PDHblog This is a place for members of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i to express their thoughts, hopes and exasperations about political happenings.

February 20, 2008

Hawaii Caucus Retrospective

As a precinct president, I helped staff my Democratic Caucus in Honolulu (District 25), and it was a phenomenal night! I brought a friend with a disability and arrived early, about 5:30 (voting was to begin at 7 PM). At that time, almost everyone there was a volunteer worker, but soon people coming to vote were arriving early. People had gotten word of a possible huge turnout. We had a huge line of new voters, and another huge line of people registering as Democrats for the first time— so many that we ran out of Democratic Party registration forms! If we had designed the influx better, we might have had a third line for registered voters who are already members of the Democratic party, but weren’t sure which precinct they were in (we could have processed everyone faster.) Some came expecting to vote early, registered, and then had to leave before voting even began.

Everyone had to go to their precinct table to await the official time for the caucus vote, 7:00 – 7:30 PM. Our tables were filled to overflowing. Some precincts quickly ran out of Precinct Sign-in forms, and I barely had enough. The procedure was that when the District Chair gave the go-ahead, everyone had to get a ballot from a precinct officer and vote. Unfortunately, we had no microphone or loudspeakers in the room full of hundreds of people! The poor district chair had to try to shout over the din to let us know when it was time to vote. Once balloting started at 7:00, there was mayhem for a while. There were FOUR names on the ballot: Clinton and Obama, of course, but also Kucinich and Edwards, even though they had dropped out, and “Uncommitted.”

It was then up to the precinct officers (like me) to match up sign-ins with votes in order to validate the totals. We didn’t have to match each vote with each sign-in, but the totals had to match. We basically had to trust that people would not vote unless they had signed in, and that they would only vote once! In my precinct, everyone left as soon as they voted. No one in my precinct stayed for the “party business” that was supposed to come next. At that time, the people of each precinct were supposed to elect officers. There were forms to fill out identifying the officers of each precinct.

But even after my tables had voted and emptied out, there were still long lines with new voters, and newly registering Democrats who needed to know what precinct they were in. Consequently, I was kept busy with a trickle of voters long after the voting was supposed to end. Finally, about 8:00, we got the call (or “shout”) to start counting ballots. Of course, the ballots in each precinct had to be signed off by two people. By this point, I was the only person left in my precinct, so I had to get help from another precinct.

My precinct, most of which was easy walking distance from the school Obama attended (Punahou), went heavily for Obama, 56-6. All precincts in our District went heavily for Obama, about 3:1.

The challenge going forward

One of the volunteers in our District was Brian Schatz, who formerly represented our District in the State Legislature. Interviewed on HPR that was broadcast today (Feb. 20), he noted that our challenge going forward was to capture all of this tremendous energy and participation, these new voters and new party members, to get them involved in the weeks and months ahead. This is a significant challenge, because bureaucratically, the Party needs to collect all the sign-in sheets in order to verify the votes– but it is exactly this information that the precinct officers need in order to rally neighborhood Democrats in the months ahead. Theoretically, this was to have been solved by the sign-in forms, which were set up in triplicate, so that the precinct officials could retain a copy of each sign-in sheet. However, in the frantic crush of a huge turnout, and getting everyone registered, we were using photocopies of the top page, so there were no carbon copies to keep, and I made the mistake of giving away some of my triplicate forms to other precincts.

The challenge then will be for the Democratic Party to expedite returning the sign-in information to the precinct officers, and holding workshops to help the precinct officers learn how to capitalize on this huge influx of new members. My impression of the people at the caucuses was that the nuts and bolts of the Democratic Party were BORING, and something to be avoided. For the health of our party, we need to find a way to make working with the Party something fun and vital– kind of like the Obama campaign is doing in the primaries, and will no doubt do in the general election, as well.

How can we meet this challenge?


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