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Understanding Washington's caucus cacophony
Understanding Washington's caucus cacophony
by Barbara Sehr - SGN Contributing Writer

In the coming week, the Democratic campaign for President of the United States heats up. Some 24 states will vote in primaries and caucuses on February 5. There's a possibility that the nomination could once again be decided before Washington State decides its choice four days later. Then again, there's also a chance that Washington's place in the rotation could give the caucus-winner the nomination.

Washington Democrats will definitely be confused.

Ballots for the February 19 Presidential Primary will be distributed beginning January 28, as the national campaign runs up to the "Tsunami Tuesday" orgy of primaries and caucuses. Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington State can mark their choices and send them in - even before February 5.

However, the votes of Democrats in the primary don't count for anything. Democrats MUST appear in person on the afternoon of Saturday, February 9, to vote in their neighborhood caucus. Only the caucus vote counts for Democrats.

Republican voters will choose half of their delegates at the primary, and the other half at the February 9 caucus.

If this sounds confusing, it is because political parties - not the state - rule the process of nominating a candidate for president. Each party has the right to choose its delegates any way it sees fit, even though a 1988 voter initiative created a Washington State primary that has become a "beauty contest." This is also the first year that mail-in ballots for the primary have crossed paths with the caucus delegate selection.

Political activists like to say that Washington State caucuses bring out dedicated voters who know their candidates and their issues. Primaries, they say, bring out only voters who have been fed television advertising and voters who are unfamiliar with the records of the candidates. Candidates, on the other hand, prefer the state-run primaries that do not require the amount of election-day organizing demanded from the caucus.

Over the years, Washington State's late vote on the road to nominating conventions has meant little. This year, however, the front-loaded primary and caucus process has pushed the state's vote into a presumably more meaningful time period. Washington could find itself in position to be either the crowning or penultimate vote before both party's nominees are decided.

The three remaining Democratic candidates - John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama - all have local operations organizing attendance for the February 9 caucus.

It is still uncertain if any of the candidates will appear here, but if they do, chances are it will come after the February 5 surge in which California, New York, Minnesota and many southern and Rocky Mountain states will vote.

Because party caucuses are controlled by the party, you do NOT have to be registered to vote 30 days in advance. You can register at your caucus location on the DAY of the caucus. (This does not apply to the primary.) More information on voter registration is available at http://www.metrokc.gov/elections/register.htm.

For more on the February 19 Primary, read this FAQ sheet from Secretary of State Sam Reed. Visit http://www.secstate.wa.gov and click on "2008 Presidential Primary" under "Featured Content."

The State Caucuses are only the beginning of the nominating process. In March, County caucuses and legislative districts will choose delegates to Congressional District caucuses. Each of the State's nine Congressional Districts will select delegates to the national nominating conventions. The Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis will select the standard bearers for each party in the November election.

To find where to go for your neighborhood caucus on February 9, check the following:

King County Democrats: http://41dems.org/gmap/caucus.html

King County Republicans: http://www.kcgop.org/caucus_locator.html

More information is available on the SEAMEC Web site at http://www.seamec.org

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