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Flawed caucus system caters to the extreme and parties fail to connect

Ely Echo - Staff Photo - Create Article
DFL Caucus-goes raise their hands to vote on an issue at Tuesday’s event held at Vermilion Community College.

If history is any indication, Ely area voters will turn out in droves this November.

The last time a presidential election was on the ballot, more than 3,700 local residents cast ballots, including almost 2,000 in Ely and another 1,700 plus in Winton and three area townships: Morse, Fall Lake and Eagles Nest.

But anyone expecting that voter engagement translates into interest in what Congressman Pete Stauber called the “on ramp” to the current election season - this week’s precinct caucuses - was in for a giant disappointment.

Barely 60 people turned out on the Vermilion campus of Minnesota North College as Democrats and Republicans took the first steps toward electing delegates, selecting candidates and formulating their respective party platforms.

When one does the math, that’s fewer than two percent of election participants.

The abysmal turnout is an obvious signal of disconnect, one between the large majority of voters and the two major parties.

Precinct caucuses by design require more effort than voting and it’s doubtful they’d ever attract numbers anywhere close to general election turnout, but when 98-to-99 out of every 100 voters ignore them entirely, that’s a problem.

Through the years, we’ve seen both parties move to the fringes rather than the center, and that seems to be the direct result of the caucus process where so many are left out.

Only the very engaged seem to be participating at the grassroots level, and the result are positions and resolutions that may play well to the base but have little hope of ever attracting enough support to become reality.

When one side wants to ban copper-nickel mining in the region and further restrict gun rights, and the other is talking about prohibiting critical race theory and voting machines, it’s not hard to see why the vast majority stay home and watch TV or surf the internet.

The tugs of their respective parties can also put elected officials in difficult spots.

After winning by a mere 15 votes two years ago, State Rep. Roger Skraba would have a hard time towing the caucus line when he’s out stumping for votes this summer and fall in what figures to be a very close election campaign. State Sen. Grant Hauschild, who just recently bucked many in his party by coming out against sanctuary state legislation, faces similar difficulties.

In some ways, it’s a chicken-and-egg situation.

It’s clear both parties need a little more pragmatism and vision to compromise to appeal more to the mainstream voters, yet mainstream voters aren’t likely to participate in the process - if they see the process as meaningless and controlled by the extremes.

Until something changes, the parties are stuck with what they have now: a system that appeals to a dwindling few and has little connection to what ultimately becomes law.

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