Monday, June 27, 2016

Third Parties: Careful What You Wish For

One of my most vivid memories of Election 2000 happened at about 9 AM the morning after the election. Two eager young people came in with big smiles and asked: "How soon can we register Green?" At this point, we didn't know who the hell was president, but they didn't care. The important part to them was a voter card with a G on it.


And not even the best kind of G.

Bleeding Heartland talks at length today about the role third parties may play this fall in Iowa. but there's one aspect she didn't touch on that requires my election office geekiness.

As those two youngsters knew on The Morning After, a group that gets 2% or more of the vote for president (or governor) in Iowa is eligible for full political party status. Ralph Nader inched just barely above 2%, so the Greens had that status for two years, until they lost it when their 2002 governor candidate fell far short. The Reform Party also had full party status from 1996 to 1998.

It's one of the stricter standards in the country. Other states allow the use of lower offices, and voters are least likely to support a third party at the top of the ballot. Other states allow a longer time frame, but in Iowa you have to keep that status EVERY two years.

The law has changed a bit since then, in 2008 Iowa established a second tier of party status called "political organization," which requires a petition and some track record of running candidates. The Greens and Libertarians sued to get this status, and remain the only parties that have qualified.

The main advantage to the Greens and Libertarians, since Iowa ballot access for third parties is not terribly strict,  is that they can get lists of their registrants. Fewer voters have taken advantage of this than I had initially expected. Stats are hard to track because the Secretary of State totals lump them together as "Other," but as of the end of may only 0.35% of Iowans were either Green or Libertarian. That's no doubt gone down since because of the June 7 primary, in which one had to register as a Democrat or a Republican to participate.

And that's the biggest difference between full party status and "organization" status. Democrats and Republicans have primaries, Libertarians and Greens do not.

That could change in 2018.

That 2 percent law for full party status is still in effect. The Greens seem content as an organization, and didn't even run for governor last time. But the Libertarians want the legitimacy of full party status bad, and they came very close in 2014 at 1.8%. They needed just 2,261 more votes.

Their chances seem even better in 2016. Gary Johnson seems likely to draw a lot of Never Trump votes, and a few Bernie Or Bust votes. I've always theorized that Libertarian candidates take about two votes from Republicans for every one they draw from Democrats. Johnson and running mate Bill Weld also have a credible level of governing experience - more than, say, the Republican nominee, and definitely more than Green nominee Jill Stein who seems to be that most typical of third party candidates, a third party activist.

(Speaking of which. Ames Libertarian Eric Cooper is this year making his NINTH consecutive run for state office. Seven of his runs, including this year, have been for state rep; he also ran once for governor and once for state senate.)

Democrats over about 35 are also more gun shy of a third party vote than Republicans. The youngest Bernie supporters were about three in the days of the butterfly ballot and hanging chad, but it's at least within living memory.

One factor working against both Stein and Johnson is Iowa's swing state status. Still, Nader managed to top 2% in Iowa in 2000 even though the state was razor close.

So if Johnson does manage his 2% and the Libertarians become a full status party, people like me will have extra work in the spring of 2018. There will be a Libertarian Party primary, and all the resulting extra ballot styles and printing costs associated with it. Last time we had a third party primary, for the Greens in in 2002, only 439 voters in the whole state took a ballot with a G on it.


Not this G either. Though the new album shows they've still got it.

That's less than five votes per county. Naturally, many counties had no Green primary votes at all, and most places only had one name on the ballot, the candidate for governor.

Depending on the office, a third party with full party status may also be a VERY easy way to get onto the ballot - the standard for congressional races is based on a percentage of the party's vote. That law tacitly assumes two parties with relative parity... but 1 percent of 2.5% of the vote is a really low bar.

And here's where we get into a cautionary tale for third parties.

A political party is an odd organization. It's private with its own internal rules. Yet it's public in that anyone may join simply by registering. The organization can't really block anyone. I recall hearing something about that in some recent eastern Iowa primaries.

A third party that just barely qualifies for full party status is very vulnerable. It has all the legal trappings and all the public openness, but is not very likely to have the kind of infrastructure the Big Two parties have. A hostile takeover would be very easy.

In fact, it's happened. Remember back to 1999, when Pat Buchanan, an early version of a poor man's Donald Trump, took over the remnants of Ross Perot's discarded toy, the Reform "Party." Now, the Reform Party was pretty much in moribund status in 1999, with no real organization. But they had a claim on some significant federal matching funds, and they had something that the Greens and Libertarians have never had...


...a governor.

The politics of Governor Jesse Ventura were hard to classify, but he was definitely NOT a Buchanan-Trump style nativist. Since Buchanan had taken over Ventura's party, The Body started his own, called the Minnesota Independence Party. These things are easier to do when you hold significant office.

(Not to be confused with California's American Independent Party, a remnant of the George Wallace campaign that hundreds of thousands amusingly mis-registered with thinking it meant "independent." And definitely NOT to be confused with the Alaska Independence Party, which is actually a secessionist party.)


So let's imagine it's 2017. Gary Johnson had hit his 2 percent. Let's say a substantial group of Iowa Republicans, for whatever reason, want to leave their party and form a new party.

What better vehicle than a party that already has full ballot status yet has only a skeletal organization? Ripe for the picking.

