Election 2016: Presidential Candidates Who Aren’t Going to Win

Aside from Donald and Hillary, here’s who’s appearing on the ballot in Minnesota:

Darrell Castle and Scott Bradley (Constitution Party)
Dan R. Vacek and Mark Elworth, Jr. (Legal Marijuana Now)
Alyson Kennedy and Osborne Hart (Socialist Workers Party)
Jill Stein and Howie Hawkins (Green Party)
“Rocky” Roque De La Fuente and Michael Steinberg (American Delta Party)
Evan McMullin and Nathan Johnson (Independence)
Gary Johnson and William Weld (Libertarian Party)

I’m just going to go down this list in order and tell you who these people are and what they stand for, with particular attention to whether they’d be a plausible candidate for you if you’re a Republican who won’t vote for Trump and can’t bring yourself to vote for Clinton.

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Election 2016: The Presidential Race

You knew this had to be coming. You knew I’d have to write about it sooner or later. I procrastinated as long as I possibly could, but here we are.

I’m going to just cut to the chase right up front and tell you that you should vote for Hillary. Your vote is your vote, and you can cast it for whomever you want — Jill Stein, your cat, Zombie Paul Wellstone. But here in the universe where we’re all actually living, there are exactly two people who might become president next January 20th. One of them is Hillary Clinton, and the other is Donald Trump.

Hillary is a smart, hardworking, imperfect Democratic politician. There are loads of perfectly legitimate critiques of her, many of which were made by Bernie Sanders during the primary season. She’s too hawkish, too cozy with the banks, not aggressive enough on global warming. She’s very willing to play politics, to take stands only when they become politically expedient. (“I could have backed gay marriage sooner,” the Kate McKinnon Hillary says to “Val,” played by Hillary, in an SNL skit from a year ago. “Fair,” Val/Hillary says.)

But anyone who makes it this far in politics is going to be imperfect and she’s also smart, capable, and (as anyone who watched the three debates can testify) made of fucking steel. (AMERICAN fucking steel.)

Also, she’s running against Donald Trump.

I am going to restrain myself from recapping all the things that are horrifying about Donald Trump, though it’s hard, and stick with the fact that he’s an existential threat to our democracy. I like having elections. I like having peaceful transitions of power. Even when my candidate lost, in 2000, in a genuinely sketchy recount, I remember thinking, “in some countries this sort of thing results in soldiers in the streets, and I am glad that we can argue over this without me having to worry about a literal civil war breaking out.”

Trump said in the debate last night that he wasn’t necessarily going to concede if he lost the election. Now, just to be clear about this, the whole “concession speech” routine is a tradition, and a ritual, and a courtesy, but it is not necessary. The person with the majority of electoral votes wins the election.  (If no one gets a majority it goes to the House, and hopefully this won’t happen because we haven’t done it in a while and no one really knows how that would shake out. It’ll be a mess. But it’s a mess that is provided for in our Constitution, we don’t decide this with a dick-waving contest.) But Trump has spent months whipping up his base. He’s repeatedly told his supporters that if he loses, this will mean the Democrats rigged the election. He has encouraged violence. He has re-tweeted stuff from literal neo-Nazis and has refused to disavow his literal neo-Nazi supporters and has blown anti-Semitic dogwhistles loudly enough to wake the dead.

And it’s not just liberals seeing this.

During the Republican primaries, I said repeatedly that I’d take Ted Cruz as the nominee over Donald Trump, because once someone becomes a major party nominee there’s a chance they’ll win, and while I found the idea of President Cruz absolutely appalling, I also believed that Cruz and I shared respect for certain bedrock American values. By which I did not mean things like Freedom of Religion or Freedom of Speech, but by which I meant, “ELECTIONS: HAVING THEM.” I trusted that Ted, if elected, would stand for election in four years and leave the White House if defeated. I did not have anything remotely close to that sort of faith in Trump.

If I had to vote for Ted Cruz to stop Trump, I would. So yeah, Republicans: you can vote for Hillary Clinton, because you have seen who this guy is. You have seen that he is dumb, first of all. He is ignorant and arrogant. He is short-tempered. You can bait him with a Tweet. You can bait him by mentioning the Emmys, during a presidential debate! He will shriek about how short-tempered his smiling opponent is and bellow about temperament and call her ugly names in front of a national TV audience. He has bragged about groping women (and over a dozen women have now come forward to vouch for his truthfulness there) and has made creepy, sexual comments about his own daughter. He lies constantly. He lies about things we all heard him say or do. He brags about not paying taxes, about not paying his bills. He is a bully, a cheat, a serial adulterer, and these are all things that are on the record in every possible way.

He cannot be trusted with any of the responsibilities of the U.S. Presidency, from the nuclear codes on down. Even if you actively loathe Hillary and everything she stands for, you risk losing everything this country even is if Donald Trump takes the presidency.

