Tonight, Sunday, April 17, was an exhilarating and frustrating night for many Democrats in the State of Washington. Exhilarating as a thousand caucus-goers showed up at West Seattle High School to caucus for their candidate, either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. But frustrating in many ways because registration was slow, the process was convoluted, and the caucus went on for over 8 hours. In this posting, I'll try to explain some of the problems, but some of the issues are still unknown and unresolved. Also, this post is the personal opinion of Bill Schrier, web editor of the 34th District Democratic Organization, and does not reflect the official opinion of either the Legislative District or State Party organization.
The bottom line: if you don't like it, get involved with your legislative district Democratic party organization (like ours, the 34th), the King County Democrats or the State Democratic Party and help change it or improve it.
A first question is "why do we caucus" as opposed to having a primary? The answer is partially contained in the Guide to the Caucus and Convention published by the State Party which is online here. Consult the answer to question 1 in the FAQ. A lot of other questions you may have about the caucus process are in a series of documents on the State Party website here. My answer to this question is simple: the State of Washington does not register voters by party. So if we chose our delegates through a primary, thousands or tens of thousands of Republicans could vote to choose the Democratic Party's presidential candidate. Using the caucus, only those who are willing to publicly declare they are Democrats, and willing to participate in (ok, "endure") the caucus get to choose the party's candidate.
Next, the entire caucus is run by volunteers. The precinct caucus held on March 26th was also run by volunteers. Many of the people who "captained" their precinct caucus had never done it before. We received many documents from that primary which were impossible to read to determine who was the right delegate or what the spelling of their name was or what their email address is. There is NO professional staff here, it is all volunteers. If you want to make it better, we need you as a volunteer.
The same is true of today's legislative district caucus. The Chair of the District, Marcee Stone-Vekich, is a volunteer. She has a full time job at a private company, and does all the party work on her own time. Everyone else you saw today registering people, welcoming people, taking names of those who wanted to run as a delagate - we're all volunteers, and there were not enough of us. Dozens of people have been working for the last four weeks to prepare, meeting at nights and on weekends. Today all those volunteers showed up at 9:00 AM to help, and most of them stayed until the very end. Many are still at work tallying the votes even now, at 11:00 PM. One person tweeted "the 34th Dems need a tech upgrade". Well, ALL of our tech is done with our personal computers and printers. One person brought his personal laser jet to print all the ballots and list. I purchased a large-format printer 19"x13" myself to print signs and print all the large size 11x17 lists of delegates for each precinct (don't tell my wife about this). Many of us contributed not just our time but our resources such as staplers, and paper and banner construction. All volunteers.
So: cut us some slack. And show up to help. You can find our next meeting date/time online on this website.
Next, consider the complications of the process. We have 208 precincts and chose over 1300 delegates and alternates from all those precincts. Most of those delegates came to the legislative district caucus today. They (you) had to be registered, we had to verify that you were, indeed, elected - many of you forgot your yellow "elected" credentials and others couldn't remember their precinct number. We HAVE to be fair, to make sure that only duly elected delgates get to vote at the legislative district caucus. Many precinct-level delegates didn't show up, in which case we tried to replace them with an alternate, but the alternates were selected in order - 1, 2, 3 and so forth, and many of those alternates didn't show up, so making sure we seated bonafide delegates was a huge undertaking for the credentials committee. Doing all this took three hours to make sure it was done fairly and in order. And two separate reports from the credentials committee. But yes it was frustrating for you.
Next comes the election of 27 delegates committed to Senator Sanders and 11 delegates committed to Secretary Clinton for the next level of the process, the State Convention and the Congressional District Caucus. Hundreds of you decided to run for these positions, which is phenomenal. About two hundred people wanted to be Sanders delegates. You stood in a long line to put your name forward for this election. But we only had two computers and four volunteers to do this registration. (You get my theme here - more volunteers would have significantly speeded this process.) Then once everyone had signed up, we had to produce ballots. That involves verifying the spelling and name of the individual, verifying that they are a registered voter in this district, and getting their names on the ballot, separating them male and female so there is equal participation by gender, then printing over 1000 ballots in two batches - one for the Sanders sub-caucus and one for the Clinton sub-caucus. All this in about three hours.
Then came the speeches of the delegates running for election. Yes, it is frustrating to be limited to 15 seconds, but how else do you shoehorn speeches from 200 people into a single day? The great part about democracy is the chance for anyone to run for the office, and the chance for them to campaign for it as well.
Finally comes the counting of the ballots. Now think about this. The ballot has 170 or more names on it. And there are 500 or more ballots. And it is all done by hand. And it has to be done right, with only those authorized to vote - who are a precinct-level delegate - actually voting. Yes, perhaps it will go faster if we employed some technology or a website or something similar, But again, all the tech is the personal devices of the volunteers who ran the caucus, and all the software is software these volunteers personally purchased and paid for themselves.
So, thank you SO much if you became a delegate at your precinct caucus, and you came to the Legislative District caucus today, and your ran for election as a delegate to the next level. People like you are the backbone of the Democratic party and you are motivated to change and to improve quality of life here in the United States of America.
Could this process be better, more streamlined? Almost surely. Could it be faster, less frustrating? Perhaps. But don't expect "them" to do this improvement. "Them" is not the 34th District Democratic Organization. We are all volunteers. "Them" is you. Update, Monday, April 18, 2016:
A lot of you tweeted and retweeted news about a whole precinct which was "DQ"ed or denied qualification as precinct delegates to vote. Here is the explanation: The Captain who ran the precinct caucus on March 26 for the Chautauqua precinct did not turn in any information to the State Party about what happened or who was selected as delegates. There were 15 other precincts in the 34th which had several problems and in the other 14 cases the problems were determined and the delegates seated. When we contacted the captain from Chautauqua, he explained that he had made a mistake. He conducted the caucus on March 26 and dismissed those who attended, then he realized they had not conducted an election for delegates. He looked around at the people who were still in the vicinity and asked them if they wanted to be delegates. A few people volunteered but there was no written ballot and no vote in a subcaucus. This method of selecting delegates is a clear violation of the rules, as, essentially, those who stayed after the end of the caucus were unilaterally selected by the precinct captain without an election. Hence these unelected delegates were disqualified.