So be careful what you wish for Libertarians. You could finally win the big prize, and then promptly get kicked out of your own house.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Party Switchers: Putting Numbers To What We Instinctively Know

Primary elections and party affiliation are a hot issue in American politics today, with Bernie Sanders supporters demanding "open" primaries and anti-Trump Republicans seeking "closed" primaries.

Individual party affiliation was also a hot topic both in the presidential race and in Iowa's just finished June 6 state and local primary. Sanders' longtime independent slash small s socialist affiliation, and Donald Trump's past donations to Democrats, were issues. (Hell, so was Teenage Hillary's Goldwater phase.)

Closer to home, Linn County Democrats welcomed two ex-Republicans. Supervisor Brent Oleson switched from the GOP to the Democrats so seamlessly that he won a national delegate seat last weekend. And despite Pat Murphy's protests, Monica Vernon won their one-on-one rematch and is a favorite to become Iowa's first female Democrat in Congress.

But in Johnson County, Democrats were far less welcoming to party switcher Pat Heiden, attacking her for a very recent switch and branding her a "liar" for misunderstanding her record.

Those attacks may have made the margin of her 362 vote loss to Kurt Friese for the third and final supervisor seat. But there's a flip side to this, one that all Johnson County political observers know.

Unless there is a VERY compelling statewide Republican contest, such as a governor's race or the 2014 Senate primary, savvy local Republicans and No Party voters cross over to the Democratic primary. No Republican has won a countywide general election race for a courthouse job since 1984, when Gary Hughes won his last term as sheriff. And no Republican has won a general election race for supervisor since 1958. (John Etheredge won his half term in a low turnout 2013 special election, and despite his personal popularity lost in a landslide in the 2014 general.) So the June Democratic primary is known as the "real election" for courthouse jobs.

Let's clarify some terms here. Technically speaking, Iowa is considered a "closed" primary, meaning that you have to register with the party to participate in its primary. However, it's not very closed, since you can switch right at the polls. Other states have party change deadlines well in advance of election day, which is the point on which Sanders and his supporters have focused.

An "open" primary is one in which people can participate without regard to affiliation. In some states you can vote without changing affiliation, and some states don't have party registration. And Lousiana and California have a "top two" primary in which the top two candidates go on to the fall whatever their affiliation - which is why California has a Senate general election between two Democrats.

Because Iowa has a very soft closed primary, we have numbers. And me being me, I've crunched those numbers for Johnson County. Anecdotally, it seemed like there was a lot of crossover activity, driven in part by Heiden and driven in part by the complete lack of interesting contests on the Republican side - most GOP voters had no contested races at all, with the lone exception in House 77, which made up less than a quarter of the county.

In the table below, "original party" is what you walked in the door as, and "Voted" is the ballot you voted. I've put 2012 along side for comparison.

Original Party
Voted
Polls
Early
Total
2012
D
D
5671
1835
7506
4729
G
D
6
1
7
8
L
D
4
1
5
0
N
D
282
76
358
329
R
D
208
105
313
263
D total

6171
2018
8189
5329
D
R
19
6
25
29
G
R
0
0
0
0
L
R
2
0
2
1
N
R
28
4
32
48
R
R
545
103
648
1495
R total

594
113
707
1573
Grand total

6765
2131
8896
6902

Bottom line: 683 voters walked in the door as something else, and walked out as Democrats.That's 8.3% of the total vote, and a sizable chunk, twice the size of Friese's winning margin over Heiden and almost equal to the TOTAL Republican vote of 707.

Seems like a lot. But look at that last column.

2012 also had a hot Democratic courthouse race which saw Travis Weipert unseat 36 year incumbent auditor Tom Slockett in a landslide. Republicans had a moderately interesting congressional primary, which drew the core GOP activists.

Look at those overall turnout numbers. Republicans, twice the turnout in 2012. Democrats, almost 3000 more votes this year.

But look at the crossover numbers. Despite much lower Democratic turnout in 2012, the no party to Democrat and Republican to Democrat crossover numbers are almost the same.

It seems clear that there's a crossover core of about 600 people. Half identify as Independents, probably with a capital I (I can't understand why that particular word is so favored by people when describing non-affiliation). Half are nominal Republicans, but of a type that care far more about who is on the Board of Supervisors than who is running for Congress.

With the voting histories - SUCH a hot issue this election! - and the donor records, I could probably make you a list of those 600 people in a few hours.

But if you know your way around Johnson County politics, you can make that list yourself.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Bye Felicia: Fiegen Leaves Democrats

Finally.

No more long tedious talks at your county central committee. No more applause for holding up someone else's sign at an inappropriate time. No more F.E.E.T.

Last week, still smarting from his fourth straight electoral loss, a poor third place in the Senate primary, Tom Fiegen got on line and changed his registration to No Party. (The Cedar County Auditor confirmed the affiliation change today.)

The Iowa Democratic Party is FINALLY rid of Tom Fiegen.



But, since there is rarely justice on this earth, Fiegen may get the last laugh. At this point, I'd be more surprised if Fiegen DIDN'T run this fall as an independent or under some wacky label like the FEET Party or Jonathan Narcisse's Iowa Party (better known as the Narcissists, so Fiegen would fit right in.)

Many states have what are called "sore loser" laws. You run in a primary and lose, you're ineligible for the general. I like those laws. If you buy into a primary process, you buy into the outcome.

Iowa, however, does not have such a law.

