On the 24th of this month, Rhode Island Republicans go to the polls for primary day. In a long and often surprising election season, one thing we can count on is that the Rhode Island votes won’t matter. This is not a knock on the party, but a simple statement of fact. Romney will likely take the primary in a walk, Obama is a lock to win our deep blue state in the general, and no candidate much cares about our paltry delegate count anyway. So go ahead and vote your conscience, Republicans, because it’s pretty much all you’ve got.
This election, like all, will illustrate so much of what’s wrong with our democratic process: the pandering hysteria of campaign rhetoric, the divisiveness of wedge issues and party politics, the corrupting influence of money, the apathy of voters. The general election will bring the usual cries about the need for campaign finance reform and the abolishment of the electoral college, but let’s not overlook what the primaries teach us about the corruption, perversion, inefficiency and futility of our electoral process.
As I write this, Mitt Romney has just handily won the Illinois primary. While the overwhelming odds still point to him earning the nomination, the how and when of that are increasingly hard to answer. Challengers Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich recognize that they can’t overtake the former governor in the delegate count, and instead are campaigning to deny him the 1144 votes needed to secure victory, forcing a brokered convention. This long, slow, often surprising battle for the soul of the Republican Party has become the story of the 2012 election thus far, but it has unfortunately eclipsed the lesson to be learned about the innate ridiculousness of this entire process.
The march to the nomination is an unnecessarily complex and convoluted obstacle course of primaries, caucuses, delegate apportionments, media markets, election laws, balloting, political climates. That chaos all but ensures that the results will only marginally, if at all, reflect the will of the majority and only vaguely resemble a functioning democracy. We slavishly accept silly, distracting and unproductive contrivances like the supposed importance of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, in which early and decisive wins by the right candidate can place a full 50% of the entire country’s choices for president in the hands of a tiny cross section of party loyalists in two small, demographically homogeneous states, or Missouri’s “popularity contest” primary, in which Santorum gets to declare victory without a single delegate at stake.
All of this leads up to the party convention in Tampa, where, if no candidate has secured the 1144 delegates needed to win outright, convention floor horse trading and backroom deals could result in a nominee that voters didn’t actually choose, rendering the prior eight months moot. While the nominee remains in doubt, the true result of primary season has been assured since day one: a grand, grotesque farce that has little if anything to do with healthy democracy.