Anyway, I’ll be back in a separate post to write about the third-party candidates. My writeup will be heavily oriented towards Republicans and conservative voters who are appalled by Trump but cannot make themselves vote for Hillary. I’m pretty sure my fanbase is mostly liberal (with a few conservatives who read me because I round up a lot of info and that’s convenient) but hey, maybe some of you can use this information to try to pull a family member from Trump.

 

Minnesota Caucuses: The Basics

So let’s say you’re a Minnesota resident, and you’ve got an opinion about either the Democratic presidential candidates, or the Republican presidential candidates.

On March 1st, you can vote for your preference by attending your precinct caucus.

Location and Time

A caucus is a meeting. Caucuses can be held anywhere the party can arrange space, but for logistical reasons, schools are very popular. Often all the precincts in a ward will be held at some local school, and each precinct gets its own classroom. (I have never been to a caucus that wasn’t held at a school. Possibly because state law requires schools to allow political parties to use them for caucuses.)

You can find your caucus location using this handy online site: http://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us/

I would suggest that before you go, you note down your ward and precinct number, and if the website gives you a room number within the building, note that, too.

When I went to my precinct caucus in 2008, there was a huge, huge line leading out the front door of the building, down the block, around the corner, and down the next block. The thing is, the bottleneck was being created by people consulting ward maps to figure out which precinct they were in. I knew my precinct, so we found another door, went in that way, and just made our way to our classroom. (Which also had a line! But at least it was a shorter line. And indoors.) In a regular election, if you find a line, you just get into it, because you’re in line to get a ballot, and everyone needs to go to the same place. At a caucus, once you’re in the building there will probably be at least a dozen different rooms for each individual precinct caucus. Each room has its own line for people to stand in to sign in and get a ballot. So if there’s a line outside the building, you generally will not be cheating if you find a way around it. (Mind you, it’s possible all the other doors will be locked, but in 2008 it was definitely worth trying the other doors!)

Doors will open no later than 6:30 p.m. (Many caucus conveners are planning to be there earlier.) The meetings are supposed to be called to order at 7 p.m. Balloting runs until 8 p.m. (and if you’re standing in line at 8 p.m. they’re supposed to abide by the way it works during a regular election: you’re there, so you’re present, and you get to vote.) (Edited to add: that’s true for DFLers but not Republicans! Republican balloting is done at the beginning of the meeting, so get there on time.)

Who Can Caucus?

You do not have to be a registered party member to attend a caucus, but you are supposed to be a person who generally considers themselves a Democrat (to attend the DFL caucus) or Republican (to attend the Republican caucus). When you sign in at a DFL caucus, you are affirming the following: that you live in the precinct; that you will be 18 and eligible to vote by November 8th (in order to cast a preference ballot) or that you will be 16 (in order to participate in caucus business); that you consider yourself a member of the DFL and are not an active member of another political party; that you agree with the principles of the DFL party.

You are not actually registering as a party member by signing in, exactly, but you’re affirming that you consider yourself a Democrat. It’s a somewhat fine distinction.

If you sign in to a Republican caucus, you’re affirming a similar set of things but mentally cross out “DFL” and insert “Republican.”

(For the recent transplants and the non-locals: the DFL is the local Democratic party. It stands for “Democratic Farmer Labor” and is used interchangeably with “Democrats.”)

All that said, there’s no quiz. The only scenario where someone might care is if you are very publicly a member of some other party — for instance, if you hold public office as a member of some other party. (There is actually a procedure for “challenges” but I have gone to these meetings for years and this has never come up. In theory, if someone thinks you’re not there legitimately, they can challenge you, and your precinct caucus will then vote on whether or not to let you stay. In practice, we are talking about Minnesotans. The reanimated zombie of Ronald Reagan could turn up at your precinct caucus and no one would say a word because oh god that would be confrontational.) The one thing they really don’t want anyone doing is caucusing for two parties on the same night. (Note: if you try that trick, you’ll be breaking state law. Don’t do it.)

(The caucus-finder website lists only Republican and DFL caucuses at the moment, but in fact other parties are caucusing that night as well. More info on the the Green Party caucusesLibertarian party caucuses, and I went looking for information on the Constitution Party but they don’t appear to hold caucuses.)

Note that you can totally caucus and cast a presidential preference ballot if you are 17 years old right now but will turn 18 before November 8th! And if you will be 16 by November 8th, you can “participate in caucus business,” which basically means that you can propose and vote on resolutions. (Edited to add: that’s a DFL thing, I think.)