I'm not going to ask - Fiegen has a habit of bashing and blocking people who ask questions he doesn't like - but he has hinted at it: "Iowa, unlike Minnesota and Wisconsin, has never sent an Independent to the U.S. Senate. Are we ready to change that? What would it take for those of you who are registered Democrats or Republicans to vote for an Independent?"

He's getting as many no's as yes's. I'm sure that if he doesn't get the signatures, he'll write himself in anyway.

If losers were barred from the ballot, Fiegen is now well past his three strikes. He won his only election in 2000, as an anti-choice Democrat challenging one of the last pro-choice Republicans, Sen. Jack Rife. Fiegen's term got cut short due to a redistricting pair-up in 2002. He lost that race, then a comeback attempt in 2004.

At this point, Fiegen's failed ambitions moved upward. He's been running for the US Senate almost nonstop for almost a decade, yet has actually slipped backwards, from 9.4% in 2010 to just 6.8% this month. He tightly tied his campaign to the Bernie Brand, mostly because he had no real campaign of his own, but as early as caucus night it was clear that most Sandernistas were not fooled and were backing Rob Hogg.

Meanwhile, his own state House seat, on the only turf he's ever actually won in Cedar County, is in Republican hands, and Bobby Kaufmann is unopposed this year.

Sad!

I'm almost tired of punching down at Fiegen. But his personality is such that it's hard not to. Which is too bad. He was reasonably likeable a long time ago, before the grudges turned gangrenous. He's grown the ego of a Trump without the money or the primary wins.

The real turning point for Fiegen was in the fall of 2009. He and Bob Krause had been stumping the state for months to little avail. When Chuck Grassley looked vulnerable for a fleeting instant during the Obamacare fight, party leaders recruited Roxanne Conlin into the race. Fiegen, who seems to have a chip on his shoulder about female candidates, never got on board post-primary.

This year's story was very familiar. Grassley looked vulnerable over the Supreme Court, national leaders find a female candidate who can raise money. Fiegen did not take the results well: "Why do you support such corrupt inept politiicans (sic)? Why did only 96,000 of you vote in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, and 47,000 of you for BIG Pig Patty Judge?"

That quote, calling the female candidate who beat him a "big pig," captures the character of the man well.

In contrast, the guy who SHOULD have been pissed that national leaders recruited Judge into the race, Rob Hogg, conceded graciously:
As I told supporters last night at our election results party at the Starlite in Cedar Rapids, I encourage all Iowans to support Patty Judge in the United States Senate election this fall. She is a Democrat. Since Joni Ernst succeeded Senator Harkin in the 2014 elections, we have been missing a Democratic voice in the United States Senate from Iowa. We need that voice.
Moreover, Patty Judge knows that climate change is real and must be addressed. She understands that we need government to help safeguard our people and our property from disasters, regardless of cause. She believes we must do more to help working families, such as raising the minimum wage and expanding leave opportunities for workers. She wants to protect Social Security and Medicare and make those programs stronger. Perhaps most importantly, on Day 84 since the President made his nomination to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, she knows the United States Senate should hold hearings and provide an up-or-down vote for the President’s nominee. I hope you will vote for Patty Judge in the U.S. Senate race in Iowa.
Amazingly, even though Hogg is one of the leading environmentalists in the legislature, his record was somehow not perfect enough for Fiegen.

Granted, Patty Judge is not going to pass any CCI purity tests. I supported Hogg myself. But the Democrats of Iowa had their say and chose her, and when I got home from the state convention I replaced my Hogg sign with a Judge sign. She's a vote to put Chuck Schumer, not Mitch McConnell, in charge of the Senate agenda. She's a vote to fill the Supreme Court. She's not a platform committee kind of Democrat, but Patty Judge is a good Democrat.

Which Tom Fiegen no longer is.

If he ever was.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

State Convention: The Hangover Edition

If you had polled the floor of the Iowa Democratic Convention at about 1:45 yesterday afternoon, a motion to ban the use of voting "clickers" and to go back to the traditional paper ballots would probably have passed.

And that would have been a big mistake.

Despite the hour or so it took for delegates to learn the functions, and despite one unanticipated problem with them, electronic voting drastically speeded up one of the two biggest time sinks of the convention, vote counting.

The other massive time sink, platform debate, not so much. That lasted till 2 AM, four hours after I left. But the fact that the truly mission critical work of the convention was done by 10 PM is a Festivus miracle.

Not very many people, not even very many party activists, are convention geeks, so let's jump back up to the top for the actual news of the event.
Democrats are slowly moving toward unity. Team Hillary won the ground game - I got multiple emails, multiple phone calls, and would likely have gotten many more had I not signed a personal blood oath to Sue Dvorsky that I WOULD be there.

Team Bernie also did well, considering that - and I DON'T want to hear the "superdelegates haven't voted yet" rant for the 635th time - considering that Hillary has clinched the nomination. 85% attendance for a defeated candidate is a remarkable showing, on a par with our county convention's tie for Bill Bradley in 2000. (Just to remind my Bernie friends that I know how you feel.)

But Hillary performed at 100% plus, filling all its seats plus. The everyone shows up, no one switches math coming out of county conventions was Hillary 704, Bernie 700. The final credentials report listed Hillary 714, Bernie 571. That was almost exactly a 5 to 4 split on the pledged, at large national delegates; my spreadsheet showed 5.001 to 3.999. Ten Sanders supporters switched over to Hillary, but another 70 or so would have needed to move to shift a national delegate.

