It is less than four weeks until Washington State begins the process of nominating candidates for president. Unlike many states, Washington has both party caucuses and a primary. If you are a Democrat, the primary doesn't count for anything. It's more complex if you are a Republican. (Washington Republicans pick 49 percent of their delegates at Feb. 9 caucuses, and 51 percent in a Feb. 19 primary. Washington Democrats pick all their delegates at Feb. 9 caucuses.)
Caucusing is a little complex, and this post is meant to remove some of the mystery of it for you. Pay attention, because Washington State could actually make a difference this year. (Especially if what seems to be the Obama-Clinton race is not settled by February 5th's Super-Duper Tuesday.)
My experience with this phenomenon includes caucusing for Howard Dean in 2004; I was a delegate to the 46th Congressional District Convention several weeks after the precinct caucus. By then, Kerry had clinched the nomination, so all of the delegates (even if their initial choice was out) lined up for him. He eventually carried Washington's primary (and later the general election).
Caucuses are a way to bring communities together to argue the merits and demerits of presidential candidates. In Seattle, they mostly occur in churches, schools and libraries. Those in attendance from each precinct gather for a more-or-less structured debate about the candidates. After eye-to-eye conversation (and sometimes conversion), several polls are taken. Any candidate with more than 15% of the vote is then entitled to delegates to the total reported in newspapers the next day. These delegates move on to the district, county and state conventions, with the final outcome of the selection of Washington's delegates to the parties' national nominating conventions. Caucuses and conventions are ways to begin the party mobilization process - essentially organizing get-out-the-vote efforts 9 months before the general election. (Somewhere in there is a really good gestation metaphor.) It's not just the presidential race that is considered, though. Die-hards can offer resolutions at the precinct level that have the opportunity to contribute to district, county and state party platforms. A basic explanation of the Democrats' system is available here.
In the end, what happens February 9 mostly just provides bragging rights for whichever candidates remain in the hunt.
The first tier in the caucus-convention cycle consists of the precinct caucuses which will be held on Saturday, February 9, 2008 at 1:00 pm at a location in or near your neighborhood. Because you have to be present in person to participate, it's important to know your precinct number. In King County, visit this web page to look up that information. That page will tell you your polling place, BUT NOT YOUR CAUCUS SITE! That is because the state runs the primary and the parties run the caucuses. To find your caucus site, you need to go to your state's or county's party website. The best is the caucus finder on the Washington State Democrats' web page. To help my one King County Republican reader find his caucus information, here is the website you will need. Where you caucus really matters which party you are in. For example, if I were a Republican, I'd be heading to the Nathan Hale High School cafeteria. Since I'm a Democrat, I'll be heading to Sand Point Methodist Church.
The only qualifications permitting a vote by proxy are religious observations, military service or disability. If these apply to you, fill out this form. For me to participate, I'll need to drive to Seattle from Spokane. Fortunately, I have other business in the Emerald City, so the trip will be worth it. Furthermore, I have voted in every election since moving to Washington, and I intend to keep it that way!
By the way, if you are looking for a prognostication of the outcome of these 2008 races, look no further than this blog's predictive installation.