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

we did our best!!

A few more thoughts to put down about last night’s Democratic caucuses that didn’t make it into my last post. Perhaps best that they are split anyway… the last one was full of elation, this post will have some of my gripes and annoyances.

I went to bed last night thinking that considering the chaos, there seemed to be relatively few complaints. Most people seemed to understand that we were doing our best. I have been perusing other blogs that posted reports from different locations last night and just got around to checking Jerry Burris’ reports at HA. Many comments coming in are from people complaining about their site’s lack of preparedness. Let me respond to one that was directed at my district. I think these complaints are probably representative of how many others felt across the State. I can only speak for myself, but I imagine my response is likely similar to that other organizers across the State would make as well.

Comment from: Ni [Visitor]

Democrats, democrats, democrats. Hello, don’t you read the paper? The media has been predicting a blow-out in numbers tonight; you have been fielding so many questions that your answering machine is sizzling hot. Yet what’s the first thing you run out of in Palolo tonight? Ballots. That’s right, ballots. Cheap little pre-printed pieces of paper about the size of a 3 x 5 card. Paper is cheap, laddies, but the cost of looking like amateurs is high.

As you *knew* you would be slammed with voters tonight, here’s a thought: open up more than one sign-in table. I arrived at Palolo Elementary at 6:15 and had to wait half an hour in a line up the hill to the sidewalk to get in. As I did, I glanced over my shoulder, and saw that the line behind me was just as long as when I started (in other words, it would take everyone in line behind me half an hour to get in).

You did one thing right: after asking whether most people had come for vote their presidential preference (and receiving a resounding “YES!”), you let us vote and escape, doling out the ballots a handful at a time. When I escaped, I saw that the line to gety in … was pretty much where it was when I first entered. And you still had one sign-in table.

Oh, Democrats!

02/19/08 @ 19:40

I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but this comment made me angry. First of all, the way the commenter addresses us as “Democrats” over and over again, it is as if he/she is an outsider. Hello! You just signed up as one of us. Be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Secondly, yes we knew were going to be slammed. I literally had nightmares about it. Even in my wildest dreams I was imagining 300-500 people at the absolute maximum. Remember, 4 yrs ago there was a “record” 128. I went out and bought a bunch of name tags and extra pens on my own dime to help identify those who had verified their membership and voter status. All of this became nearly impossible to control with over 1000 people. You say the “media” was predicting a blow-out? Who do you think they got the estimates from? The Party. Reporters don’t think for themselves! I saw CNN reporting that we were expecting “up to 40% higher turnout”… I knew they were wrong, but again I was thinking in terms of double or triple “normal” turnout. We had no idea there might be 10 times normal turnout.

“Paper is cheap, laddies, but the cost of looking like amateurs is high.”

Yes, paper is cheap… but guess what? We are amateurs!!! Every one who helped make last night possible were volunteers. None of us get anything concrete out of this. We are doing it because we believe in the Democratic Party and want to be part of a solution. Honestly, I was absolutely thrilled at the number and caliber of people that stepped up to the plate and helped out in Palolo last night. They did an incredible job under very challenging circumstances.

Yes, we had only one table at the front. That table was to verify voter registration and Party membership. In order to do these things you need the proper materials including a book listing all districts and precincts on the island by address and lists of all Party members and all registered voters in the district. These are big lists and we only had a few copies of them. We had as many people working on it as possible. We abandoned checking every single person early on in the process when we saw how many people were in line. Instead, we asked those who knew these 3 things to go directly to their precinct area: 1) they were registered to vote 2) registered as a Democrat and 3) knew which precinct they were in. The vast majority of people there were NOT already Democrats and did not know their precinct number, so we had no choice but to check those people individually.

The person that wrote the comment laments that people had to wait in line for half an hour. Sorry for the lack of sympathy, but I have none in this case. I was proud that we managed to welcome over 1000 people in District 20 to be a part of this process. For comparison, in the 2006 General Election 7775 total votes were cast in District 20. That includes everyone, all Parties or lack thereof. That even includes blank ballots. That vote was conducted all day long on a State Holiday and consisted of 7 different sites. We essentially handled the equivalent of one normal precinct (if all were approximately equal) in the General Election in only 3 hours total including other precinct and district business with a handful of volunteers and no State funding. And that included registering people on-site! That doesn’t happen in State elections. I am sorry if I seem a tad defensive here, but I think that is amazing!

While I am griping, I will make one more complaint. I hate it when people only bother to vote when they perceive that it matters!!! A strong democracy is dependent on an informed and involved electorate. If we only go out and vote when others might care about what we think, how can we ever expect our elected officials to pay any attention to what we think. We need to be standing up for what we believe in all the time. No matter what anyone else thinks.


  1. It is a natural tendency for for people to become frustrated by lines and disorganization. Some folks grumble a bit too readily, but those of us who helped organize the caucuses are naturally a bit defensive as well.

