Saturday, February 9, 2008

I Went To This Caucus Today, And ...

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," they said, "that all men are created equal." Strange as it may seem, that was the first time in history that anyone had ever bothered to write that down. Decisions are made by those who show up.

-- President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing

Yes, I used that quote before. Sue me. It's as relevant to this as it was then.

I went to my first caucus today. Partly, that's because I think this is a particularly crucial Presidential election coming up, and partly because this year the Democratic party in Washington is ignoring the results of the primary. In short, this was my chance to make a difference.

For those who haven't attended one, caucuses are like meetings, or really badly organized trade shows. You go find your precinct's table, and then after you've all introduced yourselves and decided who will take notes, you discuss whom you want to vote for and why. Then you vote to determine which candidate or candidates will earn delegates from your precinct. Delegates are awarded on a percentage basis. In our precinct's case, there were four delegates chosen, with two alternates.

Keep that number of delegates in mind. In the case of our precinct, ten people showed up. Our precinct consists of approximately 200 apartment units and 100 houses. Conservatively, you'd have to figure that there are at least 400 adults in this precinct. Yet only ten of us decided which of one major political party's candidates for President would have delegates in the next round of regional caucuses. For the math-impaired, that's 2.5 percent. While that might have been a somewhat lower than average turnout, I think the best-represented precincts at my caucus location had twenty people.

This is why I'm reusing that quote.

Over at her blog, Taylor Marsh remarked on the caucus system today:

Long before the first votes were counted in Iowa, I weighed in on this issue. Caucuses are undemocratic. Many people do have to work and can't show up for hours to vote in them. So they don't have near the weight or clout that primaries do, because they don't reach out to near enough voters. Caucuses disenfranchise voters. We need to go to an all primary slate next time.

Kansas, Nebraska, Washington, and Hillary's GE Wild Card

She has a point. To participate in this thing, you had to have your Saturday afternoon free. You have to be interested in discussing politics with other people, which not everyone is inclined to do. If my caucus is typical, you also have to be willing to speak up and look around until you find your table, and you have to be willing to do all that in a crowded, hot, and noisy environment. Lots of folks would shy away from this on that basis alone, I think. Being in a crowded place makes me nervous, and I suspect I'm not the only one in my precinct.

In short, caucuses are small, self-selecting populations who probably don't accurately represent the districts they are supposed to represent. Don't get me wrong, I liked this process far more than I figured I would. For folks who are really interested in politics, it's somewhere between tolerable and fun. But for most folks, it's clearly way more than they can, or want to, do to make their voices heard.

By the way, I'm sure people are wondering, so my guess is that the vote will be pretty evenly split between Clinton and Obama. Clinton people were more in evidence there - many had hats or T-shirts advertising their candidates. There were quite a few Obama supporters there, too. Our precinct ended up sending two delegates for each candidate. If we're at all representative, nothing much will be decided today.

UPDATE: If Goldy is right, my precinct wasn't typical. Looks like it will be about 67-32 in favor of Obama.

No comments: