Caucus 2008: We’re all winners when Democracy comes to town
“Everyone who has not yet signed in, please raise your LEFT hand,” Craig yelled into the microphone. (If ever there is a man who doesn’t need a microphone, it’s Jeff.) From the back of the room, I pondered raising my right hand, just to see if it threw him off. But in the sea of 500 plus Democratic Caucus-goers, it’s likely he wouldn’t have noticed my silent mutiny.
I sat at a table representing Lake Stevens #13, a precinct that represents the Frontier Village/Vernon Road area. As precinct captain, my job was simple: help people sign in, appoint a tally secretary to determine the number of votes for each candidate and then equate the number of votes into the proportionate number of delegated for each candidate, allow a one minute speech on behalf of each candidate, allow people to change their votes if necessary, and then elect delegates to physically represent our group at the Legislative District and County Caucuses in April.
Sounds easy enough, right? In local politics, nothing ever goes quite as smoothly as planned. The first bump in the road came when participants attempted to fill out the sign in sheets. The sheet is very simple in theory: write your name, address, email, select a candidate and sign it. Easy enough. Unfortunately, in its infinite wisdom, and due to an endless quest to categorize every human in the state to the Nth degree, the State Democratic Party decided to add a few “optional” questions to the sign in sheet: ethnicity and sexual orientation (or as it read on the sheet: LGBT?). Not surprisingly, the majority of the table was stumped by the optional question “LGBT?”. Some guessed that it was a type of sandwich. One gentleman, obviously perplexed but not willing to ask for help, simply wrote “yes”. The octogenarian woman sitting next to me whispered for help, asking what the group of initials stood for. When I explained that the State Party wanted to know whether she was Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered, she replied “Oh, dear,” giggled, and skipped the question.
Eventually we progressed through the steps of registration and took an initial tally. Of the 14 folks at our table, it was nine for Sen. Obama, and five for Sen. Clinton, no undecideds. After a short discussion (all the while blocking out the incessant ringing of the cowbell and shouted directions emanating from the stage), it was suggested that a short speech be given in attempt to entice voters to change their position. Our group listened to a short speech about the wonders of Obama, and a slightly longer, and more detailed speech for Hillary, eloquently delivered by a prominent local former elected official. At the end, no one was ready to switch their vote but everyone agreed that they would have no problem supporting either candidate come the General Election in November.
We elected our delegates and wrapped up, finishing about an hour ahead of other caucus goers. I went home and turned on CNN, enjoying the national coverage of our state’s political process. I talked to a friend at Republican caucus; he lamented the lack of clear support behind any one candidate, and suggested that turnout was lower than expected. I pointed out that Republicans realize that their primary ballot actually counts for something, and therefore probably feel less inclined to give up a Saturday afternoon to cast their vote.
At the end of the day, the 44th Legislative District Democrats reported a two-to-one margin victory for Obama, and the State party reported a near three-to-one margin of victory.
For the Republicans, it wasn’t so clear. At 11:30 p.m. Saturday night, with the AP still labeling the race “too close to call”, Party Chair Luke Esser called the race for Senator McCain. With 95 percent of the precincts reporting, McCain had garnered 25 percent of the vote, followed closely by Gov. Mike Huckabee with 24 percent, Congressman Ron Paul with 21 percent, and the recently withdrawn Gov. Mitt Romney with 17 percent.
As of Monday, Huckabee challenged the State Republican party’s vote count, and stated that Esser had erred in calling the race. He compared the incident to the contested Gregoire Rossi campaign of 2004, and stated that his lawyers would soon descend upon our state to sort out the inequities and make the situation right.
At the end of it all, and despite the fact that one of the races is still in question, it was an extremely satisfying day of democracy for the majority of Washington State. We enjoyed record turn-out. We sat with our neighbors and debated the future of our country. Voters young, old, and in between asked each other if they were “LGBT”, ate cookies and listened to the ringing of the cowbell. With an experience like that, it’s pretty clear to me that we’re all winners when we take part in the grand democratic process.
Kevin Hulten is an award-winning journalist and a Lake Stevens resident. He maintains the Off the Record blog at www.lakestevensjournal.com. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.