Democracy in Action?

I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that it is time to retire the caucus system and go to a primary. I did like the caucus when it was manageable. My first caucus upon moving to this state in 1978 was in a neighbor’s living room and there were eight of us. We had the opportunity to actually discuss issues as well as vote our candidate preferences; a kind of mini-town hall.

The caucus meetings later moved to publicly accessible places and became larger in attendance. Accessibility seems negotiable; in 2008, our precinct caucus was held at Nova High School, which has a number of steps leading up to the front doors. We had a voter in a wheelchair who was understandably upset. With no accessible entrance to the main building, we were moved to a portable on the school grounds. The portable held about a dozen people, and our leader had to stand at the door to the portable to address the large crowd that could not get in. Fortunately, it was a warm day; if it had been raining, there might have been a revolution.

At some point, we lost the ability to discuss any issues due to the large numbers of attendees. In retrospect, we probably should have gone to the primary system then, as we had lost the “town hall’ aspect of the meetings. But with a primary, we stand to lose the democratic electing of delegates to the next level. If the choice of delegates is transferred to the party “bosses,” the average person has no chance of becoming a delegate. It will always fall to the long-time party members who have paid their dues (both financially and in time, attending endless meetings). It is this piece that needs to be looked at; many young people were able to be delegates in this current caucus system, flawed as it is.

Those who had to work or had physical issues in getting to the caucus were able to vote on “surrogate” forms, IF they applied a week ahead. This was an improvement over past caucuses.

Our lower Leschi precincts met at Leschi School, and it was crowded with not enough seats, and the available seats were designed for little bodies. I felt sorry for those holding small children and for the older folks who find it difficult to stand for long periods or to bend their bodies into the shape of a “little person.” Resolutions were collected, but not discussed. Hearing instructions must have been difficult with at least five precincts convening in one large room. I felt bad for the handful of folks who came after it was all over, not understanding that it was different from a “voting” day.

The 37th District caucus had its own problems. With hundreds of folks lined up outside to sign in (it was sunny and 80 degrees!) one would hope that signing in was all they had to do, but NO! Someone decided to add several demographic questions to the form, which took time and even raised concerns. Some folks felt that adding their birthdate opened themselves to identity theft. The sign–in table should have been streamlined to add some semblance of efficiency to an impossible situation.

Obviously, a limited number of folks are willing to subject themselves to this system, but how do we fare in a primary? It’s easier to mail in a ballot, but in King County, the August 2015 primary brought in 295,067 ballots from a total of 1,183,771 registered voters (25 %). In our own District 3, we fared somewhat better: 23,275 ballots were submitted for 62,821 registered voters (37 %). Pathetic.

And what about these Super-delegates? I understand that the party powers-that-be don’t really trust the electorate to make a wise (read ”winning”) choice, but this is truly undemocratic. The Democratic super-delegates in Washington are not voting for the person who “won” in the caucus system; they all support the candidate with the smaller number of votes. So, is this the choice of the people?

I also don’t understand why voting rules and regulations aren’t consistent across the country. When you move to a different state, you have to learn the new rules and if you don’t learn them, you may find yourself unable to vote in a closed primary. The idea of Federal voting rules probably makes the states’ righters livid, but we are one country and supposedly we each get a vote (except for super-delegates who get more than one vote) so why make it so hard?

Why not make it easy for folks by adopting the best, most inclusive rules from across the country and adopt them for all 50 states. And make it impossible to purge folks from the voter rolls without advance notice and the chance to appeal. We have seen this in Florida in 2004 and again this year in New York for 165,000 voters. That’s enough votes to turn an election. Maybe our elections need an international team of observers.

~Diane Snell

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