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Note: Legitimate Absenteeism: The Unconstitutionality of the Caucus Attendance Requirement

By Heather R. Abraham. Full text here.

Dubbed by the Washington Post as “undemocratic,” the caucus system for selecting delegates to national party presidential nominating conventions tends to disenfranchise identifiable factions of voters, including deployed service members, religious observers, persons with disabilities or in poor health, students who attend school away from home, and shift workers unable to leave work during caucus hours. The Note contends that eligible party voters have the constitutional right to vote in their political parties’ caucuses without being physically present. It presents three central constitutional arguments that raise doubts about the constitutionality of the physical attend­ance requirement of many state party caucuses: first, that the attendance requirement may violate the First Amendment associational rights of voters; second, that it may breach Fourteenth Amendment equal protection of the right to vote; and third, that it may constitute an unconstitutional poll tax. The Note proposes four alternatives to the present caucus system that could eliminate or mitigate the potential unconstitutionality of the physical attendance requirement. Additionally, it examines which actors are best situated to reform caucuses. It concludes that the most effective avenues toward reform are an associational rights judicial challenge or congressional legislation.