Caucuses are terrible.

Of all the weird things I would have predicted for 2017, “caucuses are awesome and we should switch to them!” as a national movement would not have been on the list. I feel pretty confident in asserting that the bulk of the people currently agitating for caucuses are doing so 100% because their preferred candidate did better in caucus states, and not because they live in a caucus state.

Minnesota has caucuses. I’ve been going to them for years. THEY ARE TERRIBLE.

Let’s assume just as a baseline that you love going to meetings. (Because that’s what caucuses are: meetings.) Do you love enormous, overcrowded meetings where you can’t hear and have only a vague idea of what’s going on? What if the room is too warm because there are about five times as many people in it as are supposed to be in it?

Do you like having to park a mile away and walk the rest of the way to your meeting? Do you like having to stand outside in a long line just to get into the building, which turns out to be people just trying to look at maps to determine which meeting they’re supposed to go to, and once you’ve done that, would you like to stand in yet ANOTHER line to get into your specific room, where you’ll then have to stand because they ran out of chairs?

Do you love it when the people running things are inexperienced volunteers who have held meetings before, but they were the sort of meeting that only 15 people came to, and now there are people spilling out of every doorway? (No one ever gets good at running these because presidential caucuses happen every 4 years. And if there’s a Democratic incumbent they’re pretty much a formality.)

Because, I mean, if you’re a fan of all this — even if your state doesn’t hold caucuses for the presidential race, they probably do hold party meetings of some kind and you could still go. (The horrible traffic snarls and parking hassles might be harder to arrange, but you could simulate them by driving very slowly to your destination and parking a mile away and walking, if that’s an important part of the experience for you.)

Minnesotans have done caucuses basically forever and we are so fed up with them that we passed a law this spring switching to a primary for 2020. It passed with overwhelming majorities in both houses of the legislature, because after the 2016 caucuses, legislators were inundated with irate phone calls and e-mails from constituents saying, “THIS SYSTEM IS TERRIBLE. WE WANT A PRIMARY.”

In 2016, Minnesota had 204,000 Democrats show up to caucus, and 114,245 Republicans. In Wisconsin, which has a similar population and general voting turnout, they held a primary a month later. 1,000,000 people cast a Democratic ballot, and 1,000,000 cast a Republican ballot.

Caucuses suppress turnout. (That’s obvious to everyone, I hope?)

But more than that: caucuses rely on suppressed turnout.

Because two million Minnesotan cannot caucus.

As it was, on March 1, 2016, traffic backed up more than a mile on Snelling Ave an hour before the caucus was convened because people were trying to get to the site. A bunch of my friends in Minneapolis stood in line for an hour before they were even able to get into the building. If you multiplied the number of people attending by five, it would completely shut down Minneapolis and St. Paul.

When your system relies on people not showing up, it’s not a functional system.

(Finally, regarding the claim that they’re cheaper: in Minnesota, the parties had to cover the cost of the caucuses, so yes, they were cheaper for the state. You know what? If you put every precinct in a ward in one location, and reduce voting hours from 13 hours to 1.5, that’ll be cheaper. You know what we call it when it happens in a general election? VOTER SUPPRESSION.)

For more on caucuses, please see the series of posts I wrote last year, doing my part to explain this somewhat mysterious system to novice users:

Do you want to be in the room where it happens?
How to find your caucus location.

Minnesota Caucuses: The Basics
Location and time, who can caucus, how the presidential preference ballot works (new in 2016: it was actually binding on both parties), accessibility, obstacles.

Minnesota Caucuses: What Actually Happens
Signing in, parliamentary procedure, resolutions, guest speakers, recruitment, delegates, counting the ballots.

Minnesota Caucuses: FAQ
How to minimize the time spent at your caucus if all you want to do is cast a goddamn ballot; just how does the whole “party” thing work anyway; what does it mean if it’s a mess and everything goes wrong; CAUCUSES ARE TERRIBLE, HOW DO I DEMAND A PRIMARY LIKE NORMAL STATES HAVE?

 

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Election 2017: City Races in Minneapolis and St. Paul

I really need to get going on election blogging, but I have a novel that’s due in November, and I wanted to get a first draft done before I dived into this.

The draft is done! Done-ish. (I need to do a first pass before I send it to beta readers.) It is a YA novel based on my short story Cat Pictures Please, to be published by Tor YA. Anyway, I’ll be getting to this soon, and I took a peek at the city ballots to see just what I was in for.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have city races this year. St. Paul’s mayor, Chris Coleman, is not running again, so it’s an open seat. Minneapolis’s mayor, Betsy Hodges, is completing her first term and a number of people are dissatisfied with her, so she’s viewed as vulnerable. Minneapolis also has races for Park Board, City Council, and There are also races for Park Board, City Council, and Board of Estimate and Taxation. (That one’s not a competitive race; if I’m reading it right, there are two seats up for election, and exactly two people running for those seats, both of them incumbents.) In St. Paul, there’s also a School Board race.

Last time, Minneapolis had thirty-five candidates running for Mayor. In the intervening four years, they raised the cost of filing to run from $20 to $500, which has significantly cut down on the number of people doing it — it’s now only 16, so a little under half the number who ran last time. Of those 16, there are 5 or 6 with a reasonable shot at actually winning; 2-3 more who are treating their own candidacy seriously even if no one else is; and a couple of weirdos. I’m really curious whether David John Wilson of the Rainbows Butterflies Unicorns party is John Charles Wilson the Laurist Communist but with a new name and political party? His website isn’t loading for me.

There are three people running for City Council in my old ward; not sure about other wards, and I need an address to plug in to get the Secretary of State site to cough up a sample ballot.

Nine people are running for three Park Board At Large seats. There’s also three people running for the District 5 Park Board Seat. (Again, I’ll need to go hunting for the info on who’s running in the other districts.)

Minneapolis residents can rank three candidates in each race.

In St. Paul, we have ten people running for mayor. There are three I’d describe as front-runners, a couple more who are serious candidates, and one person who I think gets messages from space aliens through her dental fillings. We also have six people running for three School Board seats. In St. Paul, we get to rank up to six candidates for mayor. We get to vote for three school board candidates (because there are three open seats) but we don’t get to rank them, because the method of choosing school board candidates is determined by the State Legislature. (Don’t you envy the people who get to hand over ballots and explain that to people? If you do, you can sign up to do it! They are ALWAYS looking for election judges.)

Anyway! I will be back to start work on this soon. If you live in Minneapolis and want to be sure I cover your City Council race and/or your Park Board race, please leave an address in your precinct in my comments so I can plug that in to the SoS site. (And if you want to just pull up your own sample ballot, you can get it here: http://myballotmn.sos.state.mn.us. This site will also tell you where you go to vote.)