by Natalie McClendon, Chair, 42nd Legislative District Democrats
Republicans and Democrats in Washington State will be selecting delegates to their national nominating conventions on different dates this year. And where voters can have the greatest impact on the decision for a nominee is also different for each party.
Republicans will be caucusing this weekend, on February 20th at 10am, statewide. You can find the local locations at their website whatcomgop.com. According to the state Republican Party website, they will be using the results of the taxpayer-funded Presidential Primary on May 24th to determine how many delegates each candidate gets.
The process of nominating a party’s Presidential candidate involves two steps: determining each candidates’ support by some popular voting method (caucus or primary), and identifying people to represent that support as delegates to the national convention. Since the Republicans are determining candidate support through the May 24 Primary, I’m guessing the Feb 20th Caucuses will only identify people willing to serve as delegates. This seems kind of backwards to me, but I don’t have to worry about it, because I’m not a Republican.
Democratic Precinct Caucuses will be held on Saturday, March 26th, beginning at 10 am. Check whatcomdemocrats.com to find the location of your precinct’s caucus, or call 647-7661. These caucuses are the only opportunity for Democrats in Washington State to participate in selecting the Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee. The Presidential Primary on May 24th will NOT be used by the Democrats in their nominating process.
When Democrats show up at the caucus, they sign in and record their preference for a presidential candidate, or as undecided. After tallying up that initial vote, everyone has an opportunity to change their vote, and if changes are made they do a final count. Each precinct has a set number of delegates based on the number of votes cast for Obama in 2012. These delegate slots are divided proportionately among the candidates based on the vote tally just taken. Then people are elected to the delegate slots to represent their candidate at the next level of the process — the Legislative District Caucus.
Any registered voter who considers him or herself a Democrat may participate in the Democratic caucus. This includes 17-year-olds who will be eligible to vote on November 8, 2016. Anyone may register to vote, or update their voting address, at the caucus and participate fully. Participation is free, but donations are welcome because the local party pays for the local caucuses, and renting over 30 meeting spaces gets expensive.
Many voters do not consider themselves a “member” of either major party. Since we do not declare a party affiliation on our voter registration here in Washington State, party affiliation is only in your head or your heart. Any voter may participate in either caucus (not both) and that same party’s ballot in the Presidential Primary. The parties wish that only committed party members participate in the selection of their party’s nominee, but there is no way for them to know who these voters are. So it’s a wide-open process for anyone who wants to join in.
It is this lack of certainty of who are party members that causes the Democrats to continue to use the caucus system. An open primary makes it too easy for non-members to influence the choice of a party nominee. A nominee gets the entire national, state and local party infrastructure, volunteers, funds, communications, etc, to help him or her run for office. So this person better be the one a majority of party members want.
Every election is determined by the people who show up.