Rose Vanyo |Senior Staff Writer
Century’s Social Change Club co-hosted an event to raise caucus awareness and bring information to students on Thursday Feb. 25, 2016 in the Nest on West Campus. Both major parties were represented with Speaker Keith Downey for the Republican Party, Haylee Hamilton of MY-DFL a Democratic Party group, and Dick Ottman with the League of Women Voters.
With the Primary election looming this year, citizens and students around the country are being urged not only to vote, but also to attend their local caucus to rally support behind their party’s candidates of choice. In a race towards an election with highly polarized candidates, the average citizen might be thinking what is the point in voting at a caucus? My candidate option will represent my policy choices anyway won’t they? This year is hosting a candidate race that is full of reasons why that may not be true, and in an effort to clear things up let’s start with answering a few questions about what a caucus is.
The definition of Caucus according to the Oxford Dictionary is: a meeting of the members of a legislative body who are members of a particular political party, to select candidates or decide policy.
Presidential candidates used to be chosen at each party’s political conventions. Both parties would host a gathering of the nominees and select their primary candidate for presidential office. Due to various changes in the primary and caucus calendar, election laws, and how primary campaigns are run, those conventions have become more ceremonial affairs than formal decisive events. Conventions have gotten too big to be voting events and so each major party’s nominees are now offered a chance to run in the primaries and caucuses. After these events are completed and the voters have narrowed the candidates down to their favored choice, each party’s winner is announced at their conventions and we have the General Election candidates.
Q: What is the difference between a caucus and a primary election?
A: In presidential campaigns, a caucus is a system of local gatherings where voters decide which candidate to support and select delegates for nominating conventions. A primary is a statewide voting process in which voters cast secret ballots for their preferred candidates in the race to the Presidential office.
Since we caucus here in Minnesota, every voter has the chance to bring up issues that they see as important to their community in the form of resolutions. These resolutions will be submitted to the community party leaders with the hope that they will be picked up by the delegates and passed to the convention to be selected as part of the party’s platform during campaign season. After campaign season, this becomes a way in which to hold your party and elected officials accountable. By agreeing and running as advocates for the resolutions on their platform, the candidate is basically saying, “I hear you, I agree that this issue is of great importance, and we intend to do what we can to resolve it.”
Now that we have cleared up these differences and how they affect the process of choosing a presidential candidate for the general election of the president, let’s look at what this means to voters.
“The most important thing, like most things in life, is to just show up” as Dick Ottman of the League of Women Voters said at our campus event. This sentiment was reiterated by all of the speakers, and is a consensus amongst both parties. According to an article in The Saint Peter Herald, the 2008 caucus saw a record number of caucus goers shattering the previous caucus turnout record from 1968 or 1972 of 80,000 with a total of 214,000 voters. If this is any indication for this year’s caucus numbers, both respective parties will get their wish.
Questions posed by the interested crowd at the Nest ranged in topics, including whether or not all citizens of legal age should be allowed to vote in primary or caucus elections. This question was further narrowed down to asking the speakers’ opinions on felons being allowed to vote upon release from prison, which in turn brought to light an interesting loophole that anyone of legal voting age is allowed to caucus even if they are not allowed to vote in the general election due to criminal background. This sets the stage for every voting age citizen to voice who they would like for their presidential candidates and have their issues addressed on a larger platform.
In this widely varied candidate pool, all voters can be assured that perhaps more than ever their vote counts. As stated by one Nest event attendee, “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.” While the complaints may continue, they can perhaps be heard the clearest at your local caucus, and who knows, maybe yours will make it all the way to your party’s convention.
If you have never been to a caucus or primary election before because you were uncertain of what it was, hopefully this cleared a few questions up for you. If you don’t know where to go for the next election season you can go to the Minnesota Secretary of States official caucus finder web page http://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us.
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS POST-EVENT
1) Did you have any previous knowledge of what it means to participate in a caucus?
2) Have you voted in a Primary Election Before?
3) After what you learned from today’s event, do you intend to participate in the Super Tuesday Caucus events?
“No… Yes… Absolutely.” Ruth Meza, Age 22, A.A. Major
“No, I don’t… No, I’m pretty new at it…I think so, yeah.” Sam Martin, Age 19, A.A. Major
“No… Yes… I’m definitely going to, yes.” Frances Castagna-Stasson, Age 62, Teacher
Based on these few interviews, this campus event was a success at informing the crowd of the reasons caucusing is important and convincing them to go.