Washington State Has a Caucus And A Primary? Why Both? What’s a Caucus Anyway?

So I was wondering what the whole deal was, with having a caucus and a primary, and went out looking … I found this great explanation from one of my favorite local geeks. Vanessa Fox.

Washington State Has a Caucus And A Primary? Why Both? What’s a Caucus Anyway?: “

This is a post in two parts. First, a few words about marketing, and then, an answer, once and for all about Washington state’s primary and/or caucus situation. A couple of days ago, I mentioned that a great search engine optimization tactic is to provide useful information about what searchers are looking for. I know, it seems obvious, but it’s so simple that I think it can sometimes be overlooked. I noted that I did a search to find out the primary schedule for each state and I didn’t find a good result until #13. I suggested that political sites (candidates, activist groups, news organizations…) should figure out what their core audience might want to know and then create content for it. I gave a few examples in an article I did over at Search Engine Land about the use of the internet in this year’s election season.

I asked several other questions (about environmental issues, the war in Iraq, the economy) and official candidate sites weren’t returned on the first page for any of them. Candidate sites could be well served by a page that talks about the details of each major issue and how the candidate leans.

And proof that it works, my blog post about the primary schedule now ranks #1 for my original query, as well as for queries like ‘what is the difference in primary or caucus states’, ‘primary in each state’, and ‘when is each primary’.

One of the questions I asked in the original post was about the difference between a primary and a caucus and why Washington state has both. Suzan LeVine has put together a wonderfully comprehensive (and non-partisan) write up that she has titled ‘Caucuses For Dummies’. I’m copying her article with minimal edits below since I find the whole topic fascinating and I think a lot of other Washington voters are as confused as I was.

Caucus For Dummies: A Non-Partisan Primer On The Washington State Presidential Caucus and Primary By A Pre-First Timer
By Suzi LeVine

Key Messages

  1. If you’re a Democrat – the primary means nothing. In fact, I think I will let my 5 yr old practice staying in the lines by filling in circles and playing ‘voting’ on my absentee primary ballot. The Republican primary has 51% usefulness for delegates (see below for more details on this).
  2. To find your caucus
  3. The caucuses are at 1pm on Saturday, February 9th and our delegates will really matter in this election!
  4. I have never been or participated in a caucus before. This year, however, I’m more inspired than ever to have input into this system (if you don’t vote, you can’t complain). However, I had a hard time finding the information that would help me. So – I started asking some questions and digging up information for myself and also to share with you – with the goal to help more people have a voice in this election.

    Q: Since our caucus is on Feb 9th – after Super Tuesday – will it even matter?
    A: Quite possibly. We don’t know how Super Tuesday will turn out – so it’s best to be prepared to attend and participate in the Washington Caucus. We could be at a place where every delegate counts. Also – after Super Tuesday, less viable candidates’ delegates may be in play – so – our delegates will still be valuable. Plus – what a cool way to fulfill your civic duty!

    Edit from Vanessa: Turns out, our votes count even after Super Tuesday!

    Q: If Washington State has a caucus, then what’s all this I hear about a primary?
    A: It’s crazy, but in fact, Washington State has BOTH a caucus (on Feb 9th) AND a primary (on Feb 19th). BIG WARNING!!!! Don’t be fooled by the primary (especially since absentee ballots will be distributed on or around Jan. 30th). The caucus is first and has more impact on who the people of Washington select for their presidential candidates than the primary. Here are some specifics to be aware of:

    • Democrats select 100% of their delegates to the national convention based on the caucuses – even though there is a primary ballot for Democrats.
    • Republicans will allocate 51% of their delegates based on the primary results and 49% based on the caucus results.
    • An individual can vote/be represented in both the caucus and the primary – as long as they stay in one party for both (I could be counted in the caucus AND vote in the primary).
    • The full text of info about the primary from the secretary of state is here as a PDF.

