With the hotly contested race for the Republican presidential nomination dominating headlines for months, Washington voters might assume there’s nothing for Democrats to do this spring.
They’d be wrong.
Washington Democrats begin their presidential nominating process at 1 p.m. Sunday with their precinct caucuses. President Barack Obama is seeking re-election, so the nominee isn’t in doubt. But the caucuses are about more than just selecting a presidential candidate.
They start the process for choosing the delegates who formally nominate that candidate at the National Convention in early September. They also begin crafting a platform, or statement of principles, for the county, state and nation parties.
Caucuses are essentially meetings of like-minded individuals. In this case, that’s Democrats in the smallest voting unit, the neighborhood precinct, who want to talk political issues, candidates and strategy. There are about 300 precincts in Spokane County; some cover a few city blocks, others cover large portions of rural areas.
Because Washington doesn’t require voters to register by political party, attendees must say they consider themselves Democrats, and can’t have attended the Republican precinct caucuses last month.
Washington will send 121 delegates and nine alternates to the national convention in Charlotte, N.C., some chosen from the state’s nine congressional districts, others statewide; some high-ranking elected officials are also automatic delegates.
To have a chance to be a national convention delegate or alternate, a caucus attendee should be prepared to attend more meetings: Legislative district caucuses on April 28, a county convention on April 29, a congressional district caucus on May 20 and the state convention in Seattle the first weekend in June. The number of delegates and alternates each precinct caucus sends to the legislative caucus and county convention varies based on a formula that tries to measure party support.
The county conventions are primarily for adopting a local platform and hearing speeches from local candidates running in this year’s primary. But the other meetings are a way to winnow the thousands of delegates selected at the precinct caucuses to the 130 total delegates and alternates chosen for the national convention.
It’s not impossible for a person attending his or her first precinct caucus to wind up as a delegate to the national convention. But it is rare; most national delegates likely will be party activists or longtime Obama supporters.
More often, a first-time caucus attendee gets a glimpse of the inner workings of the local and state political parties, has a chance to discuss resolutions that can influence the local and state platform, and connect with candidates who are almost always looking for volunteers and donors. Some become more deeply involved in local issues or partisan politics. Some swear they’ll never attend another caucus again in their life.