Monday, February 2, 2015

Parties can (and should) endorse in local elections

Prompted by a meeting he attended of the Black Voices Project and Sound Off, John Deeth has a post discussing the ways in which the Democratic Party can and cannot support candidates in local elections.

Local elections in Iowa are “non-partisan,” which just means that party endorsements do not appear on the ballot. Parties can still endorse candidates, of course, just like any group can. Deeth points out that the Democratic Party’s own rules make endorsements in local elections very hard to obtain, and he notes that changing the rules can be a years-long affair. (Deeth doesn’t discuss Republican Party rules, but I’ll assume they’re roughly the same.)

I left a comment saying that I wish parties would endorse—and change their rules to make it easier to do—because it’s a piece of information that at least some voters would be interested to know.

I also think that there’s a relatively easy work-around. Deeth is right that the Democratic party rules are cumbersome and hard to change. So do this: Create a new group called, say, the Johnson County Democratic Association. Provide in the group’s constitution or by-laws that every member of the Johnson County Democratic Central Committee gets one vote in this new group. Then provide much simplified procedures for endorsements in local elections. Set a biennial meeting to consider endorsements in local elections, set a reasonable quorum requirement, and then allow endorsements by majority vote at that meeting.

That’s all it would take. Of course, you couldn’t force the party to take part, and you’d need a critical mass for the system to work. But if local party committee members participated, voters would quickly come to understand that these are the equivalent of Democratic Party endorsements. And if party committee members decide they don’t want to take a stand in local elections, then at least they couldn’t blame party rules for their choice.

I don’t mean this as a cheeky thought experiment. I really believe that party endorsements can happen this easily if the parties are willing. I’d happily volunteer to draft something if anyone’s interested.


John said...

I don't think the JCDems endorsement process itself is a barrier, other than in its obscurity. It certainly isn't enough of a barrier that it needs a side organization. It hasn't failed because people have tried and failed; it's failed because people haven't tried.

Even the timeline isn't much of a barrier, because if the endorsement is to have any meaning, it has to happen enough in advance of the election to spread the word.

That's why I put this out here now. If the formality of an endorsement matters, these are the rules, and whoever is seeking it needs to get the ball rolling at the September meeting.

Chris said...

John -- Thanks for the comment. Still, I don't see why people should have to jump two hoops at two different meetings -- one vote to allow an endorsement, and one vote to actually endorse. Also, why the 2/3 requirement? Am I right that endorsements in state elections require just a majority vote (or even, in primaries, just a plurality)?

The time line also seems awkward, since we're talking about two different election days: school board and city council. So, for a group that wants to be involved in both, that's four different votes at four different meetings? And that's not even counting primary elections.

Anyway, if the party doesn't *want* to make it easier for people to get its support, then it shouldn't change anything. But if they do, then they could certainly make it simpler, and, at least during the time it would take to change the party's own rules, they could make it simpler right away by using a side organization.

Chris said...

Ah - Just saw your comment on your post. I didn't realize that the parties in Iowa don't endorse at all before a primary election. Thanks for that info. I'm used to the opposite system, which maybe colors my views here.

I suppose if party endorsements in local elections became very sought-after, some would suggest that they, too, should be decided via primary. Of course that would never happen, because the state wouldn't pay for them.

I still think an endorsement by a majority of the county party committee might mean something to at least some voters (not necessarily me). I can see why potential candidates would be interested.

If local candidates haven't sought the parties' endorsements, I assume it's at least partly because of the barriers party rules pose. I do think you're doing a service by just explaining and publicizing those rules, but I see no good reason not to make the process simpler.

In other words, even after reading your post, which I thought was very informative, I don't blame the local black political community for feeling that "the Democrats don't care." The party could give them the support they want, and it chooses not to, or at least chooses to make it harder than necessary to get it.

Julie VanDyke said...

Part 1:
I'm really tired of hearing what the Democratic Party can’t do (as if it’s some big secret who all makes those choices). "Non-partisan" is pretty meaningless when local party members, whether formally or not, personally endorse and/or support, host, campaign for, or whatever you want to call it for candidates they prefer...
…when local elected and Party Committee members “choose” and “meet” with local, allegedly “non-partisan” candidates in their homes…don’t tell me it doesn’t happen cause I’m gonna bet I’m not the only one that’s seen it …shall we really name names here? Deeth himself, while however subtly, reads negative and positive on “non-partisan” candidates on his blog. Though not any clear endorsement, it seems pretty obvious sometimes who he doesn’t favor…and yes, I certainly know who a few prominent Democratic party central committee members, don’t favor in allegedly “non-partisan” elections. One even sent emails about how a recent school board president’s resignation was anyone’s fault but her own implying the board president’s performance was unacceptable to critically evaluate because the former board president was, gasp, a “good Democrat”. This isn’t personal, that’s an example, and yes I have the emails etc. to back it up or I wouldn’t say it. So this “can’t” crap is exactly that and disenfranchised voters know it too...

Julie VanDyke said...

Part 2:

...and then "we" "blame" our most frightening losses like Joni Ernst and Terry Branstad, again, on voters who didn’t step up for candidates they don’t identify with while “we” look down “our” noses at them in the media with a straight face as “we” make them an excuse for those losses?...
...because lord knows the "party" just did everything "right" and it's voters who didn't swallow on command and get out the vote as "told" they must for candidates they didn't choose, didn't feel reached out to them, that they didn't identify with?...

How’d that Harkin Grant for Johnson County minority outreach go last election? Oh, did it get lost in the shuffle to paint on happy faces about candidates foisted on “us”? I’ll give it to Loebsack, or rather, it’s the truth, I have seen him push up his sleeves and reach out to those disenfranchised voters more than anyone else. He’s always willing to speak with people who approach him when he’s out and about in town. When I asked for his help, he wrote a letter to the Governor’s office in which he showed sincere effort on behalf of the high poverty schools in the Iowa City Community School District…and you damn betcha I’m appreciative of what he did INSTEAD of him or anyone in his office telling me what he “can’t” do.
Low turnout? Seriously? Cause that’s ever growing just for no reason at all? Can you imagine what might be possible if more electeds/candidates and, most of all, the “Party” itself, did more than tell "us" what they "can't" do? Same old, same old isn't working. Voter turnout isn’t going to get better on the whole until disenfranchised voters feel listened to at the level the Dems choose to endorse and until the “Party” changes “its” attitude about expecting potential voters whose interests they arguably have heart to turn out for the "partisan" candidates who only show up in their parts of town, oh, but wait, that didn't really happen either, when “they” want that part of town’s votes in an election.
...but it’s not just “those” voters that are disillusioned with the Democratic Party same old, same old. When local Democratic Party members and electeds CAN “interfere” with who gets employed by the party based on who “is” or “is not” a “good Democrat”, when they CAN publicly, or ever so slightly less so since it’s behind closed doors, host and assist and support and campaign for “non-partisan” electeds/candidates they prefer while attacking those who don’t support the same “non-partisan” “good Democrat” electeds and/or candidates they do, when they show bias everyone with eyes and ears can feel and smell, then continuing to hear what the Democratic Party “can’t” do is every bit the moving target of an excuse for same old, same old that it sounds like…and it’s going to be the ruin of us all.