Obstacles to democracy

For more on caucus vs. primaries, see www.factcheck.org/2008/04/caucus-vs-primary/

It’s over! It’ll be another four years until we caucus again. And that’s not long enough for many people who left Saturday’s Democratic caucus disillusioned with the process, desperately longing for a presidential primary instead.

They have a point. In many precincts, the caucus was chaotic and beyond messy. Turnout at 80,000 Democrats was nowhere near the 120,000 people in 2008, so it’s hard to fathom why it was so much more disorganized and tumultuous.

Lines to get in were endless, stretching for blocks in my west Reno neighborhood where three of Reno’s largest precincts were assigned to an elementary school with a small multi-purpose room that was quickly crowded, humid, and deafening.

Brightly-clad Bernie volunteers pleaded for patience but cheerfully ignored the “you must be in line by noon” rule, as even more people crammed into the packed room well after 1 p.m. My precinct of 197 people was moved to the playground but since there was no microphone to announce the change it seems likely some people were never informed.

After an hour of milling about on the playground, several of us dove into the overwhelmed multi-purpose room and finally identified a young woman with a white packet, a precinct leader. We strongly encouraged her to join us outside so we could begin our caucus before even the diehard Democrats left.

For me, the best part of the caucus was actually standing in the long line to get into it. There were lots of neighbors and friends to greet, and the political discussion was organic, bubbling up naturally as we slowly inched forward. It felt like an hour well spent, chatting about politics and marveling at all the Democrats in a line that stretched to opposite corners of a long city block.

Once inside, patience quickly turned to annoyance. Volunteers were working hard to check people in but seemed clueless as to which precinct went where or when the process would begin. No one seemed to be in charge. I offered several times to assist but was politely waved off. There was no microphone and no hope of being heard above the din. Worse, there were no accommodations for the disabled or elderly, many of whom had spent more than an hour in line and now could not sit down and rest.

People asked me why Nevada doesn’t have a primary instead of a caucus, rightly pointing out the number of people who were disenfranchised due to the short window for voting and the insanity of the process, at least in our neighborhood. I gave them the historical perspective, noting that before Senator Reid managed to move us up to third in the nation in 2008, Nevada almost never earned a visit from one presidential candidate, much less virtually all of them.

If only there had been an organized political discussion, a real caucus, I would have come away happier. Instead, after two and half hours, we were finally able to turn in our voting cards, and the majority of our large precinct immediately departed—missing the final tally and the selection of delegates to the Washoe County Democratic County Convention.

The best dialogue I had occurred while I was searching for our precinct leader. I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in months who told me he was caucusing for Sanders, and we had a friendly argument about the merits of the two candidates. His bottom line was wishing to send the party a message. My counterargument was the need to move beyond a symbolic message and pick the candidate who gives us the best chance of winning in November. He gave me a kiss and a hug and said he wasn’t ready to stop sending his message yet.

It was an answer I could respect.