It’s caucus day in Minnesota. It’s also Super Tuesday. Finally, it’s the day, in Minnesota, when I ask my wife the following question, “Would you say today’s weather is more like a lion or a lamb?”
The caucuses are getting a lot of press this year because both parties have hotly contested presidential races. I’m predicting it will be a chaotic evening, with overflowing classrooms and plenty of confusion.
The excitement of the presidential race always brings new people to the caucuses. I remember attending my first caucus in 1998. It was an off-year. I think we had less than 10 people show up in our precinct. I remember still being confused.
It’s just a meeting
So here’s what you need to know. A caucus is a fancy way of saying “meeting with a bunch of people who live near you and share the same political party leanings.”
That’s it. It’s just a meeting.
Like all meetings, the caucus has a leader. There’s someone who calls the meeting to order (a convener) and then one of the first items of business is to elect the person who will chair the rest of the meeting. In the caucuses I’ve attended, the convener always gets elected chair. That’s good because that person was trained and prepared to lead it. Meetings run better with a leader who knows what to do.
After that, there are 4 main activities that will happen at tonight’s caucuses.
1. Vote for a presidential candidate
The thing that will give tonight’s caucus some extra juice is that during the meeting, ballots will be collected from participants to indicate who they want to be their party’s presidential nominee. This vote affects the way delegates to the national convention are chosen. It matters. If you want a say in this process, you should show up and drop your ballot in the box.
2. Elect precinct officers
Anyone who is interested in party politics gets their start here. They can run for and become the precinct chair or associate chair. At my first caucus, someone pointed at me and said I should be associate chair, and then they elected me. Not exactly what I had in mind, but also no big deal.
Here’s my advice. If you don’t want a job, don’t raise your hand. If someone tries to twist your arm, give them a big smile and say, “No thank you.”
3. Elect delegates to district convention
Endorsing candidates happens over a series of conventions that cover progressively larger territories. After precinct, the next step is a district convention. After that there are conventions for counties, congressional districts, states, and finally a national convention.
The delegates for these conventions are selected at earlier conventions. At tonight’s caucus we will select delegates to attend the district and county conventions. It’s at the district convention that we will endorse candidates for the Minnesota House and Senate. At that convention we will also elect delegates to the congressional and state conventions.
In my house district, there is a three-way race for endorsement. All three campaigns will be trying to get their supporters elected as delegates to the district convention. That should create some excitement too.
4. Consider resolutions
The final major activity that occurs at this meeting is to deal with resolutions. Party’s have a platform, which is a statement of where it stands on a wide range of issues.
Proposals for what should be included in this platform are first made at precinct caucuses. The League of Women Voters Minnesota offers up lots of resolution suggestions.
You can stand up and suggest that the party come out in favor of making Tater Tot Hotdish the official state food of Minnesota. Please note it’s a hotdish and not a casserole. This is Minnesota after all. If you can get a majority of your neighbors to agree and vote for it, the resolution begins its journey through a series of conventions. If people keep voting for the resolution, it could one day become an official party position.
If you’ve never been to a caucus, tonight’s your opportunity. Show up and vote for your favorite presidential candidate. Then stick around and participate in grassroots democracy. Find your caucus location here.
On the off chance you try it and don’t like it, you can then be a more informed citizen lobbyist when you ask your legislators to change Minnesota’s caucus system to a primary election. I’ve already seen prepared draft resolutions asking parties to find a way to offer absentee voting for caucuses. Of course, if that happens, I wouldn’t have any reason to write about it on a meeting blog.
PS. Arrive early. I predict tight parking in many caucus locations.