Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rock, Paper, Scissor for President...and Other Fun Caucus Facts

Last Sunday A and I went to get some good ol' fashioned caucus training. Being both frustrated by the complexity of caucuses (relative to our upbringing in nice normal primary states) as well as interested in the details of how they work, it was certainly an interesting experience. I thought I'd share a few of the things we learned, for those who are equally enamoured, although I certainly won't blame you if you aren't.
  • First of all, apparently you shouldn't go to a meeting of the Democratic party if you don't want to really participate. I didn't mean to do anything more than learn a little bit about what my local Democrats were doing for the election when I went to their meeting last week, but somehow I ended up being elected Precinct Committee Officer (or PCO) of the precinct next door to me, being asked to give a speech about Hillary at the caucus, and going to caucus training a few days later. So be forewarned. But also go to to find out about your local district.
  • Once you're involved, there are things you need to know. For instance, WA state Democrats allow you to vote for anyone in the caucus, even people who aren't running. There's no minimum threshold like there is in Iowa - anyone can stick with their candidate, even if they don't get enough votes to warrant a delegate.
  • And by the way, Republicans assign all the delegates from any state to the winner of that state, while Democrats give proportional representation, so usually Republican choices are apparent way before Democrats are. This year might be different since so far three different people have won the three major Republican states that have voted so far. I'm just waiting for Thompson and Giuliani to pick up a couple states each too.
  • The number of delegates that each precinct gets here in WA is determined by how many people voted for Kerry in the district, presumably in the last general election.
  • When you enter the primary, you sign your name, your gender, your sexual orientation (optional, but strange that they would ask) and write in the name of the candidate you pick. After the votes are tallied the first time and people get the opportunity to try to change everyone else's mind, you can go back and cross off the name of the person you originally voted for and pick someone else. From what I can tell, this somewhat answers one of C's biggest questions (and mine too) which is - how do they report the percentages of votes in Iowa since the precincts just report the number of delegates? This was especially strange since Hillary came in third in the percentage of votes but second in the number of delegates that they think she'll eventually get from Iowa once they have their state convention later this year. Anyway, the sign-in sheet is public record, so the media must have access to it. I don't know how they calculate the percentages so quickly on caucus night since they have to decipher a hand-written stack of paper, but I'm guessing that's what they do.
  • Delegate math is kind of like rounding but not. You take the percentage of people who voted for the candidate times the number of delegates being assigned by the precinct, assign each candidate the full whole number of delegates (so if candidate A got 2.4 and candidate B got 0.6 then A would get 2 delegates and B would get 0). Then you take the rest of the delegates and assign them according to who has the biggest remainder (in this case if there were three total delegates, B would get the last one). We were told that there were cases where this wasn't exactly like rounding, but I think that would mostly happen if you had exactly x.5 and it ended up rounding down instead of up...either way, it's pretty simple once it's explained to you. Unfortunately there seemed to be quite a few people who were confused. It doesn't help that they provide you a multiplication chart that makes it all look way more complicated than it is.
  • After the tallying of votes and the fundraising of the money and the asking of people to become involved (and become PCOs), the next step is the electing of delegates and alternates. I have no idea what would qualify someone to be a delegate more than someone else. I guess stubbornness so you can trust that the person won't change their vote? Anyway, if not enough people volunteer to be delegates, then the precinct loses that vote. I guess if people aren't interested enough to go participate in the Legislative and Congressional State conventions, they can't influence who gets elected.
  • Finally my very favorite thing - if you're distributing the last delegate and two candidates have the same remainder, you break the tie "by lot". According to our caucus training instructor, that means you can flip a coin or do whatever you'd like to randomly choose who gets the delegate. Which gives me an excellent image of people playing rock, paper, scissors to pick the next president.

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