Louisiana’s Muddled, Confusing, Inexplicable Version of “Democracy”

This is the first entry in what may become a Trailhead series called “The Neglected” on primaries and caucuses nobody cares about.

If you thought the Iowa caucuses were undemocratic , then you obviously aren’t a Louisiana Republican.

On Tuesday night, more than 10,000 Louisiana Republicans got together to talk about whom they wanted to be president. For some context: 4.3 million people (Republicans and Democrats) live in Louisiana, and it’s safe to assume that at least half may be inclined to vote Republican. The 10,000-person caucus, therefore, encompasses well below 0.5 percent of the party. The low turnout can partly be blamed on Louisiana’s paltry number of caucus sites. Its 11 sites pale in comparison with Iowa’s 1,784 locations. (To be fair, Iowa is a larger, less dense state—but not 150 times larger.)

But here’s the thing—their Tuesday night vote didn’t actually select a nominee. The 10,000-plus people merely chose delegates for the state convention—and the winning delegate body didn’t even represent a specific candidate. “Pro-life uncommitted” won the Louisiana state caucuses , which means every Republican besides Rudy Giuliani has a chance of getting those delegates because the delegates will remain uncommitted until the state convention later this year. At the state convention, a select number of delegates will be chosen to go to the national convention to represent Louisiana. They’ll have to commit to a candidate before they do that.

There are further complications to this process, by the way. This year, delegates decided to make things even more confusing by running on more than one platform at once (this usually doesn’t happen). So, for example, some of those pro-life uncommitted delegates also explicitly supported John McCain. Reason would suggest that if you were uncommitted, that means you wouldn’t be allowed to commit to any of the candidates, but we obviously left rationality behind about three paragraphs ago. So, among the candidate-committed delegates, John McCain won the most votes , followed by Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.

We could go into what this says about their efforts in the state or what this says about their chances in other Southern states, but why bother? It should come as no surprise by now, but Louisiana’s delegate landscape might be blown up in two weeks. In an act of democratic polygamy, the state has a primary on Feb. 9. The primary abides by a traditional statewide, one-person-one-vote system, which you may remember from such classic grade-school concepts as “American democracy” and “representative government.”

But, alas, it’s not actually that simple. If Louisiana Republicans throw more than 50 percent of their support behind one candidate in the primary, then whatever limited importance the caucuses had is drained even further. That’s because if Louisiana rallies behind one candidate to give him a majority of the vote, 20 of the state’s 47 national convention delegates automatically go to that candidate . That, obviously, limits the number of national delegates that can be selected from the caucus-created state delegate reservoir.

So, while we know what’s happening in the bayou, it still remains a mystery (which should come as no surprise, considering this is Louisiana politics). There are even more complications involving provisional ballots and preliminary results, but we thought we’d be kind and spare you those details.