Team Hillary wasn't pressing Team Bernie hard; it was an unspoken understanding that this convention was kind of a last hurrah. The handful of Sanders defectors seemed to be folks who felt like they'd had their say and it was time to get together, and on most votes Team Hillary seemed comfortable letting the rest have their final moment. (There were a couple items, though, where Team Hillary dug the heels in.)

As for unity in other races, Rob Hogg spend most of the day on site, and got a national delegate seat as a consolation prize. I spotted him attentively watching Patty Judge's speech and heard lots of positives about him all day. I did not spot Bob Krause (who sadly lost his dad just after the primary) and Tom "Unity" Fiegen was notably absent, not that even most Bernie folks cared. Desmund Adams was also on hand; he and Gary Sherzan immediately got on board for Jim Mowrer. I did not see Pat Murphy - or for that matter Monica Vernon - all day; I'd been told that Vernon was supposed to arrive in the afternoon.

I was supposed to be seated right away as an alternate with a signed credential from a delegate who couldn't attend. That person dropped the ball and never got me the papers, so I joined the waiting list of alternates. However, I only waited maybe a half hour before I was seated. I've done a lot of county level credentials, and I tip the beret to the team that did this thankless work at state. There were none of the ugly rules, credentials, or massive mistrust fights that were seen at places like the Polk County or Nevada state conventions. I only heard of one credentials issue, concerning residency, and that was resolved without a floor vote.
Things started slowly after lunch with the hour long clicker lesson (an hour well spent) and the beginning of platform debate. We began with absurdity: a debate over a comma vs. a slash and a motion to replace the word "people" with "human beings." Not only was this in all sincerity - it was a way to emphasize opposition to Citizens United - it was a close fight that actually triggered the first use of the clickers.

Luckily that discussion ended about 3 PM when we broke into preference groups. Team Hillary promptly moved into elections for "PLEO" delegates. These are NOT superdelegates; rather, they're pledged delegate seats, apportioned based on the preference group numbers, that are set aside for party leaders and elected officials.

Case in point: As a sitting US Senator, Tom Harkin was automatically a superdelegate. But as a RETIRED senator, he is only a "party leader" and thus had to run and get elected. Which he was, easily, in absentia, though some folks gracelessly started to shout down Sue Dvorsky when the letter she was reading on Harkin's behalf ran over the time limit. C'mon folks. It's Tom freakin' Harkin and you'd give anything to have him back right now.

Hogg was also a first ballot winner here, and the third winner was Som Baccam, a Broadlawns Hospital trustee and former Des Moines school board member.

This put Team Hillary in a slight jam, because Clinton leadership really, REALLY wanted state treasurer for life Mike Fitzgerald in the national delegation. He got a do-over in the male delegate at large contest (all delegate seats at the district and national level are broken out into separate contests by gender).

This perfectly illustrates one problem with the elimination of superdelegates - a priority platform plank for Team Bernie that passed in the wee hours. The most likely person to win any election is someone who has won an election before. If you eliminate the set-aside seats, people with even higher profiles than a nine term statewide elected official will have to run against the rank and file delegates - and they will almost certainly win.

I get that it's important that Fitzgerald's seat comes out of the pledged seats Hillary earned rather than as an unpledged "bonus." I also get that you could increase numbers of delegates. But it's hard to argue that getting rid of superdelegates will mean that more grass roots people will get to go to the national convention.

I'm out of sequence because before we dealt with the Hillary male delegates, we started voting on women. And after we voted on men, we went back to women - for a long time. This was the longest chunk of the preference group time, and the only major problem with the vote by clicker system.

The problem was not actually with the clickers. The problem was that a very large group of women were very excited about the first-ever female major party nominee.  Hillary has been around so long that it's almost too easy to forget what a big deal that is. So a lot of women really, REALLY wanted to go to Hillary's convention. (The same technical problem I'm about to describe also occurred in the Bernie group.) 22 women filed for what turned out to be three slots.

As at the district conventions, it was much harder to get elected as a woman for Hillary than as a man for Hillary, as only six men ran for the two seats. The DNC's gender balance rules did not anticipate a contest with a big gender gap like this one had.

The party rules state that candidates who finish under 15% on a ballot are dropped. What happened was that the vote splintered so perfectly that EVERYONE was under 15%. The software, as programmed, did what it was told and dutifully dropped EVERY candidate.

It took a while for the rules and nominations committee to figure this out and rather than re-programming on the fly, they developed a work around. The bad news was it required multiple, multiple, multiple ballots. The good news is the results of each of those ballots were ready in about a minute rather than an hour. It still took a while, as the votes continued to splinter perfectly and we were only dropping one or maybe two at a time. But all those multiple multiple votes took about as long as ONE paper ballot. We were done by about 7 PM, a little sooner than Sanders.
Team Hillary took the interim time to do some slating work for the other upcoming votes.

Team Hillary's BIG priority, other than holding the delegate lead, was hanging onto the state's two Democratic National Committee seats. The two incumbents, Scott Brennan and Sandy Opstvedt, were both on Team H. They were challenged by Sanders supporters Mike Carberry and Mika Covington - again, separate male and female elections. All four campaigned hard all day. (There was also a third female candidate who also backed Bernie and appeared to be a self starter, and a male Hillary self-starter who dropped out before voting.)

