Sunday, February 10, 2008

Washington Caucusing 101

I approached my first caucus with a little bit of excitement and nervousness. Other states I've lived in don't caucus, they participate in primaries. So I was psyched to partipate in my new state's voting system. (Full disclosure for those that don't know, I received my BA in political science and was extremely involved with Virginia Democrat state politics during college. I am a politcal junkie/nerd.) An interesting tidbit about the voting process here: this year Washington had a caucus on Feb. 9 and will have a primary on Feb. 19. I'm not sure of the exact reasoning behind it (I think a lawsuit and/or legislation change), but that means that people can decide on their method of voting. The Republicans will allocate 50% of their delegates based on caucus results and 50% of their delegates based on the primary results. The Democrats, however, will only be allocating their delegates based on caucus results. So, any Democrat who votes by primary will not have their vote counted. Unfortunately not a lot of people know this, so I'm sure that thousands of people will vote via the primary on Feb. 19, but won't have their vote counted. It's very strange. And I'm not quite sure what to think of my beloved Democrats for choosing to make such a stupid decision. So anyway, I made sure to head to my caucus in order for my vote to count.

I looked up my caucus location on Friday (good thing too, the caucus locator tool on the state Democrat website was so overloaded on Saturday that it crashed) and headed to the middle school cafeteria about 12:30 on Saturday. The caucus was scheduled to start at 1:00, but I wanted to make sure that I could get parking. I'm glad I went early, parking was already difficult, but I found space for my car. I went into the middle school hallway and found a couple of tables with giant maps. I had to locate where I lived in order to determine my precinct. Once I found my precinct I entered the cafeteria and had to find the table with my precinct number. The table was already overflowing, so we "stole" a table next to us and pushed them together. I was able to sit down, but later in the afternoon, our precinct was so crowded that people had to stand as well.

In fact, the entire cafeteria just became packed. There was standing room only, all the tables and chairs were being used. There had to be at least 400 people in that room (my precinct alone had almost 40 people). There was an announcement made towards the end of the voting process that people needed to be aware that cops were ticketing cars outside, because people couldn't find enough parking, so they parked in fire lanes, on private driveways, double-parked, etc. It was complete madness. I was told that in the last caucus (2004) only 20 people were in the entire room. Washington caucusing in the past has meant very little because the presidential nominee was usually already decide by this late date. It's a rare treat for Washingtonians to caucus and for it to be meaningful! And it was very inspiring and heart-warming to see so many people care so deeply about being a Democrat and being a part of this election.

Eventually each table was given a packet of information and we voted on a precinct captain. (He acted like he knew what he was doing and had been around awhile. Turns out he wasn't the strongest leader and really struggled to get through his duties. He had a lot of help from surrounding people, including myself, to get through the day.) We then had to pass around sign-in sheets, that also included a space for us to write in our choice for presidential nominee. After everyone signed the sheets, we then tallied the first vote. In the first round of voting for my precint, we had 24 people vote for Obama and 15 people vote for Clinton. Our precint was assigned 5 delegates, so that meant 3 delegates were allocated to Obama, and 2 to Clinton. (Picture below is of person tallying votes - I helped!)

After this was determined, we then had time to speak about our choice for candidates to try to change other voters' minds. A lot of people talked about Clinton's experience and healthcare plan. And others discussed Obama's "change" ability and his inspirational leadership. I decided to chip in my thoughts on Obama. (I discussed the electibility issue. A lot of people actively do not like Clinton and would vote for McCain just to ensure that she didn't gain office. However, because Obama is much more moderate, he would have a much better chance of winning against moderate McCain. A lot of people, Republicans and Democrats, like McCain. For the Democrats to have a chance of winning the White House, we need a moderate Democrat like Obama to battle McCain. In fact, a article this weekend said that polling showed Obama would have a much better shot agains McCain than Clinton would. I had a couple of people tell me that my "speech" was the most relevant, convincing, and eloquent. That was nice to hear!) It was interesting that almost everyone who spoke about their candidates prefaced their speech by saying that both Obama nad Clinton are phenomenal people, excellent candidates, and either would do well in the White House. So most people were very amicable and just happy to be a part of the political process.

After everyone who cared to gave their little stump speech, we voted for a second time. No one changed their votes. So we were stuck with our original tally, 3 delegates for Obama and 2 for Clinton. Now this is where it gets a tad confusing, and I'm sorry if I don't explain it very well. We then had to vote on who are precinct delegates. These precinct delegates will attend our state convention, held in April. The precinct delegates will then officially vote for the state's delegates for the national convention. So, because Clinton was awarded 2 delegates for our precinct, Clinton supporters needed to vote on 2 people to attend the caucus to vote for her. Originally 3 Clinton supporters wanted to be a delegate, but 1 decided to take her name out so that no one had to vote. That was easy enough. But then, for the 3 Obama spots we had available, over 10 people wanted to be delegates. It took awhile for everyone to figure out the best way to vote (we had to have a paper trail for legal reasons.) But it was eventually figured out. I'm not sure if it was the best way to conduct business, but oh well. The day was so overwhelming for everyone and the crowds were so unexpected, that we just had to make due the best way we could.

It was nice to feel as though Washington made a difference. As I'm sure you saw, Obama got 68% of the vote in Washington. I got to be a part of that!

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