A little over a week ago, the Young Republican National Federation held its convention in Miami. I attended, and therefore had an opportunity to see just what went on in relation to the presidential Straw Poll that was held.
A couple of readers have written to me to ask whether I was there for the Straw Poll, what I saw, and generally what went on. Although this is basically reporting things that happened more than a week ago (which I am usually loath to do), since this was a big deal and something that honestly really upset me, I'm happy to oblige on this occasion.
First of all, many of you will have seen the various bits of coverage regarding what occurred. The general overview, as reported on a wide array of blogs, and in the mainstream press, is this: a presidential straw poll, being conducted in the context of a Young Republican Convention (i.e., a convention of Republicans between the ages of 18 and 40, not 12 and 90), was conducted in what was an absolutely shambolic spectacle of vote-rigging and electoral dodgy dealing.
For those who haven't read it, I would urge you to check out my friend's blog, where he sets out nine things that went majorly wrong with the straw poll. But, in summary, here was what I experienced, and observed.
First of all, one of the people organizing the straw poll (who conveniently happens to be a big-time Romney supporter) told several of us that only delegates to the convention, alternates, or people who had otherwise registered for the entire convention (at a cost of about $200) would be eligible to vote in it. Later, we found out that people who showed up only for the dinner (which was open to anyone in the public-- Republican or not, Young or not, and so on), at a much lower cost, I think about $100) would be allowed to vote in the straw poll.
The result of that? There were literally hundreds of people easily over the age of sixty-five, most of them wearing Romney stickers and other paraphernalia, who went ahead and voted in what was a straw poll that was associated with a Young Republican event.
Here's some photographic evidence that plenty of Old Republicans, and not just (or even mainly) Young Republicans, voted in the straw poll:
Here's some more, which I took using my friend's camera, and which he then posted at his site:
There are about 20 more pictures just like this (but with different collections of older people, many of them grouped together on tables) that I took. Overall, I would estimate that at least 25% of those who voted in the straw poll were not under the age of 40. Here's some footage that reinforces that conclusion:
Now, we can argue about whether, since YRNC was essentially supposed to be a fundraiser and the objective was obviously to make money, not to run an election that would be immune from fraud, it made sense to let people who paid to attend the dinner to vote-- regardless of what that did to the (lack of) credibility of the poll in question. Personally, I think when a straw poll is associated with a Young Republican event, it's just plain stupid to let people who aren't Young Republicans vote in it. Even if the straw poll is being run separately, it is associated with the event, and does not offer an accurate portrayal by any stretch of the imagination of what Young Republicans are thinking if a bunch of old men are comprising 25% of the relevant electorate.
But, more to the point, here's what upset me about the fact that Senior Republicans were allowed to vote: those of us who were concerned about how the straw poll would be run (this was done in Broward County, Florida, don't forget) were specifically told that dinner-only attendees would not be allowed to vote, and then it turned out that we were totally misled by the people who told us that-- who, of course, are members of Team Romney, which populated up the dinner and thereby the pro-Romney section of the relevant electorate.
I was also upset that on the back of assurances that only delegates, alternates and those registered for the full convention would be allowed to vote, several of us who had been backing a resolution calling on those running the straw poll to bifurcate (i.e., split) the straw poll results in half, to show who the dinner-only guests preferred, and who actual delegates and alternates at the convention preferred, yanked the resolution. Basically, it was apparent that the people in charge of the straw poll were a) too thick to be able to discern what rules applied and tell us what they were with any modicum of accuracy, b) lying about the rules in order to get a messy resolution yanked off of the convention floor-- or, c) maybe just making the rules up as they went along.
Because of a threat that was leveled at me personally by a Romney supporter-- and it was a big one, I can promise you-- I went along with the decision to yank the resolution. I wish in hindsight that I'd had the cojones not to be threatened into doing something that turned out to be a big mistake at the end of the day, but hey, you live and learn-- especially in politics. But I wish I'd learned sooner, i.e., before the end of the convention, what the effect of non-pursuit of that resolution was.
Not only was the result of the straw poll completely screwed up because of old people voting in it, but it was also screwed up because of those overseeing the process allowing at least one person to vote at least three separate times (if it happened with that one person, I'd like to know if it happened with others, too-- my guess is yes). It was also screwed up because, according to one delegate, someone associated with Romney was out on the street, physically pulling people in who had not even attended the dinner, and getting them to vote (presumably for his candidate). It was also screwed up because several people who attended the dinner, but who were not Romney supporters, were not allowed to vote (while all the old people, who had bought dinner tickets only, and who had Romney stickers plastered all over them mysteriously got to vote).
What I learned from the whole experience? If Mitt can buy an election, he will. You can bet your life on it.
Fortunately, straw polls aren't real life, and so this experience should not be replicated in the course of the 2008 primaries...