn out tend to be the most ideological and hyperpartisan—meaning that the winner of a caucus is increasingly a bad barometer of who might actually carry the state in a general election by being able to win over independents and centrist swing voters.