February 5, 2008

Went to Caucus, Came Home a Delegate

"What the heck is a caucus," I asked myself awhile ago when it finally registered in my brain that Colorado was no longer doing primaries for some types of candidates...like the president of the United States. So I did some googling (internet searching for those of you that don't use google as a verb). I kind of gathered that caucusing was where a group of people in the same party (and precinct) get together in a room and peer pressure each other into voting for a potential candidate. Well...not exactly, it turns out. So here's what happened when I went to caucus this evening:

Step 1: Showed up at the neighborhood school where I usually go to vote since that's where I was told to go to for the caucus meeting and promptly determined that I was in the right place. Whew! I was pointed to the cafeteria and told to go to the last table to sign in for the meeting.

Step 2: Chat with a few people and found out that I needed to sign an official form indicating that I was there, but had to wait until the list showing my voter ID number came around with it. Of course, there were lots of sign in sheets, but only one list of voter ID's. Mild frustration bubbles below the surface of the crowd. Also, we're told that after the rules of caucusing are read that we might go to another room. So...hurry up and wait. That's when I commenced to taking notes and looking around. Lots of people, of all walks of life, are there. More than half were definitely older (and by that I mean they had this retired or soon to be retired look about them). Despite concerns that women don't vote, it appears that half the crowd is female, too. I also notice that there's a larger number of people of color than I thought lived in my precinct (they must all live in my condo complex, because I know we have good diversity there...but the precinct covers a much larger, and whiter, population than that).

Step 3: Got tired of waiting for the list. So I chase it down, get my number and fill out the sign in sheet. Later I decide I better double check that I got the number right (I did!).

Step 4: Listen to the rules about caucusing...sort of. I can't really hear the woman very well. At some point she reads about how to count votes as well as how delegates are chosen and then I hear something about a coin toss (!?!).

Step 5: The different precincts go to different rooms after to having to listen to directions to those rooms and before knowing which room's directions to follow. Mass exodus occurs. But our group gets to stay and share the large cafeteria with another smaller group (they turn out to be mostly Obama supporters as they cheer for the Obama supporters in our group when we take our final vote).

Step 6: Listen to a letter from the head of the county for the Democratic Party. People continue to fill out the sign in sheets.

Step 7: Elect someone to be the chair of the caucus and another person to be secretary. We pick the woman who's been running it so far to be the chair and another woman volunteers to be the secretary (she ends up doing a good job...we're so smart for allowing her to pick herself...).

Step 8: Now we get to figure out how many delegates we get to select. We automatically get 2 per precinct. We get a bonus delegate because our precinct voted the current governor (a Democrat) into office. Last we get the number of people there for the caucus divided by 5. We have 60 people so we get 12 delegates, bringing our total to 15. Then we have to figure out the threshold number of straw votes in order to bring a candidate to a "hard" vote. That's 15% of the 60 people in attendance (which turns out to be 9, except in the middle of this calculation, one person leaves so now we have 59 and the math gets funky for a minute until we determine that 9.4 is still 9). What that means is, if a candidate has 9 or more people voting for them initially, then they can be voted for in the final voting to divide the delegates (more on that later). It later occurs to me, that my precinct is large, although probably way more Republicans, so 60 people is sort of a small turnout.

Step 9: Straw votes: 18 for Clinton, 34 for Obama and 3 uncommitted (by the way, if 9 or more voted uncommitted then qualifying delegates could be sent to the state assembly meeting as uncommitted and decide then who to back). These votes don't add up to 59, so it appears we have some uncommitted uncommitteds.

Step 10: The chair and another guy helping with the meeting attempt to start the final vote, but one of the older guys stops the vote with a request to speak on behalf of the candidates. Everyone agrees this is a good idea and the guy shares why Clinton is the best choice based on his having lived through way too much time with Republicans in office (8 years of Reagan, 4 years of Bush, Sr. and 8 years of Bush, Jr.) and the only time we had a balanced budget was with Bill Clinton. The next guy is young. He points out that Hillary is not Bill and if the older guy wants what Bill did back then, well then Obama is actually closer to that than Hillary is now. He goes on to talk about what a great orator Obama is. The next guy is also young and also praises Obama's speaking (meanwhile I'm sitting there thinking...is good speaking a reason to vote for someone?). Thankfully, a woman gets up and speaks about Clinton. She points out that Obama will have a serious learning curve if elected, where Clinton's knowledge and experience means change will happen much faster (and I'm thinking that's exactly where I landed when I finally decided earlier today who I was going to back).

Step 11: Straw vote to see how many are still uncommitted. Only 6 votes, so uncommitted's can not qualify for a delegate because they needed 9 to get a delegate.

