Thursday, March 03, 2016

My first caucus

and I was elected to precinct caucus chair!
First, caucus goers went into the Boulder HS auditorium to hear representatives talk up their candidates, including down-ticket races.
Then, the more experienced caucus captains holding the precinct number signs led their precinct to individual classrooms (which we set up in advance) for more caucusing.  I was late getting to the auditorium so I sat up in the balcony w/o our precinct sign.

In advance, I volunteered to be caucus precinct secretary and a guy volunteered to be the caucus chair*.  I attended caucus leader training to learn more about the process.  I showed up at Boulder HS at 5:30 as instructed, collected my precinct materials, registered for my white voter/caucus slip, found my classroom and set it up.

At 6:30, there was still no sign of the other guy.  I called his cell phone.  It went to voicemail.  He left voicemail a few minutes later saying he was on his way.  !?!

After we were dismissed from the auditorium (around 7:15), I helped people find their way to their precinct classrooms and found about 2 dozen people seated in our classroom (Calculus BC, plastered with math joke posters, yay) when I returned.

I followed the script, which told leaders to go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves and approximately where they lived.  I was worried that would take too long by the time every (35) seat had filled up, but people kept streaming in.  We gave up introducing ourselves when we had nearly 50 people in the room.

It was 7:40 and there was still no sign of the guy who volunteered to be our precinct caucus chair. I told the room that my only qualification to lead a caucus was that I had taken the class.  They proclaimed me the caucus chair.   One young man volunteered to help as the caucus secretary and off we went.

I passed around a clipboard and asked people to sign up to speak on behalf of their candidates.  Several spoke on behalf of Sanders and one spoke on behalf of Clinton.  Then it was time for voting, which has two steps, for the presidential race.

First, we needed to take a non-binding threshold vote to determine which choices would be available for the binding second vote: uncommitted, Clinton or Sanders.  To be included in the binding vote, a choice had to reach a 15% threshold.

We counted off heads and got to 102.  One voted for uncommitted, 15 voted for Clinton.  That would have rounded up to 15%, but more people kept streaming in.

People at the door offered to count the number of people who were streaming in and their preferences so we could add them to the count.  We topped out at 125 in the end with 16 for Clinton.  Late-comers, who had braved the lines for hours, went overwhelmingly for Sanders while the earlier crowd was less so.

Both uncommitted and Clinton missed the 15% threshold.  Only Sanders was on the binding preference vote and we gave him our 3 delegates by proclamation.  I heard that happened at several precincts at our central Boulder super-site.

I announced we were going on to the down-ballot races and let people leave.  About half did.

Our precinct is in HD 10, which has a contested race between two highly qualified Dem candidates.  My goal was to allocate the 3 presidential delegates for our precinct fairly and accurately according to precinct sentiment, and then to get both HD 10 candidates qualified for the primary ballot.

Several people spoke on behalf of one candidate for HD 10.  None spoke for the other one.    To qualify for the ballot, each candidate needs to get 15% or more of the votes at the caucus.  At first, only one met the 15% threshold, with many abstainers.

But then some people switched their votes to help get both on the ballot.  Then we can make our final decision on the Dem HD 10 candidate, after we have time to get to know both candidates and their positions/differences better.

Our precinct did not spend any time on the party platform.  I had a paper copy and a form for  us to suggest changes.

I heard that another precinct voted 137-0 to change back to a presidential primary.  (137 is one over the fine-structure constant, which is a good omen for Boulder, n'est pas?)

Both the youth and senior vote went for Sanders at our precinct caucus.  I knew most of the seniors who attended because they came from my condo complex.  However, the Clinton supporters from my condo, for the most part, did not come to the caucus.  I would have driven them had I not needed to arrive two hours before the caucus.

From the Denver Post:
A total of 121,596 Democrats registered at caucuses across Colorado, an increase of 1 percent over the 2008 attendance, according to the Colorado Democratic Party. But some precincts were inundated with as many as three times more people than expected.

A crowd stretching four blocks from a Boulder Democratic caucus site became disillusioned Tuesday night as hundreds of people were turned away because of overcrowding.
I attended my first caucus.  I led my first caucus.  I am not sure the people who were able to either arrive hours early or stood for hours in line, are representative of the electorate.  I recall (though my recall might not be perfect) only 4 non-white caucus-goers in my precinct.  This is Boulder, but I was surprised by the whiteness and the youth of the crowd.