Other states get to have other priorities, but the number one job of an Iowa DNC member is fighting like hell to hang on to First. That may not be a winnable fight this cycle, but the convention decided that the experienced team were the ones to make the fight.
(Tangent: I finally had some off record discussion with a few people about the caucus review committee. Not entirely convinced I got the whole answer as to my exclusion, but at least I got acknowledged. And I also feel that there at least some party leaders who are not in full denial and are ready for Plan B: if caucuses are banned, as I expect President Hillary to do, then we need to fight to get our primary into the early carve-out period.) 

Brennan's win predicted Opstvedt's win by a similar margin (550-276-85), indicated that
as of 8:30 PM Team Hillary still controlled the floor, yet also indicated that Hillary had lost more supporters to attrition. Assuming the male DNC vote was a perfect proxy for Hillary-Bernie with no crossovers, Hillary had lost about 180 bodies while Bernie had only hemorrhaged 100.

The race to the exits speeded up but Team Hillary was still working one more key vote, the presidential elector race.

An Iowa John Kerry "elector" unhappily agrees.

There were rumors at the district level that "Bernie Or Bust" people were in the elector contests. A party can handle a rogue delegate or DNC member. But the Electoral College is NOT the place for a protest vote. This is not a hypothetical problem: in 2012 one of the Iowa Republican elector slate was publicly talking about voting for Ron Paul in the Electoral College. She was swiftly dumped... but could the more process-obsessed Democrats have done the same? There are people who would actually prefer to see the presidential election go into the US House and elect President Paul Ryan rather than overturn a late night vote of a state party convention.

And those are the kind of people who stay at conventions until after 2 AM to debate the platform. Once I was assured that the elector contest was done (with the two Hillary backers winning), I left, at about 10 PM.

I arrived home at midnight to a Twitter feed full of the news that the remaining delegates had voted to place legalizing all drugs in the platform. I don't have the exact wording, but that kept me awake another hour or so snarking at the plank.
No one but GOP chair Kaufmann and the Des Moines Register political reporting staff is likely to read the full platform, but when they do this will be a bright gem. I think even the Libertarians would have thought more carefully about down-ballot impact of this one. At least it gives us a whole bunch of snarky names to use for the former Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, rather than Fall Gala which sounds like a brand of hybrid apple.

This kind of stuff is one of the reasons I hate platforms. When I stay to the end, I always vote No on final passage - but that's a flawed strategy because at the very end, only the platform nerds are still in the house. At that point, you can't beat the people who literally care more about a Statement Of Principles than they do about electing candidates, because no one else has the stamina to stay.

The other fatal flaw to platforms is there is no mechanism for enforcement. Anyone can register as a Democrat and run in and win a primary and general election. Once elected, they have zero obligations to a party.

Compare that to a parliamentary system. If a British MP votes against a key motion of the government (called a "three-line whip") they run the risk of being expelled.  And in a system without primaries, the actual party structure chooses the candidates. A candidate who strays too far from the "manifesto" (i.e. platform) gets de-selected for the next election.

If we had stuff like that, I'd care about the platform. Without it, I see platforms as an empty gesture and waste of time. In retrospect, though, maybe I should have stayed later last night.

Still, that's a relatively minor mar on what was otherwise a better than I expected day. Congrats to all the national delegates and other winners.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sanders, End Game, and Election Reform

I don't mind being redundant if I have to be. Some points can't get made enough.

As we close in on end game of the Democratic nomination process late on DC primary day, Bernie Sanders spend a chunk of the day in The District on The Hill talking to colleagues. And he came out of the meetings moving in the right direction, and talking about process reform. Article 1:
"We need major, major changes in the Democratic Party in converting it to a party of the people — welcoming working people and welcoming young people," Sanders said. 
 
"And we need an electoral process which is worthy of the Democrats."
 
He called for same-day voter registration, an increase in staffing at precincts, a guarantee of open primaries and an end to the party's use of superdelegates. 
 
The first two electoral reforms would likely be easy sells — the party has no direct control over either, so its platform planks would only serve as a statement in support of those policies. But the other two will be more difficult, as they cede power from both the party establishment and its voters.
The Vermont senator called for replacing Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, enabling open primaries so non-registered Democrats can vote, and better staffing to prevent long lines and difficulty being able to vote. Sanders pointed to Arizona, where both Democratic and Republican officials denounced the long lines and fewer polling stations available in the March 22 primary. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won that contest.

"How many people simply gave up their right to vote — gave up their right to vote and walked away," Sanders said. "We are taking for granted that in California it will take weeks for votes to be counted and I'm not sure the votes have yet been counted in Puerto Rico."
Most of these things are good ideas. Some are easier to achieve than others. Team Bernie needs to come away with some sort of immediate victory and Debbie has GOT to go before the convention. Having Wasserman Schultz wield the gavel would be rubbing their noses in it. Superdelegates will of course need to be in the discussion. Those are things the Democrats can deal with all on their own.

I grew up with election day registration in Wisconsin, was overjoyed to get it in Iowa in 2008, and would love to see it implemented nationally. That'll require a federal election bill, which won't happen before this fall. And unless the Hillary landslide over Trump crests into a wave, it'll require getting a bill through a Republican House, because I'm not even sure with the gerrymandering if there are 218 winnable Democratic districts.

And a GOP House would mean tradeoffs. What if the cost of election day registration (and nationwide early voting, an issue Sanders may not have mentioned) is... photo ID?