The Presidential Preference Ballot

Assuming this works more or less like it has before, they will give you a ballot when you sign in. They’re pre-printing ballots with candidate names, but they may run out, in which case your ballot will be a piece of blank paper on which you write your candidate’s name. (All reasonable spellings will be counted. However, eight years ago, there were two very confused Republicans who came to my DFL precinct caucus and cast ballots for McCain and Romney, and that will not work. If you want your vote to count, you really need to go to the correct party’s caucus.)

If all you want to do is come, sign in, cast your ballot, and leave, you can totally do that.

Our presidential preference ballots are binding. This is true this year for both the Democrats and the Republicans. (Four years ago, it was not true for the Republicans! But it is now.) Essentially our caucus is a very inconvenient primary (because you have to come during that 90-minute period and the lines are much more of a hassle) with absolutely no absentee balloting.

The DFL has a five-minute video on what to expect at your precinct caucus, which is pretty accurate. The one thing I will note is that precinct caucuses are held every year, and they are much, much less crowded in an off-year.

Be ready for crowds this year. That means that if you’re driving to your location, expect parking hassles. If it’s a cold night, be aware that you may wind up stuck outside for a bit before you can get in.

(Edited to add: Republicans will get ballots as the first agenda item at the meeting, not when they sign in. They can vote and leave, though, if they want.)

Accommodations

If you have a disability and need accommodations to participate in your caucus — for instance, if you can’t stand in line for a long time — you have a couple of options. First, you can contact your precinct chair or the chair of your Senate District. You can find your local contacts on the DFL site. The Republican site only gives people down to the Congressional District level, but I first started trying to get answers to my questions back on New Year’s Eve, and I e-mailed Jim Carson, the GOP party chair for Congressional District 4. I heard back from him within hours. (Don’t get me started on the Democrats. Really, don’t.)

The other option is to contact the campaign of the candidate you’re planning to support and see what they can offer. You specifically want their Minnesota campaign office, because they should have local people who can help you out. Bernie’s got a very, very informative page with lots of people you can call on. Hillary’s contact information is somewhat less helpful: here.

Hillary’s less-than-optimal local organization info is better than anything I could find for any of the Republicans. Trump has a Minnesotans for Trump Twitter account. Cruz has a Facebook page. I couldn’t find anything for Kasich. “Rubio for Minnesota” got me a Wikipedia page for a Timberwolves player and here’s Google’s most helpful information on Bush for Minnesota.

(FYI, I tried a bunch of different searches and still came up dry.)

All caucuses are supposed to be held at wheelchair-accessible locations unless they literally can’t find anything within a reasonable distance of the precinct. Also, under state statutes, you have the right to an ASL interpreter if you need one, Braille materials if you need them, etc., unless they literally can’t find you an interpreter. Let them know in advance what you need.

Other Obstacles to Caucusing

You have the right to take time off work to go to your caucus, though you are required to give your employer 10 days notice.

You are allowed to bring your kids with you to the caucus. They can’t participate unless they’re old enough, but they can be in the room. How well this will work depends heavily on your kids.

If you are out of town that day, if you’re home-bound, if you’re sick … you are S.O.L. There are no absentee ballots for the caucus.

I totally agree that this sucks. I think this is a stupid way to pick a presidential candidate, and we should switch to a primary system. My recollection from the last time this got proposed is that the state doesn’t want to switch because they’d have to pay for a whole extra election in March every four years and that’s a lot of money. Under the caucus system, the parties bear the cost.

Oh yeah, that reminds me!

They will totally hit you up for a donation at your caucus. There’s usually a can that gets passed around and they may even suggest a sum.

This donation is entirely optional. You do not have to contribute. It’s nice if you can: there are costs for holding the event that your party has to bear. But you have the legal right to participate without digging out your wallet.

 

Do you want to be in the room where it happens?

In the presidential primary excitement calendar, Super Tuesday is March 1st. That’s when Minnesota’s political parties hold their caucuses. (Lots of other states, too, but I’m going to focus on Minnesota.)

Both the Democratic and Republican races are interesting enough that I think a lot of people are likely to attend their precinct caucus, many for the first time. So, as a public service, I am writing up information on who can participate in caucuses, how they work, what to expect, and helpful tips. I’ll note that my information is specific to Minnesota —  caucuses do not work the same everywhere.

However, something that should be true everywhere: if you want to participate (in primaries or caucuses) and aren’t sure where to go, how it works, whether you’re eligible, etc., call up the campaign of the person you’re planning to go and support, and ask for information and advice. They should be very motivated to help you!

In Minnesota, you can find your caucus location using this handy online site: http://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us/

Note that your caucus location is most likely not the same as the place you go to cast a ballot on election day. You will get to cast a ballot at your precinct caucus, but instead of going to a a polling place, you’re going to go to a meeting.

I’m going to split up the rest of the information across a couple of different posts, so stay tuned.