Thursday, March 3, 2016

This Is What Democracy Looks Like. Sort of.

The heading on the letters section of today's Star Tribune said:

Precinct caucuses: This feels like democracy, but isn't.

I agree with that.

I don't know what the caucuses are like in Iowa, but in Minnesota this year they were set up for failure and stress. It appears the DFL decreased the number of locations, so that dozens of precincts were sharing the same school or other public building. This led to huge traffic snarls all around each building, lack of parking, and 40-minute lines in the cold waiting to get in, even if you were there a half-hour before it officially opened. I have no idea what happened to people who showed up closer to 7:00, the official opening time.

My caucus was held at Roseville High School, even though I live in St. Paul. That meant the only way to get there was to drive. No public transit, let alone the possibility of walking. (Past caucuses have been at my neighborhood elementary school or the high school that students in my neighborhood attend, which is farther away but is accessible by bus). The suburban Roseville school is surrounded by giant parking lots, all full, a freeway, and three major county stroads. Not a safe place to be a pedestrian trying to hike in from a half mile away in the dark, as I was.

Today's Star Tribune editorial called for Minnesota to change to primaries. I'm not sure I agree with that. I think having an absentee ballot option with a caucus could solve most of the problems, along with decentralizing the caucus locations.

Having fewer precincts gathered in a single building would mean each precinct might have a chance at a decent-sized room. My precinct's caucus was well run (compared to some I've read about), but the double classroom we over-filled had maybe 70 seats. 350 people checked in to vote, and probably 150 of them stayed for at least part of the delegate selection and resolution voting. Others might have stayed if getting in hadn't taken so long, and if the room had more space in it.

Fewer precincts per caucus site would also mean less traffic and parking. And, best of all from my perspective, it would also probably mean a move closer to home so that some of us could walk and all of us could bus if we wanted to. No parking problems at all, and more physically and financially accessible, too.

300,000 people voted on Tuesday night, statewide, which is 10 percent of the 3 million votes usually cast in a presidential election (about half the state's total population, including children). No one can guarantee that a primary would turn out a lot more voters, but it probably would. And even an absentee ballot option on top of a caucus would be much more accessible to the many people who can't get to the caucus for whatever perfectly good reason.

If you want to be in the room where it happens, you have to be able to get to the building the room is in, find the room even though you don't know your precinct number (and why should I?), and then get inside the room despite the crowd. Seems like the DFL could make that a bit easier.

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