Sunday was a disappointing day for democracy in Maine. Even for those pleased with the outcome of the Democratic caucus, the chaos and disorganization of the event left many voters frustrated.
At Brunswick Junior High School, the site of the Brunswick caucus, Bowdoin students joined more than 1,000 local residents in lines that filled hallways and poured outdoors into the heavy snow. The scene in the gymnasium was no better. People received confusing directions and found it nearly impossible to navigate through the mayhem. Some voters waited more than two hours just to register.
The logistical complications of this year's caucus should give Maine a reason to reconsider primaries, which were abandoned after 2000. The caucus is an antiquated system whose merits no longer apply to our democracy today. In the past, the system provided an important forum for lively debate among neighbors, but in this age of accessible information, voters no longer rely on caucus-day speeches to learn about candidates' platforms.
Nonetheless, many continue to idealize the caucus as democracy in its purest form, failing to acknowledge that caucuses are actually less democratic than primaries. The bedlam at Brunswick Junior High School on Sunday demonstrated the challenges that the conditions and time commitment posed for certain members of our community. Elderly voters waited in the snow, while those parents who made it inside struggled to keep their children calm during the long delay. Others, who did not have the time to wait until registration was completed, left the caucus before getting the chance to vote.
The absence of the secret ballot also robs us of one of our most basic democratic rights: to cast a vote without fear of intimidation. It is likely that some of us feel uncomfortable when we are forced to make decisions in front of our neighbors, professors, coworkers, and supervisors. The right to political privacy is rooted deeply in our democratic heritage.
Numbers alone suggest that Mainers prefer the primary system to the caucus. While statewide attendance at this year's Democratic caucuses was high, it is still lower than the number of ballots cast in 2000 when Maine used primaries.
For many Bowdoin students, Sunday's event was their first time caucusing, or even voting. Bowdoin's presence was felt by all as enthusiastic students served as volunteers, campaigned for candidates, or simply came to honor their civic duty. But excitement waned as time elapsed. The caucus proved to be a let-down for many exasperated students.
While we do not expect civic engagement to be fun or easy, we do not think that exercising our democratic rights should cause such an undue burden.