God Bless America (a political rant)

This morning Kimberly and I went to our precinct Democratic caucus, an exercise in the franchise that makes me worried for our nation, and laughing louder at the idea that we could perhaps get the Iraqis to use a similar system.

My imagined picture of “caucus” from years of Iowa reportage was a few quiet folks gathered around a living room. The Washington 36th District Democrats, for some reason, decided it would work better to gather 10 precincts together into the cafeteria of the local elementary school, even though all decisions needed to be made at the precinct level, an arrangement that only re-inforced the confusion and disorganization of our local party faithful. Never has the joke about “I belong to no organized party, I’m a Democrat” made more visceral sense to me.

A PhD in acoustics awaits the person who can explain just how that cafeteria simultaneously absorbs some sounds of speech AND echoes others at the same time. Into this space put 10 precincts, each with about 60 people, a handful of party operatives with regrettably quiet voices, and a ridiculous failure of preliminary preparation, and chaos ensues.

It doesn’t seem too hard to fulfill the requirements to a)have everyone state a preference for a candidate, b)accurately count those statements, c)inform those supporting candidates with less that 15% of the precinct’s votes that they have to make a new choice, d)get that new choice recorded e)recount and assign delegates, and go home. And, since the party has a rule that says everyone has to sign in, and express a preference on the sign-in sheet, all the counting and recounting should have been easy. In an organized party the whole thing could have happened in 15 minutes, but it took over an hour.

Our precinct captain had a peculiar desire to move everyone to sit together by candidate, which led to much shuffling around and confusion. No one could hear what the instructions were, and we were sitting at lunch tables sized for 3rd-graders, in a vaguely defined corner of the cafeteria with no obvious border as to who was in or out of our precinct. And he seemed wedded to the idea of counting people once they’d sorted themselves, which was also silly, since people kept moving around, not realizing he was counting, since he was speaking at the volume of a librarian.

Much delay ensued when those voting “uncommitted” and “Kucinich” had to decide whether to go to Dean or Kerry, the two candidates with enough votes to get delegates from our precinct. Finally, they split about evenly, and our precinct went 31 for Kerry, 29 for Dean. I watched the count after the precinct Dean lead, the precinct Kerry lead, and I finally convinced the party captain that he should be working from the sheets in front of him, and give up on the silly head-counting. 3 Kerry delegates and 2 Dean delegates go from our precinct to the county level meeting. (I feel so empowered.)

All this mess from a group of affluent, literate, numerate, well-meaning people who’ve actually grown up in a democracy and are familiar with voting and electing representatives. I was embarassed. Especially since the caucus procedures have been all over the news media lately. Plus, the party has only been planning on this caucus for MONTHS, and have known there would be record-breaking attendance for just as long. Kimberly and I and our two next-door neighbors designed a more efficient organization in five minutes, while watching the hapless precinct captain try to count Kerry supporters.

So, I realize that the local party folks are all volunteers, and none of us kibbitzers have actually taken any time out of our lives to work to make this better. But come on! It isn’t rocket science. Do we have to do EVERYTHING? If this is a valid example of our grass-roots ability, I can understand why the Republicans are winning everywhere. Sigh.

Oh, well. At least I got my neighbor off the fence on the Dean side, with the argument that Kerry is obviously going to get the nomination, but if Dean doesn’t do well at least once, politicians for a decade will be even more afraid of straight-talking, and pollsters and handlers will be able to frighten their candidates with “Look what happened to Dean” any time someone show signs of having a backbone.

We now return you to your regular programming, already in progress…