We've had lots of questions about how a caucus works, mostly based on what various reporters in the MSM have published. I've responded to some points in EP's earlier post and various E-Mails. Time is to up front deal with what this "thing" is, and my speciality -- the History of Democratic Party Caucuses. Believe me, History explains much.
Minnesota uses essentially the same caucus system that Iowa uses, and my understanding of our process dates back to the summer of 1970, when I was doing chemotherapy for Cancer, and had a "little job" writing up summaries of written testimony sent in to what was then the McGovern Commission of the DNC, but was morphing to the McGovern-Fraser Commission, because George was going to explore running for President, and the Commission to reform the delegate selection rules had been handed off to then Congressman Don Fraser. Most people know that the Democratic Convention of 1968 was Hell, in large measure because the Robert Kennedy candidacy and the Gene McCarthy Campaign had indicated a huge division of opinion as to where the party should stand on Vietnam -- but the rules allowed the then Party Bosses to control the delegate selection process, and thus dim if not totally still the voice of a huge constituency that wanted to be heard. So while the convention in 1968 gave Hubert the Nomination, they gave George McGovern the booby prize -- come up with new rules to reform the delegate selection process for the Party. George Accepted, held hearing across the country, and then handed off to Don Fraser.
Don Fraser finished the process, the DNC adopted temporary rules in line with the new ones for the Call for the 1972 Convention, delegations were selected accordingly, and the 1972 convention adopted the new rules as the Reform Rules. Today, with just fairly minor changes, they are the rules of the Democratic Party for Delegate Selection. The real drama at the 1972 convention was not the adoption of the rules, rather it was a floor vote on the Credentials Report on the Illinois Delegation. Hiz Honor Richard Daley had arrived at convention with his machine selected delegation, but another delegation, elected according to McGovern-Fraser Rules demanded the credentials -- there was a hearing, a majority and minority report, and a floor vote. When the Daley delegation lost, and the Convention Chair told the Sergeant at Arms to escort Chicago's Mayor and his delegates off the floor, and seat the properly elected one, Reform was real. If video were honest -- that scene is how they would date Democratic Party Reform.
Now what were these McGovern-Fraser Reforms all about? They authorize two modes for selecting delegates -- the caucus and the primary. Both have the same intent. One must understand that both are not elections, they are ways of doing party business, one of the businesses of the party is to select a delegation to the National Convention that reflects the judgment of party members as to both policy (the platform) and the favored nominees. This is to be done in a way that is open to all significant (15% strength) organized viewpoints in the party -- it is to be proportional in part, and above all it is to be gender balanced and totally open to all racial, ethnic, and religious groups within the party. Understood historically we were drawing a line under our history of the exclusion of Blacks from the Southern Democratic Parties, and we were opening the process up to strong movements connected to the party demanding policy change. The requirement for Gender Balance was a response to the Feminist Movement within the Party, and the requirement for Affirmative Action pressed the matter of equity for ethnic, and age groups. At all levels of the process of selecting delegates to all nominating conventions within the party -- these rules must apply. Dog Catcher to President. (Elwell wants to know if anyone elects a Dog Catcher anymore? As the Resident Siberian Husky that is authoritarian politics that concern her.)
OK -- so the Caucus became one of the means for selecting delegates to do party business such as endorsing candidates, and electing party officers. In 1972, Minnesota and Iowa already had forms of caucus, but they had to change given the new rules. Iowa was the first to move, and we more or less followed their example. Since over the years I have chaired about ten Precinct Caucuses -- and know the rules and form, I will describe in terms of what actually happens at one.
The State Call is written by the former State Central Committee, and submitted for approval to the committee of the DNC. It is then published by the state party, with a date and time set for caucus. The party finds handicapped accessable places in every precinct, and publishes locations. Precinct Chairs elected two years earlier open the caucus, and chair the proceedings, including the election of the next Chair. The agenda is set by the Call, but can be modified by caucus attenders.
