Thursday, February 07, 2008

Power, Corruption and Lies

Or ice, chaos and mobs and mobs of people as I decided to go to the Democratic caucus on Super Tuesday. I didn't/don't have strong feelings for either Hillary or Obama so I wasn't sure it was worth my time but in the end my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to go so I could see how it all worked.

I knew there would be crowds and lines but what I encountered was way beyond what I was expecting and obviously beyond what the organizers were expecting as well. The Democratic caucus usually draws 15,000 people statewide and 120,000 people showed up on Tuesday. My precinct was supposed to meet in a classroom designed for maybe 30-40 people and 191 people turned up. And the school where we met had something like 6-7 precincts combined so there were probably 1200-1400 people crammed into the school all trying to find parking and then make their way through the impossible lines to register. I had to fight traffic first from the school 3 blocks from my house then again when I got to the school were I needed to go. I found a spot on a side street blocks away which normally wouldn't have been a problem but it was painfully cold, the streets were solid ice and there are no sidewalks or streetlights so I had to try not to break my neck on the skating rink street and avoid getting hit by all the other cars looking for parking in the pitch black. At least we were able to wait in line inside but the lines were so out of hand that they were running down different hallways then converging into one big impossible line. I waited for over 1/2 an hour and still never go to register. The organizers eventually gave up and shuttled us into the cafeteria that was meant to handle the overflow but ended up being overflowed itself. I'm not a big fan of crushing crowds so I was a bit on edge but I sucked it up and got on with it.

Once in the cafeteria we had to strain to hear the organizer speaking into a megaphone (no P.A. system). He explained we would break off into our individual precincts and elect a precinct captain to conduct the straw poll. Then we would need to choose our delegates who would cast the final vote at the convention in March. The straw poll was not binding which I found interesting. What's the point of dragging us all out there to vote if the delegate can ultimately vote for whatever he wants? I searched the crowd for my neighbor Mary who is all into politics and could explain it all and who I was sure must be somewhere. But other groups were meeting in the auditorium and gym so she could be anywhere. My biggest problem was that I had no idea what precinct I was in which was a huge problem because I had no idea what room to go to to vote. Mary would know this as well but alas she was nowhere to be seen. The meeting dragged on with more explanations on procedure. Then representatives of the candidates were allowed a 2 minute speech to give a little plug. Hillary's rep spoke to her experience and electability. Obama's rep amazingly didn't go on about 'time for a change' but did use plenty of buzzwords-global warming, blah blah blah, health care, yadda yadda yadda. Nothing substantive of course. There were other people running for other things too and my favorite speech was for some guy I'd never heard of for some office I'd never heard of. Noone was there in any official capacity to speak for him so a former roomate took the floor and said, 'Yeah, you should vote for Mo because he's a great guy. I lived with him for 3 years and he was a great roomate. Mo rocks.' And that was about it. His speech got the most applause out of anybody else's.

Final the general meeting ended and I fought my way through the crowd to the registration tables to see if they could help me figure out my precinct. While we were standing in line to register earlier we were given registration cards to fill out and when you actually got through the line to register they were supposed to fill in your precinct on your card and give you a registration number. Without this number your vote doesn't count. (But it doesn't count anyway but that's another issue). I was lucky to get a card, not everybody did and those that didn't had to fill out yet another form. Finally I wormed my way to the table and they were able to give me all my relevant numbers and told me to go to the auditorium. Yay! Sounds better than the gym or cafeteria. At least I'll get a seat.

Or so I thought. The auditorium was mobbed as they'd had to combine precincts to fit everyone into the bigger rooms. All of the precincts had such large turnouts that they had to abandon the classrooms and double up in the larger gym, cafeteria, etc. Lots of people were standing but I spotted one lonely seat and nabbed it. My back still wasn't 100% and I couldn't bear the thought of standing. Luckily it was on the correct side of the auditorium for my precinct. And wouldn't you know it but there's my neighbor Mary up on the stage. Phew, finally some sense that I was in the right place in the wake of all the chaos. Mary ends up being elected our precinct captain. Actually Mary is the only one who volunteers to be the precinct captain and that was on the condition that some other guy she knew also agreed to be captain (you're allowed 2) to help her out. Turns out she's done the job many times before. The other precinct in the room had 4 crazies keen on the job so they had to vote.

Next it came time for the straw poll for the presidential candidates. I knew Obama would win and by a lot but wow I couldn't believe how much support he had. While we were waiting in line there were loads of people passing out Obama stickers and loads of people wearing them. I saw only one person in the entire mob wearing a Hillary button and noone from Hillary's camp was there passing out stickers or campaigning for her. The depth of his support was almost creepy. In the end Hillary got something like 38 votes out of 191 for my precinct. Not much but enough to take 1 of our 7 delegates. That was the one good thing, it wasn't winner take all so Hillary supporters weren't 'wasting' their vote. Delegates were assigned based on a percentage of the vote. Obama took a whopping 80% of the vote.