    When we are told that we should have seen the crowds coming, I have to smile because I know there was virtually no media interest in the Hawaii caucuses until February 5th. Super Tuesday seems so long ago in people’s minds, but it was only two weeks ago folks. Please adjust your timeframe accordingly.

    PDH, and other groups, tried to interest the public and the media in the upcoming caucuses in late January when we held a forum to allow prospective voters to hear from representatives of all the campaigns. We could have done a better job of getting the word out, but I am enough of a fisherman to recognize that the fish weren’t biting at that time. Nor was the Obama campaign getting much interest or attendence at its events at that time. Thousands of new party membership applications were sent out through the campaigns but very few cards were coming back in. The campaigns were accused of holding back the completed cards in order to wage a stealth campaign. But no dice. Nobody was signing up!

    In most cases, the schools and parks reserved for the caucuses had to be booked BEFORE any votes had even been cast in Iowa or New Hampshire. At that time the Party had to guess what kind of interest there might be. The more optimistic were assuming the turnout would possibly be about two or three times, due to Obama’s local ties and the assumed organizing skills of the business and professional class folks in the Punahou “extended family.”

    As Super Tuesday approached, there was a slight stirring of local interst, but it still expressed itself as potential, rather than actual support. After the Super Tuesday results, interest rose sharply and the local media stories both reflected that interest and helped it expand. The Party phone started ringing off the hook with people asking questions. The Party had had an online membership enrollement form, but only recently was anyone starting to use it. (We ended up taking it down when someone complained that it was not consistent with Party Rules.) So that gave us a guage of interest.

    A wave was rising up, but no one could tell how large it would grow. Even a couple of days before the caucus, I talked with a leader of the Obama campaign about possible turnout. I had guessed 15 thousand, give or take 5 thousand, because we had no way to know, He had ventured out onto a limb and guessed 15 to 18 thousand. He was probably the person best positioned to “guesstimate” the turnout and it was over twice what he had projected!

    Most people who participated in the caucuses struck as pretty mellow about the inconveniences. I like to think that they are offering criticisms as a means of suggesting improvements. At my meeting, we had problems with the parking so a woman stepped into the lurch and spent two hours helping direct cars out onto the field to park, giving up her place in line to help out. She was not a member of the Party until she came in the door and signed a card two hours later.

    I saaw a comment on a blog about how we had run out of ballots at my district and were printing them up onsite that evening. Instead of complimenting us for rising to the occasion, this person was kvetching about our lack of foresight in having enough ballots on hand. I quickly composed a simple ballot in MS Word and printed the mout on sheets, while my friend and his ten year-old daughter cut them by hand. A short while later, a woman walked up with a paper cutter, saying that she was a doctor with an office nearby, saw what we were doing and went to get the paper cutter. She brought along another ream of paper to allow for even more printing.

    News stories were repeatedly telling people to download voter registration forms and party enrollments forms from our website, fill them out and bring them with them. Thousands of people did so, but thousands more did not. Because we wanted to allow the maximum number of people to vote, we allowed for voter registration and membership enrollment on location that evening. A “better organized” and more practical operation would have required advanced pre-registration. The Republicans only allowed folks to vote in their BORING caucuses if they had formally enrolled in the Party at least 10 days in advance. Silly us for welcoming all comers and generating lines as a result!

    I would guess that the Party gained 25 thousand new members in the last month. Maybe 15 thousand of those are people who waited until the last minute and joined last night. We charge no dues of Party members, because that is too close to a poll tax. The new members can help the Party improve if they are willing to pitch in and help, rather than just vote and run. Just sending a letter to welcome the new members and explain how to get involved will probably cost over ten thousand dollars. We can definitely use some donations. We have upcoming county and state conventions in May and can definitely use lots of volunteers for those events.

    I understand that people are busy with their own lives, but that includes the many volunteers currently helping with Party activities, like the precinct caucuses last night. I will be pleasantly surprised if 1% of the 25 thousand new members step forward to volunteer on a consistent basis for Party activities. Of course, the challenge is for the Party to effectively tap that potential support and put it to good use.

    New rule: anyone who grumbles gotta stetp forward and volunteer to help. Or to at leaast “buy your way out” with a donation to help pay the expenses of putting on Party events, sending out mailings, maintaining staff, paying the rent.

    Comment by bartman — February 20, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  2. Thanks for adding your two cents, Bart!

    I admit, I am a bit defensive right now… I am blaming it on lack of sleep. Only got about 4 hrs of shut-eye last night.

    The vast majority of people at my site last night were gracious and patient. I will do my best to help engage at least a few of them… Those that I can find anyway!

    Comment by rachel — February 20, 2008 @ 4:18 pm

  3. very interesting stuff. Mahalo for all your hard work to make it happen.

    In Hana we had a good crowd for our small town and signed up a bunch of new Dems, but very manageable compared to the stories I hear from other sites. It was actually a lot of fun with everyone in very uplifted spirits and joking around, feeling inspired to be part of this historic moment.

    I posted some photos:


    and some folks posted reports from other sites in the comments.

    Comment by Scott Crawford — February 20, 2008 @ 9:26 pm

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