...Well, "story" might be a little strong. I wrote a 1500 word scenelette about Twilight learning a little bit about the ineffable wonders of representative democracy, firsthoof. What's described is actually closer to how Iowa democrats run their caucuses, despite me using republican names (they make for better name puns, it turns out). If that doesn't sound completely awful to you, check it out below the break!
“Welp, thanks for helping with that, Twi,” said Applejack, nodding happily at the pile of papers stacked neatly in front of her. “It’s seven o’clock, so registration’s over! All that’s left here’s a little timekeeping. You can head on home, if you like. I reckon it’ll be late before they’re done, and there’s nothing left to do that I need any help with.”
“Actually,” Twilight said, “I’d like to stick around and watch, if you don’t mind.” Applejack raised an eyebrow at that, so Twilight continued, “I mean, I don’t know anything about how cows elect their leaders! I’d like to stay and learn, if it’s okay.”
The two were standing at the entrance to Applejack’s barn, at a table laden with sign-in sheets and records. For the past two hours, they had been processing the steady trickle of cows and bulls: matching names to lists, and helping first-timers register to participate. It wasn’t hard work, but Applejack had asked Twilight to help her out “on account of you being my go-to mare for anything paperwork-y,” and Twilight had been happy to oblige. Now, there were over a hundred bovines gathered inside, ready to begin their quadrennial voting tradition.
Applejack looked inside at the milling crowd, and back to Twilight, who was practically beaming with anticipation. Twilight’s smile brought a matching one to Applejack’s lips; she’d seen that smile many times before. She’d never before met a pony who could be so pleased by the simple prospect of learning something new.
“Well, shucks,” she said, “of course you’re welcome to stay. I gotta warn you, though, it can be a mite boring.”
Twilight’s smile didn’t falter. “Oh, I’m sure it will be fantastically educational!” Her cheeks flushed a bit. “And, uh, I thought that, if I’m going to be a princess, I should probably start learning about other species’ politics.”
Applejack chuckled. “Whatever you say there, Princess.” Twilight’s blush deepened. “Now c’mon, let’s head inside and close the doors.”
Applejack was right. It was boring.
“So… do they eventually start, you know, voting?” Twilight eventually asked. So far, all the cows had done was huddle in small clumps, chatting amongst themselves.
Applejack shifted slightly in her seat, trying to find a more comfortable way to rest her haunches on a stool that had never been designed with comfort in mind. “This ain’t an election proper, Twi. The cows don’t just show up and vote. At a cowcus, they—” she paused as Twilight snrked. “Something funny?”
Twilight tried to cover her giggle with a cough, but failed. “No, of course not, it’s just… a cowcus? Do they really call it that?”
Applejack rolled her eyes, but smiled. “Yup. I reckon they don’t realize how silly it sounds. Hey, you know what they call their governmental charter?”
Twilight shook her head.
Both girls laughed. Luckily, nocow seemed to be paying them any mind, and their laughter hardly stood out above the dozens of simultaneous conversations filling the barn.
“Oh, goodness,” Twilight said. “I really don’t know enough about cows. Do they name everything after themselves?”
Applejack nodded. “Hard to imagine an intelligent race not seeing how silly it sounds, but there you go.” She finally gave up on the stool and stood, leaning herself against the door. “So, I take it you don’t know anything about how these cowcuses are run, then?”
Twilight nodded, looking slightly embarrassed. “I guess I just assumed that voting was voting.”
“Well, lemme give you a run-down. Right now, the cows are all discussing the cowndidates—”
Twilight giggled again. “Really? How can they possibly take themselves seriously when everything is a pun like that. It would be like it we called Canterlot ‘Ponylot!’”
“That would be pretty silly, I admit.” Applejack cleared her throat. “Anyway, they discuss the cowndidates first, and once everycow’s pretty well settled on who they’re backing, they’ll have the vote proper.”
“So, who’s running?”
“Well, there’re more than a dozen folks running to be Cowmander in—”
Applejack waited until Twilight got her breath back.
“It’s really not that funny, Twi.”