I'm with the 137 who would like to go back to a presidential primary so that more people's voices can be heard.  However, with the funding (and hence spending) limitations of TABOR, the state switched to the caucus system to save money.

The state pays for elections.  Volunteers run the caucuses.  This cost-transfer (5 hours of my time Tuesday night plus 2 hours for training) gives us a semblance of democracy.  But, I worry that the caucus system gives the sentiment of a very narrow slice (~10%) of the electorate.

* The guy who volunteered in advance to lead our caucus came in the door at 8:30 (3 hours late!), just in time to cast his vote for Sanders.


  1. This is very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I live in Arizona and we don't have a presidential primary or caucus. We have what they call a Presidential Preference Election (PPE) and the state wants to eliminate that. I don't know what will happen in that case. Will the super-delegates just give their delegates to the candidate of THEIR choice. The politics in Arizona are ridiculous.

  2. Thank you for sharing the information. For a foreigner like me the American electoral system looks like a medieval dance, with many complicated (and somewhat ridiculous) moves, but I guess American people enjoy it... And seems like time is coming to learn the dance myself...

    1. I don't enjoy it. And I don't think it helps us govern responsibly.

  3. In my caucus at Southern Hills I think everybody made it in the building in time to vote. However there were many people there who had a spouse or parent who stayed home with young kids so they weren't represented. I thought it was fun and interesting to discuss with my neighbors but a primary would be a lot more convenient. In fact, my husband couldn't go because he had to coach a baseball practice. Our precinct went 80-17 Sanders.

    1. I read that hundreds of people were turned away from other sites like Centennial MS.

      Given a lack of space to hold caucuses, and a lack of volunteers to run them, we have no more capacity.

      Something has to give.

      I'm hoping it is TABOR, so we can afford to run a government and do stuff--like run elections.

  4. Anonymous13:49

    Thanks for stepping up to lead your precinct! It was a crazy night. I haven't seen the final numbers, but I think total checked-in turn-out (not counting those who were too discouraged to stay in line) for the 20 precincts at your super-site was more than double what it was in 2008 (which was itself a historic, high-turn-out caucus, first competitive African American vs first competitive woman). And 2016 attendance has generically been _down_ with respect to 2008, in states which voted before Colorado. Had there been the same number of participants this year as 8 years ago, everyone would have been in the Boulder High auditorium and seated at 7:00. I think the additional turn-out may have been due to all the attention Bernie paid to Boulder and to CU students in general. I've never seen as young a crowd in a Boulder caucus before, and the vote in many precincts at the site was 3:1 Bernie:Hilary. I'm happy to see the enthusiasm, and hope it continues regardless of who gets the final nod from the Dems. For my part, I felt like we were choosing between two terrific options. Eric

  5. In New York, localities can choose whether to caucus or to use the petition and primary system to choose for local offices. The Democratic Party in my little town, with a population of 1,800 people, uses the caucus and I've served as secretary at many caucuses while my husband has served as chair (he is the elected Town Supervisor of our little town). My observation is that very few people are there to do their part for the democratic process, they are there because they support a particular candidate and that candidate has asked them to come and vote for them. It's a very up close and personal GOTV process, I suppose. People with large local families can have an advantage, if family members have registered as Democrats. It's a very low percentage of the registered voters who attend, and because it is volunteer run, there is little publicity beyond the required posting of legal notices and on the Town Clerk's bulletin board. If we were to do a mailing, we would have to pay for it. The local Republican Party has a primary if there is more than one qualified petitioner for an office, and turnout for the rare primaries is no better than for the caucuses. Again, most people are voting because of personal appeals by the candidates, not because they are committed to the process. Is the primary better than the caucus? Neither is effective as long as so few people take an interest in our electoral process.

    It would be great if the young people inspired by Bernie (and those inspired by Obama) took a longer term interest in politics beyond this one race. It's very hard to find good people to run for office, and it's rare that voters in our town have a true choice.

  6. This was interesting. At least you participated early, when there's still a race. My main memories of California primaries are that they are often irrelevant by the time they roll around. But perhaps I don't have a good recall.

    1. The interesting thing is that, like CA, CO have an election in June. Holding a caucus on Super Tuesday is just theater. I don't find a caucus very democratic.


Comments are open for recent posts, but require moderation for posts older than 14 days.