The Iowa caucuses bear only a faint resemblance to democracy . In primary elections, citizens have all day to vote (and outside the U.S., Election Day is often a holiday, which boosts turnout even further). But in Iowa, you must arrive at your precinct caucus site at exactly 6:30 p.m. and stay for several hours, which virtually bars people who work at night. There are no absentee ballots, and voting is not secret–people often raise their hands to show whom they support. As a result, while the percentage of registered voters who participate in the New Hampshire primary generally hovers around 50 percent (except when the incumbent president is running unopposed), the corresponding figure for Iowa is often closer to 10 or 20 percent…

In the Democratic Party, unfortunately, Barack Obama has breathed life into the caucuses, because it was his win there that propelled him to victory over Hillary Clinton. (One of the less-remarked-upon—and less-admirable–features of the early Obama campaign was its heavy emphasis on caucuses, where Obama could rack up lots of delegates without winning that many actual votes). In the GOP, however, there is some prospect that Iowa may finally be wearing out its welcome. In 2008, John McCain basically skipped the caucuses, and went on to win the nomination nonetheless. If Mitt Romney did the same, it might send the Iowa system into the death spiral it so richly deserves.