Denver Bar Association
April 2008
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My First Caucus

by Becky Bye

Until the past six months, I never knew the meaning of the term "caucus." Of course, I knew about the "Iowa Caucuses" while watching the news in past presidential election years, but I always thought it was a fancy word for a presidential primary, used by low-population states that wanted to distinguish themselves and seem important to the outcome of the national election.

In late 2007, when the races among all candidates became more relevant and heated, I learned that Colorado was a caucus state. After confirming my registration status as a Democrat, I felt compelled to look further into the meaning of a caucus because I undoubtedly would be participating in it on Super Tuesday.

During preliminary research, I was surprised to discover that a Democratic caucus requires participants from a precinct to gather, convince one other of which candidate should prevail, and then vote by hand count. As a science-minded lawyer, I was shocked. How precise is this method? Who is counting? Isn’t this method too chaotic to determine the ultimate democratic candidate or perhaps the presidential nominee? And what happened to privacy in voting?

Finally, Feb. 5 arrived. After the workday, I hurried to my local caucus location at a nearby church. After checking in, I observed that the room was filled with an accurate cross-section of my southwest Wheat Ridge neighborhood. Among the hundreds of participants were a variety of ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic situations, and backgrounds. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people. I also recall someone next to me discussing how this caucus is at least ten times more crowded than any caucus she could remember. Clearly, registered Democrats were passionate about their chosen candidate.

After an orientation session regarding the caucus procedures and guidelines, the attendees scrambled into circles based on their precinct. In these precinct circles, the voters selected a precinct captain and secretary to facilitate the process and to record votes. The two positions went to the only two who volunteered, and thus, to my delight, we began "caucusing."

Author Becky Bye took this picture during deliberations at a local caucus.
First, the precinct captain determined that we should do a preliminary hand-count to determine the amount of undecided voters. At the time, 11 out of the 60 members of my precinct were undecided. For the next 45 minutes, voters supporting either Sen Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton had the opportunity to stand in the small circle and give small speeches on why they supported their candidate. At that moment, I realized that caucusing had a certain egalitarian and democratic ideology behind it. No matter what age, ethnicity, background, or socioeconomic level, each citizen who opted to speak received the same allotted amount of time to speak and had the same audience to persuade.

After the speeches, we cast an "official" vote, by again raising our hands when our candidates’ names were called. The mathematic formula also determined the amount of delegates from the precinct that would advance to the County Convention on March 15. Since Clinton and Obama received 4.5 and 10.5 delegates, respectively, caucus officials opined that we would round to the lower number and then determine a method, either by drawing straws, coin tossing, or even arm wrestling, to determine which candidate received the extra vote. As shockingly arbitrary as a system as it may seem, a coin toss and "tails" determined that Clinton would indeed receive the extra delegate. If this extra delegate has some effect on the county, state, and perhaps national delegate count, the presidential election could have ultimately been determined by a coin toss on a church floor in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

Immediately thereafter, the precinct captain asked us to stand up if we wanted to be county delegates. At first, the precinct captain believed that he would randomly count the first five Clinton supports and first 10 Obama supporters who stood up as the delegates; enraged precinct members (including myself) reminded the captain that this was clearly against the rules and utterly undemocratic. We then proceeded to vote, and luckily, I was selected as one of the county delegates for the county convention.

Finally, as a conclusion to the day, citizens were allowed to create "resolutions" that, if passed by majority vote in the precinct, would advance to the county convention. The resolutions ranged from initiating a new 9/11 task force to determine what "really" happened on 9/11 to prosecuting our current President and Vice-President for violating the Constitution. Many resolutions were definitely outrageous and unfeasible, but almost all of them were passed by the precinct.

When the caucus was finally over, I realized that it had been more bizarre and unorganized than I had ever imagined. Don’t get me wrong; I still enjoyed it and hope to participate in many caucuses to come. By participating in the caucus and debating to persuade fellow Democrats to support a candidate while listening to other Democrats and their different perspectives, I truly felt that I made a difference as a voter beyond casting a vote by ballot. This to me is the epitome of democracy.

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