If you plan to vote for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton during this presidential primary season, you’ll need to do it this Saturday, March 26.
In Washington state, Democrats don’t use the May 24 primary to choose delegates. Instead that’s done at precinct caucuses, which happen Saturday across the state.
The caucus results will determine how many of Washington’s 101 pledged delegates will represent each candidate at the Democratic National Convention, which takes place July 25-28 in Philadelphia.
HOW CAUCUSING WORKS
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At 10 a.m. Saturday, Democrats will convene in schools, churches and other neighborhood locations throughout the state to help pick their party’s nominee for president.
Anyone who identifies as a Democrat can participate in the caucuses, as long as he or she is 18 years old by Election Day (Nov. 8).
Those who aren’t registered to vote can register on site and participate in precinct caucuses that day.
During the caucus meetings, Democrats will discuss and vote on who they want to be the party’s presidential nominee. Each candidate will be awarded a proportion of delegates based on the percentage of support they win at the caucus meeting.
Additionally, Democrats at the precinct caucuses will choose more than 27,000 delegates who advance to county and legislative district caucuses. Those delegates will then choose a smaller pool of delegates to attend the state’s congressional district caucuses, which in turn will select 67 people to attend the Democratic National Convention.
Jamal Raad, a state Democratic party spokesman, said the precinct caucuses also are a place where people can volunteer to participate in initiative campaigns and discuss other political issues.
Participants will have the chance to introduce resolutions that could eventually make it onto the state party’s platform, which will be decided at the state’s Democratic convention in Tacoma in June, Raad said.
As of last week, Democrats said 50,000 people had preregistered for precinct caucuses in Washington state.
Raad said he’s not sure this year’s caucuses will draw as many participants as in 2008, when a record-setting 250,000 people showed up. Still, Democratic party officials expect “a strong showing,” he said.
WHAT ABOUT REPUBLICANS?
Republicans aren’t using the results of precinct caucuses to help decide who will be Washington state’s Republican nominee for president.
Rather, the state Republican party will allocate all of its delegates to the Republican National Convention based on the results of Washington’s May 24 presidential primary.
While Republicans in Washington held their own precinct caucuses in February, those meetings didn’t include voting for presidential candidates.
Susan Hutchison, the chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, said more people participate in a primary election than in precinct caucuses, which makes the primary a more inclusive process.
“It allows many more people to vote,” Hutchison said.
The primary election results won’t affect the outcome of the Democratic presidential race, however, which will rely solely on Saturday’s caucus results.
Previously, Republicans had pushed to move up the state’s presidential primary to March, a shift they argued would make Washington more relevant in the national presidential contest.
The idea you have to show up in a school cafeteria or a church basement in order to be able to vote for the next president of the United States is very behind the times.
Susan Hutchison, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party
But the way this year’s Republican race is going, Hutchison said, Washington’s primary is poised to be exciting even with its May date.
She said party officials predict it will be “statistically impossible” for any of the Republican candidates — including real estate mogul Donald Trump — to cinch the party’s nomination before Washington’s primary in May.
Hutchison said she expects Republican candidates to visit the state before the primary, as well as spend heavily on radio and TV advertisements leading up to the vote.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” Hutchison said. “There is a chance that our primary could be a deciding factor in the selection of our nominee.”
In recent months, Hutchison and other Republican party officials have criticized Democrats’ adherence to the caucus system, which Hutchison said is outdated and caters to party activists rather than everyday voters.
“The idea you have to show up in a school cafeteria or a church basement in order to be able to vote for the next president of the United States is very behind the times,” Hutchison said.
Raad, however, said the caucus system has benefits, including gathering neighbors together to talk about issues that matter to them.
“It’s not often in life that you get to meet people in person and discuss the big challenges we face as a nation,” Raad said. “We do that every four years.”
FIND YOUR CAUCUS LOCATION
WHAT: Democratic precinct caucuses
WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday, March 26
WHERE: Go online to demcaucus.com/register to find your caucus location or to register in advance (not necessary). You’ll need to enter the address at which you are registered to vote.
WHO CAN GO: Anyone who identifies as a Democrat and will be 18 years of age or older on or before Nov. 8, 2016. Those who are not registered to vote but want to participate in the caucus can register at the caucus and participate the same day.
HOW IT WORKS: For more on how the Democratic precinct caucuses work, go online to wa-democrats.org.