This is what democracy looks like?

/ 18 June 2017

I am still processing yesterday’s Saint Paul and DFL convention, and I must say the intervening day hasn’t made it feel any better. We say that the party process helps us to select the best candidates, those who most reflect our DFL values, those with the best chance of winning office. I’ve heard people argue against the primary process because it allows the unwashed masses to dilute the party. Personally, I value primary challenges because they strengthen our candidates. Still, I understand the value of party endorsement, and conventions are a relatively participatory way to produce an endorsement.

What really bothered me yesterday was that the convention appeared to be designed to make sure that no endorsement for the mayoral candidate resulted. In particular, the rules committee proposed a set of rules that would have made an endorsement very difficult. The convention body selected an alternative set of rules, more likely to result in an endorsement, offered by a minority report from the rules committee. But then that alternative set of rules was further amended so that the convention ended up with a hard stop time of 7pm.

As anyone who’s been around this kind of process for a while realizes, a hard stop is simply an encouragement for those who want no action to spend their time postponing matters. The adoption of the 7pm stop time virtually ensured that the convention would end up deadlocked and without an endorsement. And that is what happened.

The only point of holding a convention is to endorse a candidate. Designing a convention’s rules to avoid endorsement is designing a convention to waste everybody’s time. The first four hours of yesterday’s convention was spent arguing about the rules. In all the convention spent 10 hours of people’s time on a beautiful Saturday doomed to fail in it’s purpose. That was a disservice to everyone. Yes, I realize we did endorse three school board candidates in a single ballot. But the big race was the mayor’s race, and our failure to endorse in that race is an indictment of the convention process.

The Saint Paul DFL was not courageous enough to allow even its own small democratic process to play out in its convention. I believe that the adoption of ranked choice voting, along with appropriate technology to count those ranked choice ballots quickly, is a better alternative for democracy today than primaries. But even with ranked choice voting, an endorsement is a valuable asset for a candidate. We should be ashamed of ourselves in the Saint Paul DFL, that we could not design a convention that was able to produce an endorsement. I am particularly ashamed that we wasted so much of so many people’s time, and left them with such a bad taste of what our democracy looks like.

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