Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


April/May 2004

Vol VIII Issue IV

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My First Caucus

By Karen Estlund, MLIS Day
Until recently, the entirety of my brief voting life took place in Oregon. Not long before each election I received a nice letter from Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and a vote by mail ballot. I read through the materials, researched as necessary and dutifully mailed my ballot.

Shortly after my husband and I moved to Seattle we registered to vote. Unfortunately, we did not realize that “permanent absentee” = “vote by mail” in Washington and did not register for this service. I missed my first election in Washington for the school levies, and I felt terrible. What day was the election? There was actually one day, just one day that we could vote. My husband went to work, and I went to class. No voting.

When I learned that Washington had a caucus instead of a primary for the presidential candidates, I was determined not to let this experience and civic duty to slip by. I researched on the Washington Democrats website and read the caucus rules. I found my precinct and caucus location on the King County Democrats website. I even looked up "caucus" in the OED. One of the definitions mentioned that the term was "generally misused." That fact should have been a forewarning for what was to come.

The set up: An elementary school packed with more people than expected.
All of the UW undergrads who stand at my bus stop were absent. (But maybe they’re all Republicans.) Two other UW grad students were there, one of whom completed his undergraduate degree with my husband and me. A man from Australia joined our precinct to watch the American democratic process at work.

We were all sent to the cafeteria. Copies of the caucus rules were floating around the tables. Listening to the conversations at our table, we realized that the rules were worded in a way that many in attendance did not understand. To what extent, we had no idea. There were individual caucuses for each precinct. (Ours had about thirty people.) Each caucus was to be run with adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order. (In which, of course, every American is well versed.)

The process:
1) We signed in at our elementary size cafeteria table listing our names, address, etc. and candidate choice. A woman in our precinct peered over our shoulders as we signed in our choices.
2) We found that we did not have a precinct committee officer. In effect this meant that no one in our precinct had gone to any official caucus training. We quickly nominated and signed in a man, who volunteered “because no one else will do it.”
3) We were moved from the cafeteria to the gymnasium with several other precincts.
4) The tallying began. Only Dean and Kerry survived our first round. And then…chaos….

Communication broke down. There was no authority to tell the participants what to do; the caucus rules and Robert’s Rules of Order were not sufficient without someone who was in charge to explain and enforce them. The woman who had been peering over our shoulders as we signed in was now trying to get people to switch their vote to a candidate that had been eliminated with the first vote. One of the other UW grad students kept trying to explain the rules. The precinct committee officer kept trying to read the rules and interpret them. The noise level in the gymnasium rose so greatly with all the different precincts that no one could hear anything. The grad student continued to try to explain the rules. He was wearing a Dean button, and a man in his late thirties threatened to change his vote from Dean because he was “annoyed” at being “told what to do.” Meanwhile the other five of us 20-35 year olds kept trying to confirm what the grad student was saying. Information ceased to be conveyed or understood as individuals decided to adhere only to what confirmed their viewpoint.

There was no interesting debate, no informative discussion of candidates and political views. Where was my first hand experience of democratic process at work?

After about forty-five minutes of hell, finally a man who was (maybe?) in charge in some manner came over and confirmed to the group what the grad student had been saying. We conducted the second vote. We had 6 delegates to elect. The results were split about 2/3 Kerry to 1/3 Dean. Once again communication broke down as one Dean supporter kept arguing with the group that 3 delegates should go to Dean and 3 to Kerry. Once he was finally shut down by a majority of the precinct and the delegates started to be chosen, we left.

The conclusion: As we unlocked our bicycles from a post, my husband said, “Are you sure you don’t want to move to Canada?”

Kerry won Washington. Recently, Edwards dropped out of the race. The Democratic national convention will take place in the end of July. Kerry is a sure-in for the nomination, and Edwards is likely to be his running mate. Does it matter? Will Americans ever get informed or be open to information that they don’t want to hear? What is our role as information professionals? And what about our poor Australian spectator?

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