My Experience at the Nevada Caucus

I decided to attend the 2008 Nevada Caucus this past Saturday because I wanted to support my current favorite candidate, and also to see what this caucus thing was all about.  I was in for quite an experience; it was like nothing I expected.

First of all, when I moved to Nevada I registered as a Republican because the Republicans had a table outside the grocery store and they seemed friendly.  Yeah, I’m not exactly the poster child for discriminate political thought, but there you have it.  As someone whose income was going up, I knew the Republicans were probably more in line with my view on taxes, so I signed up.  I never heard from them again.

I never voted for Bush even though at the time I was a registered Republican.  Bush gave me a really bad vibe from the get go, so I avoided supporting him.

This election year I decided I wanted to keep an open mind and learn about each candidate and their stand on the issues.  I actually went to this nifty site that has you answer a bunch of questions about where you stand on the issues and then it matches you with the candidate you’re most aligned with.  To my shock and horror, Mike Huckabee came up #1 for me!  Whoa!  Mike Huckabee?  The uber-religious guy?  I don’t think so!  After careful examination I realized the questions that were asked in the survey were not representative of most of the issues.  So I started looking at each candidate’s web site for my answers.

Here in Nevada there’s a lot of hub bub going on because we get to have our caucus early.  Barack Obama spent an entire week here, and I really wanted to go hear him speak in person.  Even though I signed up to attend 3 of his rallies I never actually made it to a single one because something always came up to prevent me from going.  I watched the top three democratic candidates debate in Vegas and I was extremely impressed with Obama.  He comes through to me as being very sincere and honest, and I feel he actually believes he can make a difference. 

I thought Hillary was going to rub me the wrong way (based on some reports I’d heard) but honestly, I thought she did a fine job of explaining her view of things.  I was surprised to find myself agreeing with a lot of what she said.  I don’t know if she is being as open and sincere as Obama, but I know she believes her plan is the best.  In other words, she’s congruent with her goals.

I crossed John Edwards off my list after this debate.  He is not a vibrational match for a win.  He may as well stop running.  But I think he’s enjoying himself too much.

So I decided to support Obama for right now.  With my decision made, I drove to my caucus location on Saturday morning at 10:55am (doors opened at 11am) and I nearly left before I got there.  Why?  There were hordes of people in their cars trying to find a parking space at the local high school.  Wow.  Wasn’t expecting so many people.  I ended up parking illegally like everyone else, several blocks away!  I raced to get there in time.  There were at least 2,000 people all cramming their way into this high school cafeteria.

Inside the cafeteria?  Chaos!  Utter chaos.  There were about 200 people all standing in front of a tiny map on the wall trying to find their precinct.  If I were running this show there would have been at least 10 of the same map posted, or I would have had people with lists to tell people what their precinct was.

But I already knew my precinct because I looked it up online ahead of time.  So I turned to face 800 people all standing in line trying to register.  My first order of business, though, was to change my party affiliation.  Can’t very well vote Democrat when you’re a registered Republican.  I stood in a long line with my form.  Volunteers were all yelling at each other.  No one seemed to have a clue.  By the time I got to the front, the volunteer working my line was in tears.  I told her she was doing a fine job and not to let people push her around.  She smiled at me wanly while another volunteer continued to yell at her. 

Now, by the time I left that registration line I had my voting card in my hand.  She never checked my ID or anything.  I could have been someone from California trying to sneak into the caucus to cast a vote and I could have gotten in there easily.  She didn’t even verify that I was a Las Vegas resident.  Ah well… sounds typical of our voting system. ;)

Now I had to find my precinct.  For some reason everyone thought putting their precinct signs at knee level was the way to go.  I don’t know, I kinda think you want to have those signs up where people can actually see them.  But eventually there was a break in the throng and I found my precinct table.  Yay!  I said, “Hello, I am here to caucus for Obama.  Where do I go?”  The lady running the table said, “Just stay here.  We’ll be told later what room to go to.”  Oh.  Okay.  I was alone at the table with her.  Where was everyone else?