Step 12: Hard votes to divide the delegates. 22 vote for Clinton and 37 vote for Obama. The delegates are divided as follows: 6 for Clinton and 9 for Obama. Then the chair explains the delegates' responsibilities. The Clinton group is ready to move over to another area, when a guy who missed the recitation of the math rules at the very beginning starts to argue with me and the secretary over the math as he is wrongly convinced that we're to pick 9 delegates not 15. He thinks he's right because he attended a whole training on the caucus process, but of course I'm right because I was listening to the math rules (and don't argue with me over math...unless you're my brother [because he knows more than I do when it comes to most math]).

Step 13: The Clinton and Obama groups separate in order to chose delegates and alternate delegates (like back ups). And the math debate rages on. Finally it's resolved and I get over to the Clinton group. Oh boy, I've been chosen as a delegate. Okay, actually there were 5 volunteers when I arrived at the table and they asked if I'd volunteer to be the 6th. Then Mr. Math whiz-not arrives and wants to be a delegate (dang, I can not have him be a delegate instead of me). Fortunately, another woman immediately states she'd rather be an alternate (and looks relieved). I begin thinking, maybe I don't want to be a delegate now.

Step 14: The whole precinct reconvenes to pick the senate candidate and house representative nominations as well as the corresponding delegates. Oh yea...I'm delegate for those, too! No one opposes the candidate running for the senate. The House of Reps candidates actually go through an assembly process (or in the case of a third candidate, attempt to circumvent the assembly by getting enough signatures to just be added to the ballot), so just delegates are chosen but a not a candidate.

Step 15: We have to elect 2 precinct committee people and the Democratic Party suggests we pick one man and one woman (for gender parity). They have to go to 2 meetings a year as well as occasional other meetings, hand out flyers and call registered voters to get out the vote. Fortunately, a woman and a man volunteer. I don't know if anyone noticed, but the woman was a Clinton supporter and the man was an Obama supporter. Nice.

Step 16: The chair asks for volunteers to be polling place election judges. Fortunately there are many who step up.

Step 17: The last caucus business involves the reading of county Democrat Party resolutions that will be submitted to the state Democrat Party at the State Assembly. Most of the many resolutions focus on education, labor issues, and child welfare including heath care. Then a convoluted resolution about the peace process in Israel is suggested by one guy. This has most of the voters confused or uncomfortable and another guy suggests a substantial change in wording. Almost all of us like his wording better so it passes with the new wording. Then a woman suggests a resolution regarding opposition to drilling in national parks (and other similar places) and again almost all of us agree with her. The last resolution is brought up by the guy who suggested better wording on the Israel resolution. His suggestion is that we resolve to use paper ballots with mail in ballots optional but not required. We pass that one too. He later explains to me that most of the companies that manufacture the electronic balloting machines have indirect ties to the republican party (for example, the key owners or executives are registered republicans).

Step 18: The caucus is deemed closed and we all go home after about 2 hours of work. Whew. NOW, I know what caucusing is. Oh, and I get to be a delegate. Who knew!?!


Websketch said...

Omg! My observation is that I am glad I am in a primary state. Even if I am in a dustbowl! Sound like a big turn on the free and private ballot we have used forever. I like the right to vote privately and I would vote against caucusing. A bunch of people just got to decide the candidate for your state, no matter how many people actually voted. That is just wrong. Also I think that not letting independents a chance to vote is so very wrong. In my state that means 37 thousand people did not get to vote at all and won't get to vote in the general presidential vote in November. That does not represent the entire USA and is just not fair. Regardless of how they are registered they should get to vote. The news station here recommended that if they really wanted to vote, they could reregister as a Dem or Rep and vote and then change back after the election. That makes me mad. Those are my morning observations.

TheWeyrd1 said...

The caucus does not have anything to to do with voting in November. It's just the way some states divide up the delegates to the state assemblies where the party's candidate is actually nominated (the primaries serve the same purpose, but without the peer pressure option). Also if someone wants to run as an independent they WILL be on the November ballot as long as they meet each state's requirements for being on the ballot. So come November the WHOLE of the state's registered voters will get to go vote for the president. And it will be very private...as far as we know anyway...

RED MOJO said...

Wow, Websketch, your state is f'ed up! Are you sure those are the rules? I'm registered independent, and that means I can vote in either primary, I get to choose. I can't believe independent's just don't get to vote! That's insane!
Wow weyrd 1, that sounds grueling, but interesting. I think I would like to experience that kind of pain maybe just once, to see how it all really works.

TheWeyrd1 said...

Red...Web's state just had regular primaries. She was attempting to extrapolate what would have happened there if they had a caucus instead of primaries. But actually, based on my 3 statistics classes, I'm betting the number of delegates would have ended up about the same percentage wise because no matter who took the popular vote most states divide the delegates up by percentage of the vote. However, that said, I think the caucus system is favoring Obama right now because so many young people are involved in the grassroots movement to get him elected and a caucus is very much a grassroots kind of political process, not to mention more of a peer pressure thing.