The last major federal election bill was the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) act of 2002. It was grabbed off the shelf late in the session, and it was drafted by people who didn't know election administration. So it has had a lot of unintended consequences.

Which is what worries me about "better staffing to prevent long lines." Obviously the Arizona primary was inexcusable. But if a federal election bill gets into the deep deep weeds of pollworker and resource allocation, they'd better talk to some election professionals and choose the right metrics...

...and registered voters is not the right metric. Take last week's primary. We has seven voters in Iowa City Precinct 5, which on paper had 1293 registered voters. Almost all of them live in dorms that were empty for summer break. If you have a federal election law that allocates workers based on registration, you could easily have more workers than voters, at considerable taxpayer expense.

Also note that no election varies more in turnout than a primary. Two years ago we had a very hot Republican Senate primary; this year Iowa City and Coralville Republicans got a nearly blank ballot.  That had an effect, to say the least, on turnout.

Not to belittle the problem. But it's very, very hard to craft a one size fits all formula that both avoids an Arizona like crisis yet doesn't create the spectacle of 20 workers playing cards waiting for the third voter of the day.

Some of this stuff won't get fixed with a federal law. Most election law is state law, and each state has long standing traditions and cross pressures especially when it comes to primaries. Open primaries aren't one fight - it's 50 fights in 50 state capitals.

Open primaries are also up against a tough cross-pressure. State election law tends to affect both parties... and many anti-Trump Republicans want CLOSED primaries.

So there's some good ideas here, but it's not something a national committee can deliver on short notice.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Smooth Handoff Tradition In House 88

So House Ways and Means chair Tom Sands has bailed on re-election, two days after the primary, and successor Jason Delzell of Wapello was all lined up to announce two hours later.

Where have I heard this story before? Oh, yeah. In this exact same district. Sands leaves the seat the exact same way he got the seat. Sit back for some history.

The Louisa-west Muscatine County based seat has frustrated Democrats for many cycles, much like Cedar County's House 73. So close to Johnson County, so reachable on paper, so difficult in practice. Democrats Frank Best in 2008 and Sara Sedlacek in 2012 both reached the upper 40s but fell short; both have taken their names off the list this time but Dems are likely to announce a name soon.

(Past party switches were an issue in the 1st CD and the Johnson County supervisor race; will they be an issue at the House 88 Republican convention? The fix seems to be pretty clearly in, but rumor mill says Delzell has some crossover history...)

House 88 first took on its approximate format in the 1991 map. Democrat Mark Shearer (who later served in the Senate) inherited it, but lost to Barry Brauns in 1992.

Democrats let the seat go in 1994, then recruited a Some Dude to challenge Brauns in 1996.

That would be me.

The district came up into Johnson County at the time, and I lived in Lone Tree. (It now goes south and covers rural Des Moines County instead). I pretty much had nothing but doorknocking - I was the 85th candidate recruited and must have been below #80 on the target list. Got stomped in the rurals, won a couple small towns and helped Bill Clinton and Tom Harkin carry Louisa County. Final score was 62-38%, which probably represents a bare minimum.

For the record I am NOT moving and running again. Not that anyone has asked.

The seat was a top target in 2000 when Sally Stutsman ran, but she lost to Brauns 55-45. Given her success in her county races and her two later runs in House 77 (where she's retiring and Amy Nielsen is the nominee) I'd say the 1990s configuration of that seat was unwinnable.

But a lot has changed, demographically more than geographically. The current House 88 is the top Hispanic seat in the state. West Liberty is Hispanic majority, Columbus Junction is close, and Nichols is also heavily Hispanic and Burmese. In the Year of Trump, this gives Democrats a great pickup opportunity.

In 2002 a couple of re-districting pair-ups shuffled this seat. Brauns was placed in a very un-even pairup with fellow Republican Jim Hahn: one precinct from the old rural Brauns seat, and the whole city of Muscatine which was the core of Hahn's. The rural district also lost the northern tier of Muscatine county, a key part of Brauns' base (as I learned the hard way), which went north to the Cedar County seat. That area got put back into the Louisa district in the 2011 map.

On the Senate side, long long long time GOP incumbent Richard Drake was paired up with a rookie Democrat, who had used right to lifer support to upset Jack Rife, one of the last pro-choice Republicans.

That rookie Democrat would be Tom Fiegen. And this pair up made things complicated. Dick Drake was MORE than ready to retire. But under redistricting law, if Drake had retired, there would be no election. Fiegen would simply hold the seat till 2004.

I'm certainly not an insider on Muscatine County GOP politics, but what happened next is pretty clear. Hahn was slated to get the Senate seat in 2004, which would open up the Muscatine city based House seat for Brauns.

Brauns filed for re-election in the rural Muscatine-Louisa based seat - listing a post office box in Nichols as his address. Then, immediately after the primary, Brauns all of a sudden decided NOT to run for re-election after all. And banker Tom Sands just so happened to be ready to run.

In 2004 the masterplan didn't play out perfectly. Hahn did move over to the Senate, defeating Fiegen again. (Fiegen's lifetime election record is now 1 win, 4 losses.) And Brauns, apparently unhappy with the Nichols post office, filed in the Muscatine city seat, from the same house he had "moved out of" before. But the comeback was thwarted by Democrat Nathan Reichert, who served three terms.

