It’s hard to beat the caucus. Ted Moorman did it to win his first term four years ago. Running as an individual, he was able to concentrate all non-caucus votes sufficiently to overcome the least-popular caucus candidate. But he is the exception.
The recent election presented the voters of District 115 with two complete slates. Voters could more readily distinguish between the slates than between the candidates – they tended to vote for either all of the first four or all of the final four. Sure, there was some cross-over. Dave Lane was the least desired of the caucus (first four) candidates and Jennifer Neubauer was the most desired of the final four.
But look at the numbers: The four caucus candidates got 3,742, 3,734, 3,661 and 3,590 votes and the final four candidates got 1,465, 1,412, 1,345 and 1,334 votes. In other words, the caucus candidates got an average of 3,682 votes and the final four candidates got an average of 1,389 votes, and each individual candidate received votes within 100 of his slate average. There was not much cross-over.
So it is fair to say that the caucus slate received about 13 votes for every 5 votes cast for the final four slate, as pictured by the graphic above.
The winner-take-all influence of the caucus system has resulted in a 7-member school board that is all caucus-nominated, with no minority representation. James Madison warned of the “tyranny of the majority” (two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner) but the functioning of the caucus imposes just that tyranny.
The Founding Fathers knew something about tyranny. They spent two minutes deciding that we should vote occasionally and 15 years defining minority protections. That is why we have a president instead of a king, a bicameral legislature, an independent judiciary and the Bill of Rights.
I suppose a caucus apologist would defend its gate-keeper function by claiming that any individual could appeal for caucus endorsement. But that doesn’t really change anything – it just closets the deliberation. The function of the caucus is still to prevent the electorate from making direct individual choices.
I have some experience with that practice. A year ago, Chris Collins (then and now president of the Lake Forest Caucus) contacted me as President of the Lake Bluff School Caucus to discuss the high school board. I responded with a suggested policy statement about how the two caucuses divide the nominations.
When we met at a restaurant on March 15th last year, he opened with, “I have talked with Reese Marcusson, LFHS Board President, so I know who he wants.” Every time I tried to talk about process, he returned to personalities. In the end, he did not agree to any process and I did not agree to any personalities. It was a short meeting.
I think all this talk about vetting is just a rationalization. Many among us believe the true purpose of the caucus is to reduce conflict. They fail to appreciate the virtue of conflict.Elections are the democratic vehicle for resolving conflict. The electorate should be the entity to consider the candidates, not some inner circle of some caucus, and certainly not two guys in a restaurant.
Lake Bluff has made great strides in the right direction. The Lake Bluff School Caucus consisted of 18 unelected individuals. It was replaced this election by a town meeting format where 281 votes were cast and all district voters were welcome. It was possible for minorities to be heard.
For every 13 caucus voters there were 5 final-four voters. That is a significant minority that will go unrepresented on the 7-member high school board.
Donald E. Russ
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