Goodbye to those endless caucuses
By Jean Godden
Sometime soon, probably this very week, you will receive your ballot in the mail, an opportunity to vote for the presidential candidate of your choice. And this time, if you vote for Democratic candidates, your vote will really matter. That's been a long time coming.
State Democrats have finally said farewell to caucuses used to choose nominees for president. The party clung to the caucus system long after it was shown to be undemocratic, easily manipulated and a time-consuming pain.
If you've ever attended one of those presidential caucuses -- held in state legislative districts every four years -- I don't need to tell you about the frustration of trying to register your opinion. We knew that, to be good citizens, we needed to vote. But in the past the party made it as difficult and unpleasant as possible.
How well I remember the caucuses four years ago, each with its own painful story. In my legislative district, we first lined up and went through a lengthy sign-ins, conducted by harried volunteers. Once verified as registered voters, we crammed into a crowded, unheated school lunchroom. It was cold enough to see your breath.
We listened to an uninspired pep talk from some official and then split into individual precincts. Because of space limitations (we weren't allowed to use classrooms), our precinct met in a janitor's supply closet, no seating, standing room only. But at least the crush of bodies helped raise the temperature slightly. Some precincts squeezed into corners of the noisy lunchroom or lined up in a long hallway. One group met outdoors in the freezing school yard.
Volunteers (show of hands please) were given an opportunity to speak on behalf of their candidate. When the impromptu electioneering ended, we voted by a show of hands. We'd split almost evenly between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. After someone calculated the outcome, we picked delegates to represent us at the county caucus, scheduled on a Sunday afternoon.
Just my luck. I was going to the next level. It turned out to be a repeat, but with even more bureaucratic agony. Longer lines to sign in, lengthy handouts to juggle and a request for donations to help defray costs. Once finding one of the few remaining bleacher seats in the school gym (some delegates were left sitting on the floor), I quickly discovered I had landed amidst a swarm of Bernie bros, all intent on proposing time-consuming amendments to the official rules.
The day dragged on, hours waiting for a credentials report, hours waiting for rules votes, more hours passing well-meaning resolutions and confirming local endorsements. Sustained only by purchases at a refreshment stand with meager choices (a diet coke and tiny bag of Fritos), we finally separated into different camps and went off to pick delegates to the state-wide caucus. After seven uncomfortable hours, I decided to let someone else have the honor.
At one time, caucuses might have made sense. One friend of mine still talks about how she loved going to a caucus, seeing neighbors and picking a candidate. That was ages ago when you could meet in someone's living room and eat cookies. Today is different.
Take this year's Iowa caucuses, once thought a model of democracy. The debacle that resulted showed what happens when you try to apply untested technology to a homespun exercise run by untrained volunteers. Stories of the resulting chaos are worthy of a Monty Python free-for-all. When caucus leaders tried to report results they faced Catch 22 rules (no cellphones allowed, but you had to have a phone to get the required code). Add to that a campaign conducted by the GOP opposition to jam phone lines. Small wonder candidates are contesting and a recanvass is underway.
After Iowa's fiasco, Washington voters can be happy to have an opportunity to vote their choices in a well-regulated election. No matter that it's nice to meet one's neighbors; democracy matters more. This state's presidential caucuses -- attended by only a fraction of the voters -- have been replaced.
Few of us have regrets.
One number that would have been useful is that in 2016 27,000 people voted in the caucuses, but 800,000 people voted in the mail in primary.
If we want the most democratic process, then voting is the right way to go, because it obviously includes more voices, and a much broader diversity of the electorate.