Wednesday, February 6, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Newbies could throng caucuses

Times Snohomish County Bureau

Democratic caucuses, conventions

Feb. 9, 1 p.m., precinct caucuses: Those who attend will discuss Democratic Party platform issues and resolutions and elect delegates to the party's legislative-district caucuses and Snohomish County convention. To confirm your local precinct number and identify where your precinct's caucus will be held, go to or call 206-583-4345.

Feb. 19, presidential-primary election: State Democrats will use the caucuses, not the primary results, in choosing their delegation to the national convention. But some prospective delegates plan to run as "uncommitted," promising to support the primary winner.

April 5, 10 a.m., legislative-district caucuses: Attendees elect delegates and alternates for the party's congressional-district caucuses and the Washington State Convention.

April 13, Snohomish County convention: Delegates approve county platforms and resolutions to be presented at the state convention.

May 17, congressional-district caucuses: Delegates elect a 51-member Election Committee to attend the Democratic National Convention.

June 14-15, state convention: Delegates meet in Spokane to approve a state party platform and resolutions to be recommended at the national convention. The Election Committee selects an additional 27 delegates to attend the national convention, along with two delegates nominated by the party's state chair, plus 17 party leaders and elected officials.

Aug. 25-28, Democratic National Convention: Washington's 97 delegates and 13 alternates gather in Denver to choose the party's presidential and vice-presidential candidates and approve a national party platform and resolutions.

Republican caucuses and conventions

Feb. 9, 1 p.m., precinct caucuses: Those who attend will discuss Republican Party platform issues and resolutions and elect delegates to attend the party's legislative-district caucuses and Snohomish County convention. To confirm your local precinct number, go to click on "local elected officials and district lookup," or call 425-388-3444. To identify where your precinct caucus will be held, go to or call 360-653-1100.

Feb. 19, presidential-primary election: Republicans will select 19 of the party's 40 delegates to the national convention based on primary results.

April 5, Snohomish County convention and legislative-district caucuses: Delegates adopt a county party platform, consider resolutions and elect 139 delegates and 139 alternates to attend the state convention and congressional-district caucuses.

May 29-31, state convention and congressional-district caucuses: Delegates meet in Spokane to approve a state party platform and resolutions and elect delegates to the national convention. Congressional-district caucuses select 27 delegates and 27 alternates, and convention delegates also elect "at large" an additional 10 delegates and 10 alternates. Three state party leaders are automatic delegates.

Sept. 1-4, Republican National Convention: Washington's 40 delegates and 37 alternates gather in Minneapolis-St. Paul to choose the party's presidential and vice-presidential candidates and approve the party's national platform and resolutions.

Frequently asked caucus questions

What's the difference between the caucuses and the presidential primary? That depends on your party. For Democrats, the Feb. 19 primary will be purely an advisory vote. The party's delegation to the national convention will consist of 80 people selected through the caucus system and at the state convention, plus 17 party leaders and elected officials. However, some Democrats who seek delegate status are running as "uncommitted," promising to support the state's primary winner. Republicans will select 51 percent of their national delegates based on the primary results, with the rest of the delegation reflecting the caucuses, plus three state party leaders.

Must I be a registered voter to participate in my caucus? Republicans say yes, while Snohomish County Democrats say anyone can show up at a caucus. To vote in a Democratic caucus, however, unregistered voters must fill out registration forms on the spot. Both parties will accept 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by Election Day, Nov. 4.

Will my party affiliation be made public? To vote at a caucus, you must sign in with your legal name, but those records remain the private property of the political parties. To vote in the primary, you must identify yourself with a party, and those records will remain public for 60 days after the election is certified.

Can I vote in the other party's primary or caucus? To vote in either forum, you must identify your political affiliation and sign an oath declaring you have not, and will not, participate in any other party's nominating process this year.

Can I nominate myself as a delegate? Yes.

Can somebody not present at a caucus be elected as a delegate? Yes, as long as that person lives in the precinct.

To attend my caucus or to be a delegate, must I be committed to a specific candidate? No. Democrats recognize "uncommitted" as a formal candidate choice, and caucus participants may elect delegates who represent that status. At Republican caucuses, precinct voters do not explicitly vote for presidential candidates. Instead, they vote for delegates to represent them at the next level of the caucus system. Those delegates may begin as uncommitted or later change their allegiance. Democratic caucus attendees must state their candidate preferences to determine each precinct's allocation of delegates, and then supporters of those candidates elect delegates to represent them. Republicans elect their delegates by secret ballot.