I could keep trying up the loose ends to this story, but it already took me enough tale-telling to get to the point. There are many, many tangents that ripple into many neighboring districts, and I'm just getting back to writing and not ready for a District Of The Day marathon.

Just one last story.

If you've ever been a candidate, you don't forget your best helpers. Columbus Junction is a tough town to doorknock. Lots and lots of hills and a really weird street pattern. One of my best 1996 doorknocking partners was a high school student from CJ, who's gone on to some great success as an attorney in Des Moines. You may have heard the name Nate Boulton this week. At least ONE of us was able to win an election, and I'm especially proud. Congrats, Senator.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Election Night Number Cruncher, Two Days Late

Yes, the Deeth Blog still exists. I haven't written anything longer than 140 for about three weeks here for a bunch of reasons - a busier than usual election season at work due to my increased job duties, a lot of human being stuff, the distraction of end game of the presidential race, and the Survivor Island nature of this particular primary and its complex alliances.


The presidential race and supervisor race overlapped, at least a little. But despite the win by two of the three members of the "Bernie slate," Rod Sullivan and Kurt Friese, the effort was unsuccessful in its main goal.

Because the Bernie Slate was never really about Bernie at all. It was about the longstanding split in the progressive wing of the local Democratic Party over zoning issues in the Newport Road area. Notably, many of the letters from leaders of the "Bernie Slate" focused only on Friese and Jason Lewis, and not Sullivan. Also notably: the Bernie Slate only finished 1-2-3 in one precinct - Newport Township.

The Bernie Slate was a tactical move that tacitly accepted Sullivan's strength, which Rod proved with his strong first place finish. The Bernie Slate, which was never Sullivan's idea and which he clearly didn't need for help, was about carrying Lewis over the finish line.
And while some Sanders supporters who were not clued in to the long-standing local split were brought along, the tactic failed. Because most of all, the Bernie Slate was about beating Lisa Green-Douglass, who came in a solid second in the race for three seats.

Technically, three nominations. But the local Republicans saw what a Johnson County general election did to the personally popular incumbent John Etheredge, who won a low-turnout 2013 special but got clobbered two to one in the 2014 general. This was the ball game.

There was some backlash to the Bernie Slate, in part because the three candidates were all men. And many of the women who have long worked for increased female representation (Mary Mascher, Vicki Lensing, Sue Dvorsky, Sally Stutsman, Jean Lloyd-Jones) encouraged and supported Pat Heiden.

The Oaknoll director was far better prepared to be a supervisor than she was to be a candidate. Heiden did not anticipate the furor that her past party registrations would cause, or the vehemence with which she would be attacked by her rival's supporters. When she didn't research her own records, she got caught at a forum making a misstatement, which was quickly ret-conned into a "lie."

Having worked with voter records and with voters for two decades in greater detail than, well, ANYONE in this county, I can tell you: A LOT of people are confused about how registration works and how their own records look - ESPECIALLY when it comes to the matter of party affiliation. I can also tell you that the records are imperfect, especially prior to 2006 (when the auditor's office went through a bumpy system conversion from in-house software to a statewide system).

It's also worth noting: Democrats have a great opportunity this year, to extend a presidential blowout into down-ballot wins. At the moment that the Sanders campaign nears its end, Democrats are being asked to roll out the red carpet for independents drawn to Sanders.

I agree. We need every new Democrat we can get. That means we ALSO need to welcome the moderate ex-Republicans who are repelled by the party of Donald Trump and Steve King. Maybe Pat Heiden shouldn't have won - but she shouldn't have been vilified, either.

The epitaph for Heiden's candidacy: Even the impeccable Democratic credentials of Mascher and the Dvorskys were not enough to ease fears that Heiden was "the revenge of the Old Guard." In the post Core Four Era, the endorsement of the old-school Chamber of Commerce faction of local politics, of John Balmer and Bill Ambrisco and Matt Hayek, is the kiss of death. 

Leaving aside the toxic Newport Road split, the last few months have seen a major progressive shift in first Iowa City government, and now in the Board with Terrence Neuzil's resignation, Pat Harney's retirement, and their replacement by Green-Douglass and Friese respectively.  And organized labor were the only key players to bat 1.000. Two endorsements, Sullivan and Green-Douglass, top two, to go along with their Core Four sweep last fall.

You don't come to the Deeth Blog to be lectured. You come here for numbers. (For statistical analysis I'm ignoring six-voter Iowa City Precinct 5. Which is still better than the ZERO Republican votes in precincts 10 and 19.)

The biggest number of the election isn't available yet: the number of crossover Republicans. With no contests except for House District 77, there was little incentive for Republicans to refrain from crossing over. The 707 Republican ballots were the fewest since 2004 and the third least in the last 40 years. Democratic turnout was 8188 (not counting the slim chance of last second absentees showing up). My projected turnout, politically and professionally (it is literally my job to project turnout) was between 7500 and 9000.

Election day turnout on the Democratic side was actually up from 2014, but overall turnout was down because there were several hundred fewer early votes this year. In 2014 voters couldn't wait to choose, especially in the nasty county attorney primary. In 2016 there were a lot of strategic decisions about how many ballots to cast. The average voter cast 2.51 ballots, meaning that on average, half of all voters left at least one of the three ovals blank. (I suspect a lot of the crossovers only cast one vote for Heiden.)