“I know, I know,” said Twilight, wiping a tear away. “But… oh my goodness, is everything a cow-something with them?”
“...So, there’s a buncha folks running to be Cowmander in Chief, but there’re only a couple that’re likely to do very well tonight. First off, ya got…” she trailed off. “Actually, hold that thought, Twi. Looks like it’s about time to kick this thing off.”
The two girls watched as several of the cows moved toward the edges of the barn, where they picked up hoof-scrawled signs with the names of various politicians on them. The room briefly quieted down, as cows stopped talking and trotted to whichever sign-holder they preferred. Twilight noticed that most of them seemed to be congregating around two sign-holders in particular.
“So, they don’t do a ballot? They just count who’s standing where?” she asked.
“It’s a little more complicated than that. One second…” Applejack stomped her hoof a few times, and all the cowcussers turned their attention to her. “The viability cut-off is sixteen! Cutoff’s in fifteen minutes!” she shouted. Immediately, the volume level shot up, as cows started shouting back and forth at each other. Twilight looked on in bemusement.
Applejack leaned back against the wall. “See, this cowcus gets to nominate a certain number of delegates, and those delegates are divided up based on which cowndidate gets the most cows standing under his name,” Applejack glanced at Twilight to make sure she was following along, “But the delegates are only divided between cowndidates that get at least fifteen percent of the vote in here.”
“So they need sixteen cows under a name,” said Twilight. “Okay.” She looked over the clumps of bovines spread throughout the room. “Looks like only two of them are anywhere close.”
“Yup.” Applejack gestured toward the largest group. “That there’s the group for Dewlap Trump. He’s real big on strong fences. He’s promised to build bigger walls around all the cowpens, and he says he’s gonna make the ponies pay for them.”
“Why would ponies agree pay for new walls around cowpens?” Asked Twilight.
“I dunno, but apparently it’s a popular issue in the herd. And that,” she pointed at the other large group, “is the crowd that’s for Bruise Cruise.”
Twilight quirked an eyebrow. “Wait, did you say ‘Bruise Cruise?’ As in, the minotaur politician?”
Applejack nodded. “He’s real popular with the voters, as you can see, but there’s some talk that he might not be a natural-born cow.”
“He isn’t. He’s a minotaur.”
“Well, that’s for the courts to decide.”
“I really don’t think it is.”
Applejack shrugged. “Well, all I can tell you is that him and Dewlap are running neck and neck.”
Twilight looked at the other groups, seeing a number yelling back and forth. “So, that’s it? Those two are going to split the delegates?”
“Oh, no! First, all these cows supporting nonviable cowndidates get a chance to join together. Like, that group’s got more’n a dozen cows already, so they’ll probably try to pick up a few votes from one of the smaller groups that won’t meet the threshold anyway. Then, once they’ve had fifteen minutes to meet the threshold, any remaining nonviable groups will be eliminated, and all their supporters will be free to vote for whichever viable cowndidate they want. Then, once everybody’s voted the way they want, we’ll divide up the delegates proportionately, and each group will vote on which cows it wants to be its delegates. Then, those delegates will go to the regional cowcus in a couple of months and do the same thing all over again with other cows who’re nominated by their cowcusses, and then the delegates from that cowcus will go to the national cownvention this summer, and vote one more time with cows from all over the country.”
Twilight blinked hard. “They do all that just to pick a head of state?”
“Naw, they do all that to select one of the cows who gets to run for Cowmander in Chief. Once they do all this, then they start the actual election.” Applejack shook her head. “I thought pigs were messy, but they’ve got nothing on democracy.”
Twilight scrunched up her nose. “That sounds ridiculously convoluted.”
Applejack smirked. “Yup, I reckon you’re right. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of a sillier way to pick your rulers.” She paused just a moment. “Well, except maybe for lifetime appointments for anypony who invents a new kinda magic.”
Twilight stammered, then blushed, then paused on the tip of saying something. Instead, she looked back at the cows. A hundred and more, all yelling back and forth, trying to get an arbitrary number of their fellows to stand in the same part of a barn on a cold February night.
Slowly, she smiled. “You know, maybe it’s not the silliest way,” she said.