Sunday, January 13, 2008

Half The Story

In a casual sort of e-mail conversation I told Miss Rebecca that I didn't understand how a caucus worked. So she casually answered me back and this is what she said:

So, caucusing is a little bit like picking teams in gym class. There's no little curtain, there's no secret ballot, your choice is right out there for everybody to see and is (legally) quite susceptible to peer pressure.

On caucus night, you go to your precinct at a designated time- everybody from your precinct will be present at this time because there's no absentee vote. (The aim is to decide how the precinct's delegates will vote at some other meaningless ceremony in few months time- this is similar to the electoral vote, with a number assigned based on the precinct's population, except that, in this case the delegates are real people who will be assigned later that evening. Someone suggested that this is a throwback to a time when a paper ballot was even more vulnerable to tampering and the community would elect respected individuals to travel the distance to vote on their behalf.)

Some caucus-goers go into this event with strong feelings of allegiance to a candidate, having been bombarded by campaign mail, speakers, phone calls, and door knockers, but some are undecided. If you're certain of your candidate, you go immediately to the area of the room assigned to the supporters of each candidate and try to convince those undecided voters to join your camp. My mom told me that one how-to-caucus lecture suggested that baked goods would be a perfectly valid form of persuasion. (Apparently, Hillary did have food and water available for her caucus supporters.)

After a period of time, the milling about stops, and the supporters of each candidate are counted. (This is an amusing process, because there's no standardized method, so there's a lot of trial and error involved in getting a group of adults to collaborate on a simple task. "Okay, count off." then, "All right, this time everyone's going to raise their hand, and when you say your number, put your hand down." then, "Okay, this time when you put your hand down, you point to the next person.") A candidate must have at least 15% of the people present in order to be considered "viable."

The viable candidates are announced and a second milling period follows. During this time, supporters of the not-viable candidates either re-align themselves with a new candidate, or simply go home. Viable candidate supporters now have to convince these people to join their camp, potentially with better baked goods.

At the end of this second period, another count is made. This number is turned into a percentage, which determines how many delegates are assigned to vote for each candidate. (Apparently there's some special formula to determine this, but it's basically percentages.) At my mom's precinct, for example, 3 delegates were assigned to Obama, 2 to Edwards, and 1 to Hillary.

I should point out that the Republicans do it differently, but in my house, we don't care about such things.

Now, it's very interesting in its entirety but what I'm hung up on is that last line. "I should point out that the Republicans do it differently, but in my house, we don't care about such things."

"Republicans do it differently." [insert filthy political joke here]

Is it a secret? How could you do it differently? Are the baked goods mandatory and can you be penalized for forgetting them? Do they serve beer and underage boys? I was already confused that there was a way to vote that didn't so much involve voting but conversation (or from what I can tell from the above just sitting in a chair in a specific part of a room). I do question the validity of the Democratic version in a modern world where we're more able to keep paper secure than people but I do get how it works now and yet she's telling me there's a third way? My world, she is rocked. But I think I want to learn

So, all you smart people out there, can someone tell me how the Republicans do it differently, please?


  1. Hmmmm, some silly ideas popped into my mind:

    * republicans really know how to count votes?

    * they let the free market come up with a solution?

    * they cause you to doubt your patriotism if you choose baklava over pound cake?

  2. Anonymous10:33 AM

    I've never caucused, and I don't know how Republicans do it :-), but there are similar (anonymous) voting systems whereby you can rank your choices. Sometimes you can distribute points among candidates, sometimes you just indicate who your first choice is, etc. The huge benefits of that is that, if the person with the most first choice votes doesn't get a majority of the votes, or whatever percentage is required to win, the candidates with a low percentage of votes would be eliminated from the race and all the ballots for that candidate would be assigned to the second choice of those voters. That way, if, for example, there are 3 candidates and 2 of the candidates are similar. If candidate #3 gets the most votes on the first vote count, but doesn't have the majority of the votes, then one of the 2 similar candidates on the second count will probably win (even though they had fewer votes on the first count), as the lower vote getter of the 2 will be eliminated and most of that persons votes will probably go to the candidate similar to her or him. That way the candidate that a majority of the voters doesn't want to win actually won't win.

    But that would make too much sense to do in this country :-)

  3. Couldn't this be easier? Seriously. Lets just go and vote and all the votes should count even the ones in FL. And Texas should not cheat either.
    Fuck around. Really.
    I am looking to Obama to change some of this. Read his book. He has some great things to say about campaign and finances.

  4. Anonymous10:03 PM

    I don't really know how the Republicans do it (and probably never will, heh) but I think it's something like what Miflohny suggested.

    I don't know how much national coverage it got, but there was a lot of local outrage on the Republican side of things- CNN had already projected a winner when at least one precinct had not even BEGUN to do whatever it is they were supposed to do.

    Gertrude, I tend to agree. I got to see him speak at about 11:00p.m. in a junior high gymnasium (but that's an ENTIRELY different post) and found him very charismatic, but very genuine. His passion is infectious. What I think I liked the most about him, though, is his wife. She spoke briefly, introducing him and you get the sense that if anyone is going to take him to task for keeping promises, etc., she'll be the first in line.