Sunday, February 10, 2008

Democracy, caucus-style

I've heard a lot about caucuses since I moved to the United States fifteen years ago, and particularly over the past few months. Caucuses are like a living fossil, recalling the days when the Founding Fathers were experimenting with this dangerous new idea called Democracy.

Since I'm not a US citizen, and I live in a state (California) which does not have a caucus system, I'm not likely to experience a caucus any time soon. So I was pleased to hear about one first-hand from my friend Eric in Colorado. In Eric's words:
First time I've ever caucused. Heck, first time I've ever registered with a party. First caucus for most everyone else, too.

7 precincts in one elementary school cafeteria. Good thing the fire marshal didn't show. Typical turnout is 15 to 20 people combined in all 7 precincts, but last night the turnout for my precinct alone was 49, plus a handful of observers, and the total turnout for all 7 precincts was 355 voters.

As the only one who had actually read the rules, I wound up chairing. That'll teach me to read the documentation.
What was the experience like?
Well, you could simulate the experience pretty easily.

Just get 40 software developers together plus 10 random people off the street and pack them in a room meant for 20. Make sure any available lavatory facilities are sized for eight-year-olds.

To simulate the presidential poll, ask them to discuss the merits of vi versus emacs. To ensure a proper level of passion, make sure they are all believe that Microsoft will dump Word and replace it with whichever editor they pick. When they're finally ready to vote, do it by having them gather into separate groups and walk by you so that you can count them off like sheep. Once that's done, search through seventy pages of random government forms until you find the right reporting form and fill it out.

To simulate the senate poll, ask them to choose what they would like for dessert: apple pie ala mode, or an incredibly obscure dish from Mozambique which nobody has ever heard of or tasted (and which you can't even find the name of in your packet). Counting these results should be easy, but make sure to account for people who have already left. Search the random forms again for the proper form.

For the party platform, read aloud 3 random paragraphs each from the EU constitution, War and Peace, the Federalist Papers, Marvel Superhero Comics #37, and the Unabomber manifesto. Have them vote yea or nay on approving each for discussion at the state convention.

Finally, pass a donation envelope to help do this all again next election, and adjourn the meeting (but be warned, you'll need to stick around to sort out and sign 20 more forms before you get to leave).
I still wish I'd been there. As Winston Churchill said, Democracy is the second worst form of government; the only worse form is all of the others.


JVS said...

OK, the emacs/vi visual aid had me laughing out loud. There's a reason it rhymes with raucous. Now, here's your obligatory Alice in Wonderland link.

Anonymous said...

In my precinct, 100 people showed up at a local school It was more than the anticipated 25 people who usually attend. This was also my first caucus, and I have lived in CO since 1987. This year the date was moved forward in an attempt to involve more voters. It used to be only the party faithful who attended the CO caucus, held later in March.

They did not have enough ballots for all of us (ended up using cut up scraps of paper all night), and only one person to register each voter, so getting into the room took 35 minutes, not just 15. We followed a prepared script, so that all caucuses were run identically. There was quite a bit of advance work to coordinate all this. I was impressed.

I also had read the rules and knew what to expect....but did not take an official role that night. I arrived at 6:45 and left at 9:45, and it was still in process (but almost finished). I think if CO went to a standard ballot for the primary, many more would have voted that night. The caucus system prohibits many who are sick or handicapped from participating in the system.

I think the purpose of these caucuses is to involve morepeople in the political process, as we had to vote several times for representatives (and alternatives) to county and state assemblies where the actual representatives will be selected for higher levels and even the electoral college. Yes, they passed the hat for contributions.

In my complex we have 34 townhomes, and only 4 residents made the effort to attend that night. Most here are elderly, which explains some of it. Others would have voted, if it were a ballot only. It was a very interesting experience, and I'm glad I attended/participated that night.