Anachronistic? Perhaps.

Boring? Hardly.

The upcoming presidential caucuses, unfolding Saturday afternoon in homes, churches, libraries, schools and meeting halls throughout Snohomish County, are expected to be among the most lively and invigorating in recent memory.

With true contests at stake in both parties, Democratic and Republican leaders are expecting an upsurge in the numbers of people showing up — many for the first time — at their local precinct gatherings.

Ballots for the Feb. 19 presidential primaries hit the mail last week for registered voters in Snohomish County. But many people don't realize that to make their views count fully, they also must seek out and attend their local precinct caucuses.

The state's Democratic Party is picking its delegates to the national nominating convention through the caucus system, and legally may ignore the ballot results. Republicans are splitting their delegation between the mandates of the ballot and the caucuses.

"February 9th matters," stressed Rick DeWitt, who is organizing the Democrats' 44th District caucuses. He hopes to be elected as an "undecided" delegate, pledging to support whichever candidate wins popular support in the primary. "If you have the point of view that the primary should count, then you have to go to the caucus and get elected uncommitted. Arrive by the busload and win."

While the Democrats are bringing a bigger, more urban feel to their caucuses, staging mega-events by gathering more than 100 precincts at venues such as the Everett Civic Center and Mukilteo's Kamiak High School, many Republican precincts are sticking to lower-key, smaller settings.

Paul Elvig isn't a fan of the caucus system. A venerable Republican Party pro — he has attended four national conventions, met eight presidents and nominees, and is former party chairman for Snohomish and Whatcom counties — he likens the caucuses to using a hand crank to start a car.

"It's an old-fashioned way to do it," said Elvig, 65, who prefers the ballot box. "They do get neighbors together, and there's some sense of ownership. The down side is not many people participate. It doesn't tell you who the masses favor; it tells you who the activists favor."

But since he has to do it, he's doing it with a traditional panache. Saturday, he will host five precincts at his home near Martha Lake.

He did similarly back in 1988, when as a precinct committeeman he held three caucuses in his Ferndale house north of Bellingham. That was the year of the party's biggest internal battle, he said, between supporters of "the first Bush" and Pat Robertson.

"A Sunday school bus pulled up in front of my house, and out came a group of people who I'd never seen before. And they all marched in, and they had a script. I opened nominations and I got defeated, right in my own living room. When they got done, they marched out. They didn't even eat the stuff we put out," he said.

"It happened all over the state."

That maneuver, staged by Christian-right supporters of Robertson, spurred state Republicans to create a new caucus rule: Precinct-committee officers now automatically get a spot in their delegation.

Rules about Republican caucuses had been rewritten after the divisive 1964 contest between Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller, Elvig said, when some precinct leaders tried to hide their meetings by hanging notices 10 feet off the ground. "They didn't provide binoculars," he added.

Some of his favorite stories are purely local in impact. In 1996, during his stint as Snohomish County party chair, he got a call about a vicious dog tied to the front door of a caucus site in Mukilteo.

"The precinct committeeman got mad and decided he didn't want to have a caucus," Elvig said. "I authorized them to meet outside in a car. I said, 'When you're done, honk once and leave.' "

Then there's his 1976 tale about the Republican couple at Warm Beach who split up the week before the caucus — which they were hosting. So they each held a caucus, electing two sets of delegates from the same precinct.

"The county credentials committee decided which to accept," Elvig said.

Outdated or not, caucuses gave many party activists their first addictive taste of politics.

Four years ago, opposition to the Iraq war resulted in an unexpected deluge of Democratic voters who turned up at Stanwood caucuses, said Laura Lewis, first vice chair of the Snohomish County Democrats.

"It was stunning," said Lewis. "It was the biggest event in the county — we probably had 250 people, compared with 25 in the years before. And the people who came were so passionate that we ended up forming the Stanwood Democratic Club."

The club's 80 members raise enough in donations to rent a permanent office, she said.

Lewis traces her own activism back to 1959, when she met future President John F. Kennedy at a campaign event at Washington State University and then attended a 1960 caucus. She was 18.

"In my family, if you wanted to complain about politics then you'd better be a participant," she said. "If you were not a participant, then just be quiet and don't bother the people who are doing the work."

Michele Meaker Pin attended her first Democratic caucus in 2004. "I was one of those crazy, new energies and dove in. Now I'm secretary of the county party," she said. "It's pretty cool."

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company


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