    In other words – if you’re a Democrat – your primary ballot for president doesn’t really matter that much. If you’re a Republican, it does. Either way – you should still go to your local caucus.

    Q: What is the timing for the caucus?
    A: 1pm is the latest you should arrive. The first ½ hour is when folks get registered and acquainted and when they start chatting. 1:30pm is when nominating can begin.

    Q: What is the experience/what happens at a caucus?
    A: Again – while I’ve never been, I’ve spoken with a few folks who have and it sounds nutty but fun (kind of like a Snickers bar). Here is what I understand the main steps to be:

    1. In advance of the caucus – find out what your precinct is and where your precinct will be caucusing (see the question about this below for how to do this).
    2. Sat. afternoon, Feb 9th – you go to that location, walk in and sign-in (again – getting there by 1pm).
    3. You gather by precinct and do some schmoozing and discussing.
    4. At 1:30 – sub-groups will form around the candidates and a person will be selected from among each candidate group to speak to the larger precinct about that candidate.
    5. Each candidate group will get to speak and, at some point, the Precinct Chair will ask people to align by candidate. People then shuffle around to where they are putting their support.
    6. There may be additional speaking and deliberation.
    7. If a candidate doesn’t have that much support – there may be some jockeying for those people by the other candidates.
    8. At some point (not predetermined) – the Precinct chair will finalize the results, take a headcount and, based on the percentage breakout, distribute the delegates that have been allocated to that precinct based on population of the precinct (not based on caucus attendance). For example, let’s say a precinct has 1000 residents in it – it may have 10 delegates allocated against it. In the caucus, if there are 100 people who show up and 40 of them support candidate A, 40% candidate B and 20% candidate c, then candidate A will get 4 delegates, B will get 4 delegates and C will get 2 delegates.
    9. Feb 9th is actually just the first round of delegate voting – but should be reflective of the final outcome of the state caucuses. The precinct elected delegates (they are chosen by the group at the caucus) then go to a district, county and then state caucus – with the final caucus selecting the delegates who go to the national convention.

    Q: How do I know where my caucus is and what my precinct number is?
    A: Your precinct number is on your voter registration card. However, your voter location IS NOT necessarily your caucus location. Use the tools listed below to find out your precinct number (if you don’t have your voter registration card) and/or to find out the caucus location.

    Q: Can kids come?
    A: Kids are allowed to come (they won’t count toward the total unless their going to be 18 by the election in November). OR – of course- you could find childcare.

    Q: Do I have to have an ID?
    A: I’m still trying to determine that. I don’t think so, but it’s safer to bring it – even if it’s your drivers license, voter registration id, etc…

    Edit from Vanessa: Looks like you don’t need ID.

    Q: Do I have to already be a registered voter?
    A: NO – you can register to vote at the caucuses – as long as you’ll be 18 by the November election.

    Q: Do I already need to be registered for a particular party? Or – if I already am, can I only participate in their caucus?
    A: While you will need to choose a party (or stick with the one you’ve chosen), even if you are registered for a particular party already, you can change your allegiance for the day (although you can’t participate in both caucuses on the same day).

    Q: What if I’m religious and don’t write on Shabbat? How do I register to participate in the caucuses?
    A: The only writing that I could ascertain is the signature when you register. SO – in theory, you could show up and still present arguments and participate in it in that capacity. There is a form to fill out so that you can have a proxy in the actual process. I couldn’t find the one on the Republican’s website, but here’s the one for Democrats. However, this needed to be submitted by Feb 1st to actually count!

    Q: How do I get selected as a delegate?
    A: It is done during the caucus process based on who has the cleanest teeth. (LOL) Seriously, the people in a particular group for a candidate select their delegates from among that group.

    Q: What are the dates for subsequent district/state/national gatherings?
    A: April 5th is the next one. More info can be found on the respective sites – listed below.

    For more information:

    Seattlist also has a great post about the subject.

    (Via Vanessa Fox. Nude..)

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