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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Back to Basics

posted by on February 7 at 11:00 AM

Everywhere I go, I keep getting some very basic questions from people about the Washington caucuses on Feb. 9, questions that indicate a high level of voter confusion. (Such as, “Haven’t I already voted if I’ve mailed in my Democratic primary ballot?” Answer: No.) Which is a reminder that while I’m down in the political weeds thinking about the superdelegate count and the Edwards effect, most people are not, and many are struggling just to understand how caucusing works. Here, then, are the basics:

The Stranger’s guide to caucusing. (Includes answers on when, where, and why, if you’re a Democrat, you must caucus to have your vote counted.)

My primer on the political lay of the land in Washington State.

My column on Washington’s superdelegates.

Annie Wagner’s long Q&A with the politically confused.

Details on tonight’s Clinton event and tomorrow’s Obama event.

RSS icon Comments


it's sort of like the Old USSR with its one party system. If you belonged to the party your vote mattered. Here it's a two party system. If you belong to the party your vote matters. Many of us are independent voters and the party does not want our vote to matter. It's not really that complex.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | February 7, 2008 11:20 AM

I've been told by as reliable a source as Will of Seattle that should one not care to participate in the caucus mess one can:

1) arrive at the caucus
2) register at the caucus
3) express your candidate preference on paper that will be counted as if you were there, and
4) leave

Could you/would you verify this as essentially correct. Thanks

Posted by RHETT ORACLE | February 7, 2008 11:33 AM

Not quite correct. You have to wait until everyone is seated and the caucus is convened. Wait for a speech addressed to all the precincts.

Posted by Fnarf | February 7, 2008 11:38 AM

Q: Why are The Stranger's caucus explainers so full of misinformation and incorrect guidance?
A: Nobody cares.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | February 7, 2008 11:41 AM

Don't you HAVE to sign the paperwork declaring your party affiliation? If you don't sign the pledge of the party they won't let you get involved. I think that's the basic way it works. Seems reasonable.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | February 7, 2008 11:50 AM

Wasn't there a caucus cheat sheet in this weeks print edition? Is it online somewhere?

Posted by Mike of Renton | February 7, 2008 12:20 PM

voter confusion? no doubt. particularly for state democrats. caucus/primary ballot? i spent most of super bowl sunday with my friends trying to figure out whether either/or mattered more than the other. mark a ballot is easier than go to caucus.

it's since been clarified...thanks, stranger. but even today, in the PI's lead story about clinton/obama coming to town, you will read this misleading statement:

"The Democrats, though, choose 80 of their 97 delegates through a process that begins with the caucuses..."


Buried in the last paragraph of this same article is a small nugget of clarification:

"Reed, Secretary of State, said even though Washington Democrats are ignoring the primary..."

The article closes by saying that mail-in ballots from Democrats outpace Republican ballots, which suggests that Democrats' votes are pouring in at record levels. Too bad none of them will matter one whit.

Posted by cineaste | February 7, 2008 12:25 PM

Can (ex)felons caucus?

Posted by felonious | February 7, 2008 12:36 PM

If your registration is new or recently changed then the Dem Party website
to find your caucus site might require you to enter your precinct number.

In that case here's how to find your precinct number:

Posted by Barak | February 7, 2008 12:39 PM

And don't forget: you don't need to stay for the whole caucus.

Just sign in, put down your vote, let your precinct chair know that you need to leave, he/she may ask you to wait for the "welcome speech" to begin, then leave. Should take 15 minutes tops.

Posted by Barak | February 7, 2008 12:42 PM

@2 - yeah, but it's a lot better than staying for four hours ... (refers to his checklist ...)
@8 - only if you have restored voting rights and will not be voting in the GOP Primary. ex-felons with voting rights are ok.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 7, 2008 1:53 PM

@5 - your sign in is your pledge, it's where you legally affirm/swear that you are registered to vote and will not be participating in the GOP Primary. It's also where you choose your first preference. Once the official instruction is done, you can leave, unless you might want to change your vote (e.g. if you are for Kucinich and you don't have enough people, you might want to switch to Obama or Dodd and run as their delegate).

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 7, 2008 1:56 PM

cineaste @7,

I believe the PI was right. At the precinct caucuses, delegates are selected to go to the Legislative District Caucuses in April, then they go on to the Congressional District Caucuses in May where most of the final delegates are elected. Then at the state convention in June, additional delegates are elected or appointed. So this weekend's causcuses are just the start of a winnowing process that ends with the state convention.

I'm sure other Sloggers will clarify this summary if I'm wrong.

Posted by elrider | February 7, 2008 2:23 PM

Eli, I hope I speak for at least a few people in Slogovia when I say: Thank you.

Thank you for trying so hard to keep us updated on the important info on caucuses...without your reporting, i would NEVER have even known about caucuses (embarrassing) and woould have thought my primary ballot was all i needed to do. Also, helping us to understand what to expect at caucuses is much appreciated -- i am 100% against them (secret ballot man, all the way) but will execute my civic right and attend.

Looking forward to more of your good work.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | February 7, 2008 3:46 PM

P.S. When I say "Nobody cares", I am NOT referring to prospective caucus attendees.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | February 7, 2008 3:59 PM

elrider @ 13 is correct. Tens of thousands of precinct-level delegates will be elected this Saturday. They will go to the legislative district caucus, and those who are interested can stand for election to the congressional district caucus. The 9 congressional districts then elect a proportion of delegates for each candidate to go to National. The total number is 80. An additional 17 will be elected as at-large delegates at the state convention. These will be supplemented by the superdelegates at National.

The process does not end with precinct caucuses.

Posted by Geni | February 7, 2008 4:29 PM

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