Last Week Tonight stepped in to help clear up the confusion surrounding the electoral process in the United States in their main segment last night. Before brilliantly discussing the convoluted system involving primaries and caucuses, delegates and superdelegates, host John Oliver and the team at Last Week Tonight covered a few other things going on in the world last week.
The show kicked off by talking about the civil unrest currently facing Venezuela, "north South America". The country's economy is currently collapsing, causing food and medicine shortages around the country. The country's president has threatened to jail business owners who are forced to close their factories, and has opted to put money in military exercises rather than addressing the shortage of necessities for the country's citizens. This has caused twelve days of clashes between the police and pro-government groups, and the citizens of Venezuela who are suffering.
Oliver also addressed the current "political scandal" facing Canada and the supposed end of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's "honeymoon" with the people. Earlier this week there was a situation in the House of Commons, where members of the socialist New Democrat Party were physically blocking a Conservative member from voting on an incredibly important political issue: a proposed assisted dying bill. Trudeau strode over and attempted to grab the Conservative Member of Parliament in an effort to the issue moving. In the process of grabbing the Conservative member, he elbowed one of the NDP members standing in the way. This has caused a huge uproar in Canada, one that has resulted in no less than four apologies issued by Trudeau, and has distracted the entire country from discussing that incredibly important bill.
The main segment concerned presidential primaries and caucuses, and it's incredibly well timed. The electoral process has been getting a lot of attention, especially this year, for seemingly making no sense whatsoever. The delegate process can often mean that despite a nominee receiving more votes in one state, they will receive fewer delegates than their opponent. It is, as Oliver said, "an erratic clusterfuck" of a process. Even Donald Trump, "a brushfire in human form", was outraged by this process, quite accurately pointing out how absurd it is that he can win a state, but then see his opponent be awarded more delegates. As Oliver pointed out "there's no clearer piece of evidence that our system is broken, no more thoroughly dead canary in the coal mine than when Donald Trump is actually making sense".
In order to help explain this confusing and seemingly pointless process, Oliver discussed the history of primaries and caucuses. They are a relatively new type of beast, created a mere 50 years ago. Prior to that, nominees were decided by party insiders at a convention, but this system changed when a man who hadn't even competed for nominee was elected at a Democratic convention. Since then, this incredibly hard to understand system has been in place.
What makes it even more confusing is that not all states handle this process the same. While some states have primaries, others have caucuses. Caucuses can be difficult for party members to attend, meaning that many don't get a chance to vote. This makes primaries the more attractive way to vote on your party's nominee, right? Well, not exactly. In certain areas, such as Washington, there are both caucuses and primaries. The Democrats have actually never paid attention to the primary, meaning that those votes literally don't count.
In addition to all of this, the way the delegates get divided up is also incredibly convoluted. In the primary, voters don't directly choose their candidate, they choose their delegates who will then vote for the candidate at the national convention. Simply put, "the arcane party structures don't reflect how most people assume presidential selection works", which is essentially the root of most of the confusions surrounding the electoral process. Competitions, regardless of their nature, need to have clear and transparent rules.
Oliver then discussed how each party can tip the scales. With respect to the Democratic party, there are superdelegates. Superdelegates are elected officials, former presidents, and a variety of Democratic elites that are "unpledged", meaning they can vote for whomever they want without regard to who may have won in their state. Despite assertions to the contrary, superdelegates can step in and change the direction of the nomination process if they don't like the leader that may be chosen.
Republicans also have their own way of "diluting" this process. In many states, they only need to reflect their party's choice in the first round of votes, and can change their vote in subsequent rounds. In Pennsylvania, for example, these delegates don't even need to reflect the party's choice in the first round, but also don't need to express who they are going to vote for. This can result in people voting for a delegate, but having no idea which candidate the delegate will eventually select. In other states, such as North Dakota, they did away with primaries and caucuses altogether, and just had the party directly appoint delegates themselves.
The system is in clear need of reform. But this means that the American people need to get angry about it at a time when they're not caught up in the middle. Once a nominee has been selected, people tend to move on. Even Trump, who was so fired up about the broken system earlier this year, no longer cares. After all, he won, so what does it matter now?
Last Week Tonight proposes that Americans collectively pick a date to actually do something about the anger they feel about the system and email the leader of each party to ask them, politely, "to fix this". Oliver suggested February 2, Groundhog Day, as the date these emails go out. His reason: "unless this primary process is fixed we are all destined to live through the same nightmare scenario over and over again until the end of fucking time".
Canada, what you get if America and Britain had a baby and abandoned it in the snow.
I guess that's a brawl by Canadian standards. Although in New York, we just call that 'shopping at Trader Joe's'.
Stammering out an apology that goes on to receive a standing ovation - that clip may as well just be the new Canadian national anthem.
The electoral foreplay we've been engaging in since February which will culminate in the mass balloon ejaculations of this summer's conventions.
We have voting booths for the same reason Friendly's has restaurant booths: so that we can have relative privacy while we choose from a deeply unappetizing menu.
Last Week Tonight is taking next Sunday off, presumably to get an early start on Memorial Day celebrations, but will return the following week with a new episode. You can watch the main segment on primaries and caucuses below.