I went into the caucus leaning ever so slightly towards Obama, mainly because I preferred his proposed health care program over Hillary's and of course because he spoke out against the war. Hillary on the other hand does have the experience. And she sprung my cousin from a Russian prison back when Bill was in office but I supposed that was a stupid reason to vote for someone. I wonder if my cousin voted for her? You cast your vote by raising your registration card in the air and someone went around counting them all. It all seemed so quaint and old timey. You could vote for 'uncommitted' but I wasn't sure what that practically meant so I didn't. In the end 'uncommitted' didn't get 15% of the vote so they couldn't have a delegate and those who voted that way were allowed to recast their vote for Obama or Hillary. At the first go around Hillary just barely squeeked by with 28 votes or so then many of the uncommited's changed their vote for her. I ended up voting for Obama in the end. I just wish I felt better about it. Anybody remember that old Bloom County cartoon where Opus the penguin is in the voting booth debating over 2 equally unsavory candidates? He finally makes up his mind, pulls the lever and gets smacked in the face with a pie. Yup, that's exactly what it felt like.

After the straw poll we could leave or hang around if we wanted to be involved in electing the delegates. It was 8:15 and I'd had enough by that point so I skedadled. I figured I could get the scoop on the rest of it from Mary the next time I saw her. She swims in my lane at masters and I see her out on the trails in the morning every so often so I'm sure I'll run into her. In the end I'm glad I went but man what a screwy system. And so unfair to those who have to work in the evening or who can't commit that kind of time/patience to the process.

My final bit of advice to anyone heading out to the caucuses:

1. Know your precinct number before you get there
2. Bring a pen
3. Get there super early if you want to be able to park and/or grab a seat
4. Be prepared for a night of crowds, chaos, and weird ass political processes


  1. Wow, that is so weird. I'm guessing that peer pressure plays a large part in this process; I mean, if everyone else is publicly raising their hand for Mr. X, would you want to be the only person raising your hand for Mrs. Y? I've heard that straw polls before caucuses are pretty unreliable in part because of that factor.

    Voting turnout was wayyy larger than expected in CA, where we use ballots in the privacy of our own voting booths even for the primaries. The registrar of voters or someone was at Kinko's most of the day, xeroxing blank ballots because they ran out because so many people showed up.

    I'm now a permanent absentee balloter, so I had my ballot a month ago. So I filled it out Tuesday morning and dropped it off at the local precinct. How's that for efficiency? The box for drop-off absentee ballots was wayyyy fuller when I went by than the box for newly cast ballots, so I guess there were a lot of us in the same late boat.


  2. Our precinct went something like 187 Obama/86 Clinton. (It's across the street from our apt and the results are posted on the wall.) But that's SF, and the rest of CA didn't necessarily agree.

    I think we need to hear the Russian prison story.

  3. Colorado used to have a ballot system and I remember voting in at least one primary when I first moved here. Supposedly they switched to caucuses so the state could save money. One person at the caucus on Tuesday claimed that the historical purpose of caucuses is to keep the 'riff raff' out (his words, not mine). People have to be strongly motivated, not working at night, and have to have the luxury of the free time to attend the caucus. Those factors are certainly going to narrow the field of potential voters. It's horribly elitist and unfair if you ask me.

    As for my cousin in the Russian prison, well, apparently noone in the family including his own father knows the whole story. He was going to University in Russia and decided to go to some dangerous and remote part of the country, I don't know where or why. He was beaten and knocked uncounscious by someone then found and dragged away by the police or perhaps the police were the ones who beat him and knocked him out. We don't know the details. The only reason my uncle even knew where he was and that he was in trouble was that my cousin had visited some our family in Kiev beforehand and told them where he was going. They begged him not to go, told him it was dangerous, etc. but he insisted on going so they told him to call them when he got home so they would know he was o.k.

    My uncle tried everything to get him out, even went to Russia with the enormous amount of bribe money they wanted. He paid the money (I think) but the govt. refused to release his son. As it turned out one of my uncle's clients was a big wig in the Democratic party and he got Hillary to pull the strings to get my cousin out. My uncle still had to pay a huge sum of money and he had about a day's warning to get out to Russia and pick him up but in the end they got him out. Supposedly he was naked when they found him, the guards had taken his clothes away. It was some kind of prison/mental facility or something. I think it was 6-8 months he was stuck there.

    Last time I saw him at a family function he flat out refused to talk about it.

  4. I'm sorry, this comment has nothing to do with this particular post, but I had to tell you something funny, or at least I thought it was pretty funny.

    I just tried hot waxing one of my skis for the first time tonight and made a real butchery of it. So I hopped over to google in the hopes of finding stories of others who did the same thing.

    Well, did you know that your Days of Speed thread on Taper Madness was the #1 hit for my search: ["skate ski" wax forum pathetic]


  5. Wow, I'm surprised Taper Madness came up on a search at all. I've tried to get searches to come up over there and even though I keep the blog in both places I'll get my blogspot blog coming up but never the Taper Madness site for the same search words.

    I need to figure out how to wax my skis too, I've just been half assedly scraping the old wax off and glopping new stuff on. I meant to go to one of the many free clinics they have around here but never got around to it. Maybe next year. I've never ever hot waxed my skis so lord knows what I was talking about that came up in that search.

  6. Re: Russian Prison: Holy crap!!!

    Also, forgot to mention before, thanks for caucus recap, it's very interesting to hear how it works (or doesn't work) first-hand.