Every election is determined by the people who show up. As a vote-by-mail state, we’ve all become accustomed to the convenience of voting at our kitchen table when we get the time. Clearly caucusing is different. It may seem a bit quaint. But once or twice a decade the decisions we make as voters are so important that we should “show up” to have our voice heard.
Washington state’s Democrats will have our turn to weigh in on our choices for presidential nominee about half way through the national process. It seems like it’s been going on forever, but only a little over half of the total delegates will be decided by mid-March. A lot can still happen.
Democrats in Washington state will be selecting delegates on Saturday, March 26, as the first step to their national nominating conventions. You must attend to vote, except for the following: anyone who cannot attend because of a need to participate in observance of their religion, responsibilities related to military service or work schedule, or because of a disability or illness, may submit a surrogate affidavit in advance, kind of like applying for an absentee ballot.
The March 26 Democratic precinct caucuses begin at 10 am. Check whatcomdemocrats.com to find the location of your precinct’s caucus, or call 360-647-7661. These caucuses are the only opportunity for Democrats in Washington state to participate in selecting the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. The presidential primary on May 24 will not be used by the Democrats in their presidential nominating process.
HOW CAUCUS WORKS
The process of nominating a party’s presidential candidate involves two steps: determining each candidate’s support by some popular voting method (caucus or primary), and identifying people to represent that support as delegates to the national convention.
When Democrats show up at the caucus, they sign in and record their preference for a presidential candidate, or as uncommitted. After tallying up that initial vote, everyone has an opportunity to change their vote, and after changes are made they do a final count.
Any registered voter who considers him or herself a Democrat may participate in the Democratic caucus. This includes 17-year-olds who will be eligible to vote (i.e., 18) on Nov. 8, 2016. Anyone may register to vote, or update their voting address, at the caucus and participate fully. Participation is free, but donations are welcome because the local party pays for the local caucuses, and renting over 30 meeting spaces can be expensive.
Each precinct has a set number of delegates based on the average number of votes cast for Obama and Inslee in 2012. This 2012 vote gives us a base number of Democrats in the precinct, so the number of delegate slots can be apportioned fairly between precincts.
Once the vote tally is finalized at the caucus, these delegate slots are divided proportionately among the candidates based on that vote. There is no “winner-take-all.” Every vote counts. Then people are elected to the delegate slots to represent their candidate at the next level of the process — the Legislative District Caucus on May 1, 2016.
Many voters do not consider themselves a “member” of either major party. Since we do not declare a party affiliation on our voter registration here in Washington state, party affiliation is only in your head or your heart. Any voter may participate in either caucus (but not both) and that same party’s ballot in the presidential primary, but they must be willing to sign a declaration that they are a “Democrat” to take part in the Democratic caucus. The parties wish that only committed party members participate in the selection of their party’s nominee, but there is no way for them to know who these voters are. So it’s a wide-open process for anyone who wants to join in.
It is this lack of certainty of who are party members that causes the Democrats to continue to use the caucus system. An open primary makes it too easy for non-members to influence the choice of a party nominee. A nominee gets the entire national, state and local party infrastructure, volunteers, funds, communications, etc., to help him or her run for office. So this person should be the one a majority of party members want.
For more information on surrogate affidavits, check whatcomdemocrats.com for the form, which must be received at the state Democratic Party headquarters no later than Friday, March 18, 2016 at 5 p.m. so it can be sent to the proper local party organization before the Saturday, March 26, 2016 Precinct Caucuses.
Natalie McClendon is chair of the 42nd Legislative District Democrats.
The Whatcom County Republican Party held local caucuses Feb. 20 and the Republican County Convention will be held April 9. The Washington State Republican primary is May 24.