I wandered around a bit and people were rushing to rooms on campus.  Where are they going, I wondered.  Finally I stopped someone and she said she was on her way to her assigned room.  Oh really?  She told me to go to mine.  I said, “Mine is in the cafeteria apparently.”  She looked at me like I was insane and said, “No, that’s just where you sign in.  You better find your room fast because once they lock the door you can’t get in!”

Can’t get in?  But I’ve come all this way, parked illegally, changed my party affiliation.  I know I’m just one person with one vote, but dagnabit if I was going to leave without casting it!

I raced back into the cafeteria and went back to my precinct table.  I said, “What room is our precinct in?”  She looked at me sheepishly and said, “Go to the gym.”  The gym!  Yes, the gym!  Of course.  I raced out of the cafeteria and set a course for the gym.

Once I got there, I saw the other 1,000 people who had come out to caucus.  Now there were 2,000 people on this campus all running around trying to find their precinct’s caucus room.  I asked someone from the Hillary campaign where I should go and she said to look around the gym for my precinct number.  I did.  It was not there.  A kindly woman ran up to me and said, “Are you looking for precinct 3541?”  I told her I was indeed.  She told me she had also been sent to the gym but found out from her friend that we were really supposed to be in the theatre!  The theatre!  Of course, now why didn’t I know that?  Oh I know… because no one told me!  There were no signs, no one was in charge, and it really was chaos.  And you know what else?  It was 11:29am!  In 1 minute the doors were going to clang closed and my vote would be lost.

I hightailed it to the theatre.  Inside someone told me to go sit in the back of the room.  I did.  Turns out, this was wrong too.  My precinct was meeting in the front of the room.  I finally got myself to the right location.  I told all the Obama volunteers that there were at least 500 people in the cafeteria who needed to be somewhere else.  They raced out to find them.  I wonder if they only informed the Obama supporters or if they were good sports and informed everyone.

I later found out there were 4,000 people at this location.  And not one sign telling people where to go.  Not one volunteer who had correct information about where people were supposed to go.  Not one person who seemed to be in charge.

The temporary chairman of our precinct took the stage and admitted he hadn’t yet read the materials he was given and didn’t have a clue how to proceed.  People immediately started yelling at him.  He got really upset, saying he was just a volunteer.  My opinion on that is that if you are going to volunteer to lead something you should at least find out what you’re supposed to be doing.  Otherwise, make way for someone willing to read the materials ahead of time.  Apparently he had the materials a week prior and did not attend the precinct captain’s meeting.  Lordy.

It took us an extra half an hour just to get people to sit down, be quiet, stop yelling, and pay attention.  The doors closed at noon. 

Let me fast forward to the vote now.  There were 172 people in my precinct and 95 voted for Hillary Clinton while 70 voted for Obama.  The people trying to vote for Kucinich, Edwards and who were uncommitted made up the rest of the tally.  All but one moved to the Obama side when it was time to realign.  But here’s the thing… and I have to take a deep breath before I even type this.  There were a bunch of young people in the room; people who looked to be about 16-18.  And a lot of them were raising their hand to vote.  I figured they were all 18, but I overheard one guy laughing as his vote was counted and he said to his friend, “Hahaha, I can’t believe he counted me.”  And his friend said, “Dude, you’re not supposed to vote!  You’re not even 18!”  To which his young friend said, “Who the hell cares?  It’s not like they’re checking.”  You could have been anyone walking in off the street and you would have had a vote.  Like I mentioned earlier, this country could use some help counting votes correctly.  How hard is it people?

So 6 delegates went to Hillary and 4 to Obama in our precinct.  And I left there feeling odd.  I was so glad to have participated, but very disappointed at the lack of organization.  I found out that several hundred people did not make it to their voting locations because they couldn’t find their room in time.  I was hoping Obama would win, but I wouldn’t keel over if Hillary got the democratic nomination.  As we get closer to the election in November I’ll be taking an even further in depth look at the candidates.  I might have to vote for the person who can create the most accurate voting system. ;)

Still I had to be very proud of the fact that 4,000 people were able to caucus and no one got shot, and no one started a riot, and everyone’s vote was counted (even people who don’t have a vote yet).  Only in America…

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