Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Caucus Raucous

What a weird political process this caucus thing is! After hearing about this mysterious way of completing the primary election for so many years, I'm finally living in a state that caucuses! For those of you who've been here, and done this, go ahead and skip this post, but for those of the rest of you, mystery solved! And since my political proclivities are out of the very loosely tied bag, why not share.

The Democrats and the Republicans do this differently, and I don't pretend to understand the thing that the Republicans did, especially since I wasn't in the room (and Eric didn't qualify, having registered himself at some point as a Libertarian. "I must have been mad that day," he said.) Anyway, to qualify for caucusing, one has to be a registered Democrat for at least 2 months. (by the way, I grate at having to register a party with the state. I should be able to choose what I want to be, when I want to be it. Don't pigeon hole me... but in this case, I'm glad I declared.) You have to be registered to vote in your district for at least 30 days (I made it by 6 days, phew!) You have to show up in person.

On NPR this morning, I heard the recommendation that voters arrive early to their precincts locations, in order to register. Heeding the advice, I headed over to the middle school where my caucus was being held. When I arrived and got in line at 6:25, the line was well out the door and down the sidewalk. 10 minutes later, someone with a loud voice, if not a lot of authority, went down the line announcing that there were only 2 people checking in everyone for all 6 precincts meeting at the middle school, and that everyone needed to know what their precinct was, or look it up on the Secretary of State's website. I found mine, then tried to help the guy next to me look up his, but we weren't particularly successful as the website froze solid.

At 6:57pm, I was still standing in line outside. The same guy came down the line and announced "they are telling us that if you are not physically in the building at 7pm, they will close the doors and turn you away." To which several people behind me started yelling "bull crap!" and "I'm calling the tv station!" and "That's illegal! I read the rules!" The natives were getting restless, to say the least. My 60+ year old neighbor tweeted KKTV immediately. Don't try to limit the democratic process with Democrats, people. We've protested before and apparently, we'll do it again.

Anyway, the poor guy pleaded with people that this wasn't his decision and that he was trying his best... and then said "I am going to try to get everyone possible into the building, so we're going to line up, and when you get in the door, make the line as far down the hallway as you can." So, we did, with little to no pushing and shoving (this wasn't Chicago 1968, after all.) I'm pretty sure we all got in.

After a while in line, where those two people checking in voters moved slowly and were largely ineffectual, precinct captains started calling for voters from their precincts. They began pulling people out of line and directing them to the rooms where that precinct was meeting. There was generalized concern about not checking in, but eventually, everyone got to the appropriate places.

My precinct was in an average size middle school social science classroom, where they packed in just over 50 people into a classroom meant for 20. It was warm and I was concerned about the several elderly people in attendance, but fortunately, everyone made it out ok. The precinct captain tried to explain some of the more arcane rules of this process: state law says we have to start at 7, but everyone in line has to have the opportunity to vote, but everyone has to be there before we can start, but we have to be done by 9. Or some such thing. She didn't inspire confidence and you know how you can tell that someone is just not a natural people leader or public speaker? Yea, she was one of those and at some point, I started texting Eric because otherwise I was going to stage a coup and take over the process. Also, counting was not her strong suit.

Anyway, the rules of the caucus were read out loud, and then we were told that they would take a straw poll to see where everyone was at... and then they would allow us to discuss things, and then we would take a final vote.

So after some difficult in the counting, we got the straw poll done. There was then the opportunity to speak on behalf of the candidate you were caucusing for. Several people spoke, and I got the last call in. Come on, when have I ever been a wallflower? Well, I wish I knew that this opportunity would have existed - I would have put together some talking points, but I think I did ok, with the "Dear Democrats" version of my recent "Dear Republicans" rant: e.g. I like Bernie, he's a nice guy, but our crazy will drive moderate Republicans around their crazy. Do I think college tuition costs are out of control? Yes - and there needs to be reform (without reducing pay to professors, they are generally not paid enough. at all.) but I don't think free tuition without earning it is a viable solution. Yes, we need reforms but Bernie goes too far and in this environment, he is not the pragmatic solution that will be a realistic alternative to Trump. I ended with "I like Bernie, but I can't afford Bernie." Mic drop. (ok, not really, but in my head, it was TOTALLY a mic drop.)

I brought (or someone did) one more vote my way.

The final vote was taken... eventually, after several painful minutes of attempting to count people who were raising their hands and then the elderly getting too tired keeping their hands up so they kept putting them down before they were counted. Then there were two people in the room who weren't voting, but they had been counted somehow in the straw poll, so that threw things off... but it ended up being 28 for Clinton and 21 for Sanders.

After the final vote, we were all told to huddle up (getting elderly people to move across an overcrowded room and around chairs and desks is not an easy task) so that each group could elect delegates, which took about 6 seconds since only two people on each side were actually able to make it to the county convention AND the state convention and this was a requirement (I totally wanted to do this, but, alas, I'm attending a wedding one of those weekends out-of-state.)

There was this convoluted process of "resolutions" that had been (barely and poorly) explained at the beginning of the night, and was brought up again, but in a "well, now we would vote on resolutions, but no one came with any, so I guess we're done." However, my neighbor (the one neighbor I actually know in this new neighborhood!) brought up a good point that someone else had made, and suggested that this would make a very good resolution. There was general agreement to this. However! The precinct captain was apparently anxious to wrap all of this up, and started hemming and hawing about how the resolution would need to be written down, and then discussed, and then voted on. Well, it was proposed to do all this verbally, and then written down after the vote, and there was general acceptance of this. Then the precinct captain stated that well, we could do this and entertain any other resolutions, but that everyone would need to stay and vote and no one could leave. Someone asked about this, and she said that oh yes, everyone had to stay.

Well, remember when those rules were read at the beginning of the night? Well, I was paying attention and I have a good memory. I piped up (man, for being the newbie in the room, I apparently just don't care), and restated the rule about "late arrival and early leaving" and that the rule stated that any late arrivers or early leavers could only participate in the portion of the caucus for which they were physically present for, which meant that while their vote wouldn't count if they left, we could continue on to vote on resolutions regardless of the staying or leaving status of any individual voter.

Bazinga. Proceed, madam precinct captain.

As it turned out, there was unanimous agreement to the two resolutions we came up with (basically, general statements about wanting the party on focus on prison reform and programs to prevent people from ending up in the prison system because of poverty or mental health issues, and one about working toward quality publicly run prisons) and it took very little time.

I just can't really ever seem to keep my mouth shut. But you know what? Totally worth it. I went home feeling pretty good about my participation.

Where three minutes later, CNN called Colorado for Bernie Sanders.


  1. Megan Kelly for precinct captain 2020!

    1. :) I probably need to land somewhere I stay for longer than 3 months first...