Sullivan finished in the top three (three winners) in every precinct, peaking at over 70% in east side precincts 6, 16 and 17 and in west side precinct 9 (where the Sudanese community is becoming a political force). He was just below 50%, though still in the money, in three rural precincts and three North Liberty precincts.

Lisa Green-Douglass came out of the January special election with name ID increased and with a win on her record after her narrow 2014 primary loss. She finished 700 votes behind Sullivan and 300 ahead of Friese, . She finished first in her North Liberty base and in Coralville and Tiffin, and also in Iowa City 15 (on the southeast side). In Iowa City she was third overall, finishing fourth in precinct 24 (Windsor Ridge) and in precinct 7 (an odd mix of McMansions and Pheasant Ridge). Out in the county, Lisa had a poor showing in the northeast corner: fourth in Solon, Cedar  and Graham, and fifth in Newport. (However, she was second in nearby Big Grove.)

Friese finished #2 in Iowa City and ran first in some student and near north side precincts of Iowa City - 19, 20, and 21. That's the area near his Devotay restaurant, and turnout spiked in precinct 20 which I had not anticipated (we sent them some extra ballots). He also won University Heights, surprisingly (Heiden won the sign war there) but ran fourth in Coralville, North Liberty and Tiffin. In the rural county, his "stop pouring concrete on farmland" was a dog whistle for Newport and Graham, but it also won him Washington Township, one of the county's only GOP-leaning precincts.

Heiden was a very strong third on the absentees. Oaknoll residents voted early en masse, so heavily that she only finished third in the precinct (Iowa City 2) on election day. An absentee by precinct breakdown would be fascinating (but isn't available). Heiden had some scattered first places in the outlying county, including Swisher and, in a tie with Green-Douglass, Oxford.

She was fourth overall in Iowa City, but was second at Iowa City 8 (Weber) had top three showings in Iowa City 1 (Lemme) the aforementioned 7, 12 (the Grant Wood school area) and 24 (Windsor Ridge). But the margins weren't what she needed. Lemme reported late; Heiden ran ahead of Friese but only by 15 votes, and it was kind of a nail in the coffin (though I could tell Friese would win with about a third of the precincts in.). In the end she was 363 votes short.

Jason Lewis was another 1400 votes in back of Heiden. He was always the weaker link in the Bernie Slate, and his only top three showing was in Newport. As in his two school board races, he seemed to be everyone's next choice. (It would have been fascinating to run this election under Democratic convention rules: Instant runoff, rank all six candidates.) Unfortunately, after three straight losses, he'll have a hard time making himself a viable candidate for anything for a while; Lewis has already ruled out a run in the July 19 special school board election.

Mike Hull, another 1100 votes in back of Lewis, seems like an afterthought here. He was a third protest vote for the Newport folks who opposed Sullivan, and a second vote for the Republicans who crossed over for Heiden.

The heated supervisor primary was in sharp contrast to the House District 77 primary. Two good candidates, one won, and not a negative word between Abbie Weipert and the winner, North Liberty Mayor Amy Nielsen. There was a friends and neighbors factor as Weipert won her base in Tiffin while Nielsen carried North Liberty.

Republicans in 77 picked the better candidate, as former Tiffin mayor Royce Phillips, from the social conservative wing of the party, overwhelmed libertarian leaning Paula Dreeszen. The biggest controversy of the campaign was when Dreeszen made some racially insensitive remarks at an early May forum - remarks that were mis-attributed in print to Heiden. (To their credit: Heiden's opponents including Friese immediately chimed in to help correct the error.)

The November race in House 77 to replace retiring Sally Stutsman should also be a clean race. Phillips is strong for a GOP candidate in Johnson County, but the year and the party balance strongly favor Nielsen.

Trivia: Tom Salm was re-elected as North Liberty mayor to a four year term in 2013, but died in 2014. Gerry Kuhl served several months by appointment until losing to Nielsen in a special election held with the 2014 general election. Should Nielsen win the House race, North Liberty will have its fourth mayor in the same four year term.

The House 77 race is just about the only game in town for the local Republicans. The core party activists are not keen on Trump. Dave Loebsack is for the first time listed as a solid favorite, and state Republicans will be too busy trying to save David Young and Rod Blum to waste time playing offense for ex-Libertarian Christopher Peters. So it's Royce Phillips and Chuck Grassley.

I'm still a little sore about Rob Hogg's loss so I'm not going to write things about Patty Judge that I'll regret later. I don't, however, regret anything negative I say about Tom Fiegen. Hogg, like Monica Vernon two years ago, emerges from a loss with his stature increased. But for now, the DC players have what they want, which is a Name that they can shortlist for last minute money if the Hillary landslide over Trump turns into a downballot wave.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tweet Storm in Post Format: Open Primaries




The problem is that each STATE chooses how to conduct its own primary. And those state laws have to get through whichever legislature and whatever governor they have.

So the DNC can SAY Open Primaries Only, but that has no binding power over Terry Branstad or the Iowa House Republicans. Or, for that matter, over the Iowa Senate Democrats. Just like the parties can set a nomination calendar, but states can break the rules and usually get away with it (which is why we caucused on January 3 in 2008 and 2012). In fact, Florida Democrats used this as an excuse for their against the rules primary date in 2008: We didn't WANT to break the rules, the Republicans made us.

Superdelegates? That's a more realistic reform, because that the DNC can deliver on its own.