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So I went to a Minnesota DFL caucus for the first time. To see what the whole thing was about, I stayed the whole time. The evening commenced with standing in line. There was a long line outside of the room, which is the local elementary school assembly hall, and then once you got in the door, there was a long line around the chairs before you got to the table and signed in and got your ticket of paper where you could write down your vote for president. Then I waited, and watched as the line around the assembly room turned into a figure eight circling the chairs. I am reasonably proud of myself for coming equipt with a book light so that I could read my book and take notes in the not-that-well-lit auditorium. A *lot* of people came out and stood in line, which I guess is what happens when the only time to vote is an hour and a half period rather than all day. The net total of people that came out to vote, as was revealed by the later count, was about 640, which is probably pretty big for caucuses in general, although when you consider that my neighborhood is likely to be home to lefty political activists, not surprising.

Steve, the man in the suit running the caucus, started talking to the assembled crowd as people were still waiting to vote. Since this is Minnesota, he was reluctant to stand on the stage or otherwise elevate himself over the rest of us until we all yelled at him to do so, so for the first bit of talking, the trail of people snaking around the room in line to vote blocked the projection of his voice. As best I remember, he read an introduction, explained the caucus procedure and then asked for nominations for people to be district officer, a position which has gone unfilled for the past two years. Various people were nominated to fill that position, including him; all turned it down. Then he called for nominations for two people to count the votes and another person to be the secretary. He made it clear that unlike the district officer position, these positions had to be filled and they only called for duties that night. After the audience had waited around enough, all casting glances at each other until someone would fill these roles, four people were nominated to tally votes. It's a curious system for democracy to run on: wait around until someone feels pressured enough to volunteer that they do so that the evening can continue on its proper course. This pattern of getting nominations would repeat itself.

Rather than hold an election to elect the two people to tally the votes, it was proposed that all four people tally votes. This, I will note, is also a curious system, since those of us assembled had really no way of knowing if the people we were electing to count votes were trustworthy or not. Presumably, this depends on everyone knowing their neighbors and knowing who can be trusted or not, but that is a tall assumption to make nowadays. We could have been electing Republican operatives for all I knew (of course, there is the check and balance of the ballots having to be sent in to a central office to be checked, but presumably, the people counting the ballots could create extra ballots or otherwise fudge things unless there were trustworthy people watching them. What if the other people watching them were also Republican operatives?!- gasp!). A potential secretary also nominated herself; in the absence of any other contenders and without knowledge of her aptitude for secretarial work, we voted her in for the evening.

By this time, about 500-ish of the people who had come to vote had left. They were not staying for the full caucus. There were about 120, plus or minus 20, staying to elect delegates to the local convention. It was revealed that we needed 51 (or maybe 52?) delegates, plus some alternates should the elected delegates not show up. So people who wanted to declare themselves delegates were asked to stand. 39 people stood. They went to the front of the room as instructed to sign up. Through question and answer it emerged that we were giving up votes by doing this, so a number of other people also decided to go up to the front of the room and declare themselves delegates or alternates. I was among them. First I signed up at one table, and wrote down that I would be willing to serve as either a delegate or an alternate, but then the powers that be realized that the secretary did not have the names of each of the people signing up so that it could be determined whether or not we had 51 or 52 people and did not need to have an election (it seems unlikely that we would have had to have an election because all of the people who are alternates do usually end up seated at the convention, but the possibility existed, so it had to be accounted for) so we all had to go speak to the secretary. When I went over to give my name to the secretary, I forgot to say that I wanted to be alternate, so I ended up as a delegate. So I'm an elected... not an official quite?.. but I'm elected... something. At least, the 120-ish people there elected me to be a delegate along with a slate of 50 or 51 of my peers. Go me! I get to go to the local convention and vote for senator and maybe(?) president on March 1st.

Since too many people signed up after we had figured out we did not have enough people, there was a surplus of alternates and so then they had to work out the order of the alternates. Then we took a non-binding vote on senator preference. 80-ish people voted for Franken, 12 for Ciresi, and 31, myself among them, for Nelson-Pallmeyer. Then a number of people left. After the massive exodus after polling for president, people were slowly trickling out the whole night.

I may be missing some steps here. At various points, a representative for Keith Ellison, as well as Peter Dibble himself, came to talk to us. We also went through the same process to get delegates again for 12 delegates to the local city/county government convention where candidates for the school board would be decided upon, except this time we didn't get any alternates. We found out our results for the presidential election: 1 undecided, 2 for McCain (in the wrong room), 1 or 2 for Kucinich, 5-ish for Edwards, 130-ish for Clinton, and a round 500 for Obama. The audience received this news with resounding applause--it's certainly confirmation for me that I live in the right neighborhood. The evening concluded with resolutions, which are mostly symbolic but also sometimes content-driven resolutions that will go to create an platform for the party. There were 21 resolutions submitted. Some were really obvious things that a group of liberal Dems such as live in my district would obviously agree with: with statements such as "we believe that every child has a right to health care", an overwhelming "yay" vote was pretty much expected. But there were a few more complicated resolutions, where people felt compelled to debate the issue, or make brief speeches, so the process took a while. The chair had to ask three times whether or not the people in the audience wanted to say anything for or against the resolutions three times before it could be put to a vote. I had gotten there at 6:30, the caucus proper didn't start until 8:00, and I stayed until the end at 9:45.

Overall conclusions:
It was definitely time-consuming, but I don't feel like it was an evening spent poorly. It was an interesting insight into the way primaries used to be run, and still are run in some places nowadays, but I think the era of procedures like caucuses are going to slowly come to an end. There was a rather convincing article in the Strib today arguing that caucuses are not a terrifically democratic way of running primaries. It's true: caucuses certainly demand some time out of the participants, and many people who have jobs or other commitments at that time of day are likely not to participate. Only the party loyal, and those with the ability to sit through meetings, are likely to stay until the end. The system, as the article pointed out, unfairly privileges these people. Even if the category of people willing to sit through caucuses now includes me.
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