Caucusing

Over the weekend, I participated in the Washington State Democrat Caucus to elect a candidate for the 2017 US presidency. As I’ve never lived in a state where caucusing was the norm, it was a completely new experience for me. And I must admit, afterwards, the sentiment and fervor have really stayed with me.

For those who are unfamiliar, caucusing is an alternative to primaries, the other way of electing a party candidate. In primaries, voters cast ballots for their candidate, similar to the general election. The procedure is quick, lasting as long as it takes to stand in line waiting for a machine or mail in an absentee ballot. Caucusing, on the other hand, is a very involved and lively process. At the precinct level (one can think of a precinct as a small subdivision of a district or county, although none of the borders align), neighbors and friends gather to debate their candidate, vote to allocate their share of delegates, who are elected amongst themselves to represent them at the county and state levels, and eventually, at the democratic national convention.

At 10 in the morning on Saturday, I biked down to the Montlake Elementary School, where my precinct, along with a dozen or so others, held its caucus. I signed in, filled out a registration form, and marked down my candidate of choice. From there, I packed myself into a trailer classroom with more than a hundred other voters. We introduced ourselves to each other while we waited. I was sitting across the table from a woman who happened to also be a PhD student, who worked in the building down the street from mine. Next to me was a couple animatedly discussing their need of roof repairs following a recent windstorm. Eventually, the rumble of conversation died down, and we were instructed to split into our precincts and begin the actual caucusing procedure.

Because of the large turnout, several precincts spilled out into the sports field. Our precinct gathered into a circle, divided into our respective camps: Hillary and Bernie. The most valuable voters, the undecided, stayed in the middle. Our precinct had three delegates to allocate, and those undecided swing voters were pivotal to the allocation of the third delegate. Over the next hour, we made our case, talked pros and cons, gave examples in support and in defense of our candidate. There were moments of calm and moments of passion. At one point, a woman from the other side threw a barbed insult and tempers seemed to flare, but civility and arbitration prevailed. The main arguments on the Hillary side seemed to be that she was the practical candidate. Even though many in her camp did not love her politics, they felt that she would be the better representative for the party in the general election. On the Bernie side, we united behind his progressive ideals and consistent policies, arguing that even if he seems the longshot, a vote for him sends a message. Back and forth the arguments flew, taking turns, rising and ebbing, until one by one, we made our commitments.

I think the most meaningful moment of the morning for me was when one of Hillary’s supporters stood out to speak. Instead of making a case for Hillary or against Bernie, she talked about the right to vote, or rather, the lack of the right not to vote. “People died for your right to vote,” she said, pointedly, “people die for the right.” And in a country where so many people take that right for granted, where so many people, whether out of nonchalance or laziness, never show up to elections, general or local, that felt like an awakening.

On that Saturday morning, it actually felt like the system works. My voice held weight; my vote was not just a name on a piece of paper. And even though I’m still convinced that the politics in this country are broken, it seems that people in the community genuinely want to and believe that we can fix it.