Down in the Caucus, Out in the Street
I went to the Minnesota Democratic caucuses tonight. What a madhouse. What a zoo. There must have been five hundred or more people at the middle school.
(Update: There were 2,600 attendees in my Senate District, where there had only been 233 in 2004, and 95 in 2006. Wow!)
Across the street, the Republican caucuses were being held at a high school. The parking lot of the middle school was jam-packed when we arrived just before 7pm. There were lines out the door. We made a slow loop through the lot, waiting in line behind many other cars, before parking across the street at the high school. Where the lot was also full but not as many cars trolling for spots. Walked across the street where people were not respecting the crosswalk.
Picked one of the two lines and waited outside about 20 minutes in the cold before getting inside to find a line that looped down a long hallway and back and then down another long hallway. There were rumors that if you knew your precinct number, you could go ahead and get in some other line. I called my neighbor who looked up a number that we later found out wasn’t the number they wanted. My wife held our place in line with our 2-year-old daughter while I went up to the front to ask about our options. It sounded like you could go ahead if you had your number. Also at the front of the line I discovered that the other line coming in another door from outside emptied right into the front of the long snaky line. Our line was getting ripped off.
Went back through the crowd to grab wife and child, who had miraculously made it all the way to the far end of the long hallway. Fortunately she had found the actual precinct number that we needed, although when we hastily passed up the first line, we simply got in another line that snaked around a gym. We so far hadn’t needed our magic number. I felt a bit of guilt at cutting in, but I got over it. Our daughter was holding up amazingly well.
I had a flashback to Disney World, where they are very good at hiding the full extent of the lines. Every time you get to the end of the visible line, there is another long line waiting for you.
We got through the gym and into a cafeteria where we actually needed our magic precinct number. There was a cheerful, upbeat man directing people to different tables to cast ballots, but for our number he just vaguely indicated the middle of the room where there seemed to be a glut of three precinct ballot boxes sitting right next to each other, surrounded by a crowd of people and half-formed lines. There were many open tables in this room; I don’t know why these three boxes had to be right next to each other.
We got into what we hoped was the right line. It was now 8pm, which was supposed to be the end of presidential voting and the start of other caucusing activities, but they said they would wait for everyone to vote so people wouldn’t miss the caucusing. Right. The kid was starting to lose it about this time, and we just wanted to at least cast this one vote and get out of there. The line we were in was going nowhere. We finally clawed our way around and got to the box where we were able to vote for a presidential candidate. (I voted for Barack Obama.)
Interesting experience. They were overwhelmed by the turnout. I don’t want to be overly critical of the people running the place. They’re volunteers and I’m sure this is way beyond what they’ve seen in the past, but man. It was crazy. There must have been a better way. No one wants to wait in line, of course, but when you get the sense that the line isn’t serving its purpose of fairly processing the crowd, and it all seems arbitrary and uncontrolled, it can be frustrating. I’ve never attended caucuses before, so maybe it’s not my place to piss and moan. I guess things have always been pretty well set in the presidential race by the time the Minnesota caucuses rolled around, and I haven’t previously felt inspired to bother attending. Even tonight, I don’t feel like I did very much. But I’m glad I did it.
Maybe this is history being made. Or maybe it’s all a sham. But even if our system is broken, it was still good to see so many people turning out.