The other day, I decided
to go to the Colorado Caucus for the first time, to see if I could figure out whether it makes sense in this primary season. You see, about five years ago Colorado decided to dump its primary to save money. Then, for this election, the replacement caucuses were moved up to Super Duper Tuesday to give us the illusion that our votes matter.
Well, it turns out that record numbers of Coloradans had the same idea as I did, and decided to give the caucus a whirl. There were overflow crowds across the state, and Boulder was no exception. But did our votes matter? I still haven't figured out how this works. But in our precinct we elected seven delegates for the county convention and assembly, in March. At that forum, delegates will be chosen to go to the state convention in May. There, Colorado's delegates to the national convention will be chosen, and they will hopefully bear some resemblance to the delegates chosen in the individual precincts. But then there's something about super-delegates chosen by the party. So, when they say that Colorado voted for Barack Obama, it seems to me to be just an interesting theory for now, one that will hopefully be borne out in a few months.
We headed over about 6:20 (to a neighborhood middle school), wanting to get there in time to register. And when we were half way there, we started noticing the heavy traffic. This is strange, I expected that there would only be a few political wackos showing up. Instead, the school parking lot was full, and people were parking in the neighborhoods blocks away, and walking back to the school on the snow-and-ice-covered streets.
We walked around to the front entrance of the school. People were handing out campaign stickers for Obama. Again strange. I know that it is illegal to electioneer within 100 feet of a polling location in Colorado, but I guess the caucus doesn't count for some reason.
Walking in the front door, we see the registration table. But there is also a line of people waiting. We follow the line down the hall around the corner, down the next hall, and just keep going. Eventually the line splits in two and heads for the back of the school. It winds through the lockers by the gym so that people don't have to stand outside behind the school in the cold. We find our place in line at the end of a row of lockers.
Well, this is crazy. There are probably a thousand or more people waiting in line to register, and maybe five volunteers checking them in. I know the caucus is supposed to start in twenty minutes, and line isn't moving. Is this going to be a 2:00 AM commitment?
Ten or fifteen minutes passed and we made it past one row of lockers and into one of the main hallways. It was clear that nobody had expected this level of turnout. Someone started handing out registration cards to people in line, but there was no sense of when they would be needed. Until there was a rumor that they had stopped registering people. Were we just supposed to go home? No, everybody was gathering in the cafeteria, or maybe the assembly hall, or the gym. We followed the crowd, and crammed into a big room with no space.
Well, at least we were in the right place. After a while, the chair of one of the local precincts (it turns out that eight of them were caucusing at the school) got up to talk.
The first order of business was to give us the agenda for the night. The good news was that we absolutely had to be done by 8:45. That's PM. Less than two hours. Then each a representative for each candidate got to speak for exactly two minutes. Not a second longer, as the emcee was literally dragging them off the stage if they went over.
When the big group broke up, the original plan had been for each precinct to take over a classroom for its meeting. That plan was obviously out the window. So, our precinct, along with two others, went to the gym, and it was pretty tight in there.
Each of the precincts had to pick someone to be in charge. Then we had to figure out how to actually count the votes. You see, another difference between an election and a caucus is that there is no secret ballot in the caucus. You have to public state who you are supporting. So eventually we had all the Obama supporters stay in and near the bleachers, while the Clinton supporters went to the other side of the room. The uncommitteds were to stand under the basketball hoop. My wife and I split up, not to see each other until the night was over. Each group counted itself off. For Obama, 121. For Clinton, 33. The uncommitted group was deemed nonviable. Since we got to pick seven delegates, that meant 5.5 for Obama and 1.5 for Hillary.
Well, we couldn't very well split a delegate in half, so we needed to resolve the rounding issue. One more count. And this time, with the undeclared recommitted, the totals came out 121 to 34. Hillary won the round-off. Then the two groups had to select the five or two delegates, plus alternates for the county convention and county assembly next month.
With the presidential choice selected, a number of people left. We went through the same process to select our party's nominee for Senate (Mark Udall won all seven the delegates.) Then, our congressional district (Jared Polis got four delegates and Joan Fitz-Gerald received three.) Again, we had to select delegates.
The final order of business was the survey on the party's platform. But it had been published only on the web and nobody had filled it out or brought copies. So that was pretty much a waste of time. It's the thought that counts?
What did I learn? Well, a caucus is pretty much the opposite of an election. Secret vs. open. Neat vs. messy. Electioneering illegal vs. electioneering encouraged. For the masses vs. for the people who have very strong opinions. Designed to fit into your life vs. you'd better work your life around it.
The other thing that is obvious is that people are very much into this presidential election. I understand that last time only one person showed up from our precinct, and in the last presidential election there were only 12. This time it was 155.
Plus, I'm not even sure to what extent my vote last night actually influenced the selection of the party's candidates. You'd think with fewer people voting than in a primary each individual vote would be worth more. But then with such an arcane, byzantine process, who knows?
Labels: Boulder, Colorado, election 2008, Obama, politics, voting