Mogul ski runs usually happen by accident.
The jutting of a left knee contrasts downward force of a right. A skier flows through a sine wave down the hill.
More people unintentionally cut nearly the same wave from the top of the mountain — packing snow underneath their skis. Over time, gravity pulls more and more skiers into the same waves, which become carved into the landscape. Small hills form around the paths where the snow remains untouched. Without conscious intention, the process continues until the hill becomes a mogul field — small, white islands in a lattice of riverbeds.
Moguls are hard to ski. They require quick knees and more than a bit of tenacity. From the chairlifts, watching unskilled skiers tumble in them is a pastime for all.
Caucuses have a bit in common with mogul fields — they’re an antique pattern states have fallen into. The meetings to pick presidential nominees are supposed to be used as times for grassroots dialogue and debate before each individual votes. Caucuses are usually reserved for experts, but they each have a significant population that thinks being headstrong is enough to take them on.
On Tuesday, I attended a caucus at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa hoping for some students to talk to. Not surprisingly, there weren’t many in the crowd of about 200 because they’re still on break.
The frenzy of a nonstop press cycle fooled me into believing the caucuses themselves are exciting. I thought the buildup would culminate in intelligent debate from Iowans. While sitting behind the red rope separating observers from caucus-goers, I realized how wrong I was.
It began a little after 7 p.m. The caucus chair, a Drake sophomore, asked for nominees to speak on behalf of each candidate. Speakers representing former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum, Rep. Paul and former House Speaker Gingrich emerged. Of those who spoke, only the Gingrich and Paul representatives seemed prepared — the woman caucusing for Romney admitted she hadn’t planned on being the speaker that evening.
A bowl was passed up and down the rows filled with votes written on slips of paper. The caucus organizers took the makeshift ballots to a corner and counted. An older organizer accidentally announced inaccurate results before the caucus chair stopped him.
The real results were announced, and within minutes the room was down to about twenty people in seats and a handful more trapped in the room by pouncing reporters. My watch read 7:45.
There was no debate. Not a word about Rep. Bachmann, Texas Gov. Perry or former Utah Gov. Huntsman. Their few supporters at the Drake were left without any voice in the proceedings. Those who did speak didn’t even use all of their five-minute slots and had little substance or hard facts on their candidate’s platform. There was no chance that predecided voters heard anything to change their vote. More importantly, undecided voters weren’t given convincing arguments to choose a candidate. And isn’t that the whole point?
For a country obsessed with electronic and manual election fraud, caucus-goers are given a lot of trust. Anyone could have dropped in more than one paper slip. The count took place in the corner by people who had just declared their allegiance to a candidate. There are no recounts in the Iowa caucuses — what happens, happens.
Those I spoke to at the Drake caucus said how great caucuses are because voters get to mingle and talk to each other. The press loves that story. It’s part of the caucuses’ charm. I’m not sure, however, what they were referring to besides the speakers.
Yes, it was quaint, personal and definitely grassroots. But, the proceedings were unprofessional and, more importantly, not educational for voters.
Caucuses exclude voters who aren’t available at a certain time instead of the relative freedom of primary elections. The early Iowa caucus excludes students and those serving overseas. A study from the University of Texas concluded caucuses do worse than primaries in ensuring proper demographic representation.
The anecdotal continuance of caucuses isn’t beneficial to voters — that’s why a majority of states have gotten rid of them. We’ve accidentally built them into mogul fields, and each year we pound the snow down tighter.
— Andrew Weiner can be reached at email@example.com.