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How the Democratic caucuses work in Washington, Idaho

Voters, some of whom waited more than five hours, stand in line that stretched well over one half-mile long to get into a Democratic caucus location at Deering High School, Sunday, March 6, 2016, in Portland, Maine. Several thousand voters showed up to choose between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who’re vying to represent the party in the general election. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)
Voters, some of whom waited more than five hours, stand in line that stretched well over one half-mile long to get into a Democratic caucus location at Deering High School, Sunday, March 6, 2016, in Portland, Maine. Several thousand voters showed up to choose between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who’re vying to represent the party in the general election. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

Local Democratic voters get a chance to weigh in on the race for the presidency, as both Idaho and Washington will hold caucuses this week.

Idaho’s Democratic caucuses are Tuesday and will be in each of the state’s 44 counties. Washington Democrats will caucus Saturday.

Both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are taking the Inland Northwest seriously. Sanders will appear in Spokane at 9 p.m. Sunday at the convention center ballroom, and former President Bill Clinton will campaign for his wife at 12:30 p.m. Monday at the Spokane Falls Community College gymnasium.

Unlike primary voting, which uses a secret ballot, caucusing is a communal event, with multiple votes happening over the course of a few hours when voters can attempt to persuade fellow attendees how to vote.

Both states’ Democratic parties use caucus results to apportion delegates, who will help choose their party’s nominee at the national convention this summer.

A primary vote also will take place in Washington in May, but its results will be ignored by the party. However, this year the state’s Republican Party will use the primary election results to apportion delegates.

In 2008, more than 690,000 people voted in the Washington state Democratic primary, with more than 51 percent choosing Barack Obama. Caucus voters sided with Obama with more than 67 percent of the vote. About 244,000 people caucused that year.

In 2008, Obama also handily won the Idaho caucuses, winning nearly 80 percent of the vote, his largest victory that primary season. More than 20,500 people caucused in Idaho that year.

On the county level, Obama won Spokane County’s caucuses with 62 percent support in 2008, with more than 1,700 people caucusing. In Kootenai County that year, he took nearly 81 percent of the vote, with more than 1,200 people participating.

Four years later, when Obama ran unopposed, the numbers were significantly lower. But local Democrats expect this year’s contest to again bring out many voters, primarily because Sanders has proved to be a fierce competitor to longtime party stalwart Hillary Clinton.

In Idaho, a third candidate will be before caucusgoers, California businessman Rocky De La Fuente. People also can cast an undecided vote.

Though caucusing takes more time, it’s not a complicated process. Find your caucus location at SpokaneDemocrats.org or IdahoDems.org and show up at least an hour before caucusing begins. Once inside, party volunteers will be on hand to help, but caucus participants can expect to make at least two votes for their candidate, more if the votes are too close to call.

Time will be given between votes to let people speak and try to persuade others to switch their votes. The entire process is expected to take at least two hours.

After the final vote is tallied, delegates from your local voting precinct will be nominated and elected, and the party’s platform will be discussed, but most voters don’t have to remain at the caucus site for this.

Independent voters or those aligned with a different party are welcome to caucus with the Democrats, but if they caucused with Republicans in Idaho earlier this month, their vote will be thrown out. Also, they’ll have to sign a form pledging allegiance with the Democratic Party. Participants in the Washington caucus also will have to affirm that they are Democrats.

People who will be 18 by Election Day on Nov. 8 can caucus.

While caucuses are not complicated, the chairwoman of the Kootenai County Democratic Party, Paula Neils, has a few suggestions for first time caucusgoers.

“People should still register online. They should show up early,” she said. “And bring a snack so they don’t faint.”

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