Democrats to rally at Saturday caucus

Delegates will help select party ticket.

Sometimes, showing up is everything.

At this Saturday’s caucuses, as few as two votes in a precinct can earn a democratic presidential candidate a delegate, who will then go on to help determine the party’s ticket this fall.

“This will be by far the most spirited debate we’ve had in a long time,” said David Harrison, island resident and former chair of 23rd District Democrats. “The last spirited battle was in 1992.”

Harrison, a senior lecturer at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs, has been involved with caucuses for 18 years and expects a significant turnout Saturday.

A caucus is a system of picking a presidential candidate to represent a political party in the general election. Most states either hold a primary – where citizens vote for their candidate of choice – or a caucus, which begins with a two-hour voting session at the precinct level.

This year’s Washington state primary was cancelled, so the only means of electing a Democratic presidential candidate is through precinct caucuses, of which there are about 6,500 in Washington.

At the caucus, voters in each precinct sit together – literally – around a table. After initial votes are tallied, candidates who receive at least 15 percent of the vote get at least one delegate to the upcoming legislative caucus. Voters whose candidates did not garner 15 percent of the vote in the precinct get to vote again.

With open ballots, political discussions can be lively as neighbors try to sway others to their candidate, or garner more support to push their candidate over the 15 percent threshold.

At the end when all the votes are tallied, delegates allotted to the district are divided pro rata among the candidates. The delegates themselves, selected from that precinct’s voters, will travel to the legislative caucus on April 24, where the same process is repeated.

Delegates from the legislative caucus go to the congressional district caucus on May 29, which selects those who will vote at the Democratic National Convention on June 5 in Boston, Mass.

Of the 95 Washington delegates who will vote at the convention, 49 will be chosen from the congressional district caucus. Seventeen “super delegates” vote for the candidate of their choice; they include Democratic party officials such as Washington’s congressional representatives and Gov. Gary Locke. The rest are selected at the state convention.

To people who have never been to a caucus or don’t know what to expect, Tom Kilbane, chairman of 23rd District Democrats, says, “You’re there with friends and neighbors. It’s not intimidating – exactly opposite.

“It’s important to be together and get to hear what real people are saying about their candidate and get to share an opinion that’s not (handed) down from high up,” Kilbane said.

Campaign workers agree.

“(At the caucus) I feel like I have the opportunity to support the person I think is best suited,” said Tim Dahl, area coordinator for Howard Dean.

Bob Burkholder, an active Democrat who has attended island caucuses for years, said there can be some confusion in having several precincts debating in one room. But “people have the opportunity to say their ideas, and (everyone) honors that,” he said.

Participation varies, but past events have drawn 6-10 voters per precinct. Thus, in a precinct with 10 voters showing up, just two votes would earn a candidate the necessary 15 percent of precinct votes.

Zac Palmer, Olympic Peninsula field organizer for John Kerry who attended the Iowa caucuses, said he sees the advantage of the Bainbridge caucuses being smaller.

“Here it’s more neighborly,” he said. “When you have 300 people (as in Iowa), there is not so much to discuss.”

In the weeks leading up to the caucus, area coordinators for candidates including Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich have been phoning local Democrats; among the messages is that because the caucus is not a primary, there are no ballots or absentee voting. Participation before the November election means actually going to this weekend’s caucus event.

“Many are misinformed,” said Stair Dickerman, area coordinator for Dennis Kucinich. “Some think they will get a ballot in the mail.”

Several campaign coordinators predicted high turnouts, in part because of excitement over some candidates. Dean backers have been meeting regularly on Bainbridge for some time, while Kucinich stopped on the island for a well-attended speech last year.

“Candidates like Dean and Kucinich have brought new people to the process,” Kilbane said. “If the Democrats win, it’ll be because of these candidates. It’s a phenomenon this year.”

He urged all Democrats to participate Saturday. “This is where the rubber meets the road in democracy,” Kilbane said.

Said Joann Dickerman: “This is where democracy begins. Vote your heart and beliefs. You will vote your brain in November. Vote your hope, not your fears.”

Who can go?

The Feb. 7 caucuses are open 10 a.m. to noon, for registered voters who sign a pledge at the caucus site stating that they consider themselves to be a Democrat. Pre-registration is not necessary.

Seventeen-year olds who will be eligible to vote on Nov. 2, 2004 will be considered registered voters. Those not qualified to vote may still participate in the caucus discussions.

Locations: Pcts. 320, 321, 322, 328, 330, 332, 333, 335, 336, 340, 345 – Woodward Middle School; Pcts. 302, 304, 305, 314, 315, 325 – Ordway Elementary School; Pcts. 310, 312, 317, 318 – American Legion Hall; Pct. 301 – Bainbridge Library.

To find your precinct, see http://, or call the Kitsap County Courthouse, 842-2061.

For information call Tom Kilbane at 780-8128.

* * * * *

Howard Dean: Learn more about presidential candidate Howard Dean and the Feb. 7 caucus at a Dean meet-up, 7 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Phelps Road fire hall. Information: 842-9294.

Dennis Kucinich: Kitsap Kucinich supporters hold a MeetUp 7-8:20 p.m. Feb. 5 in the Poulsbo Library, west reading room. Agenda includes new volunteer orientation for the Feb. 7 caucuses. Information: Andrzej Babij, (360) 779-6812 or

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