People arrive and register. In Minnesota we do not have party registeration, thus anyone who comes and signs the sworn or affirmed statement that they intend to vote for endorsed DFL Candidates and will be18 on election day, and a Citizen can participate. In Iowa they have to change registeration which they can do at the registeration table. Anyhow at a time certain you close the registeration desk, draw a line under the names on the form, and do a count. How many residents of the Precinct have arrived and registered? You then divide that number by the number of assigned delegates for your precinct, and that tells you how many participants will be necessary to acquire one delegate to the State Legislative District Convention. If enough attendees (equal to one delegate) ask for sub-causing (In Minnesota we call it a walking sub-caucus) then you take nominations for sub-caucuses. Following that, you assign the areas in the room where the sub-caucuses will assemble, and you allow 15 minutes for this process. Then you freeze the floor and use appointed tellers to count all the sub-caucuses. Those that do not have enough for one delegate and/or do not equal 15% of the total attendence at the caucus, they are declared non-viable (in Minnesota, they don't make), and then you unfreeze the floor for 15 minutes so as to allow the participants with no caucus to join another, and for all the hard negotiations to take place. The object is always to get the most delegates, and to end up with the "high remainder" meaning you are likely to get an extra delegate, because you have something like 1.90 strength rather than 1.45 strength. Low remainder sub-caucuses trade for the alternate in a delegation to which they shift a few people, and high remainder sub-caucuses look at the others to protect the possibility of the extra delegate. (This is why we take calculators to caucus). Then you freeze the floor again, finalize the count, and the sub caucuses elect their delegates and alternates. The point is proportional representation at the very local level, with individual voters doing what in olden days was done in smoke filled rooms. Negotiating strength. Of course you have to gender balance, even at the precinct level.
After you select delegates, and then alternates -- you move on to platform resolutions. Well organized, you can set party policy with this process.
Precinct Delegates move on to the next level, where the whole process is repeated. Precinct Delegates can change their commitments, as our National Rules prohibit a commitment to a candidate at one level cementing one in at the next. In Iowa they do it only by county, in Minnesota we do it by State Legislative District except in Greater Minnesota where they do it by County. At the Legislative District Convention State Delegates are selected by the same sort of sub-caucus system, and they go to two conventions. The Congressional District Conventions select about 2/3rds of the National Delegates, and the rest are selected at the State Convention. At each stage sub-causeing is done if delegate strength equal to one delegate to be elected request it. This protects proportianality. And at all stages, gender balance must be respected. Yes it is a little complex, but remember it was invented to abolish the Racist part of the old Democratic Party -- and it was also invented to defeat the machine bosses, and to allow voices such as Bobby Kennedy and Gene McCarthy to be viable. I am not about to scrap it.
Now -- let me respond to objections. Some object because it is not a secret ballot. Well it isn't really an election, it is about party business such as nominations and endorsements, and party positions on public policy, and I think that ought to be transparent. In fact this is one reason I love the caucus -- you have to actually stand up and state and defend your choices and positions. Because success at Caucus frequently depends (really depends) on pre-caucus debate and organization, it is a totally important party building process.
Some folk don't like the math that eliminates a sub-caucus that doesn't make 15% in a precinct. Sadly -- and I have been in some of those that were super minorities -- the point of the process is to find the fulcrum of the party strength, and that isn't done by having a ton of one vote minorities hanging on to the process. So at all levels we give sub-caucuses that don't make the option of joining another caucus. The negotiations to join or not join can be powerful. (Coalitions and all that?)
In contrast the day after the New Hampshire Primary, the State Chair will have to look at the results by congressional district, and look at the candidate slates in the order they have been submitted, and balance each delegation and each congressional district by the proportional results and by gender. Only then will the determination of the National Delegates be clear. They will end up with a result very similar to our caucus system.
In the caucus system we weight precincts based on a formula of past performance in several General Elections. That is Precincts that strongly support DFL endorsed candidates get a few more delegates than those that poorly perform. Those that get out the vote have just a little more say in the next selection than those that underperformed. No, not one person one vote -- but both the primary and the caucus are essentially about party business. And yea, in party business you reward the party loyal.
As I said, this is probably more than anyone really wanted to know about the Democratic Party Caucus form -- but if you have questions, just ask.