Caucusing: Your opportunity to take over the Democratic Party

Caucusing: Your opportunity to take over the Democratic Party

This is the first primary election I have ever given much attention. While I care about politics, in the past my focus has been more on statewide issues and local politics than national political races. The primary campaign of Bernie Sanders has changed that for me, as I’m sure it has for many.

The problem with paying closer attention is that you start to see the warts. When you take a close look at the primary system it makes you think twice about American democracy, if it can fairly be described as such, even within the Democratic Party.

The danger is that this knowledge will prompt disillusionment, cynicism and inaction. That would be a mistake. There are clear avenues for gaining the power necessary to further democratize the Democratic Party and our process for choosing a presidential nominee. We just need to show up.

This is why it is so important that Democrats (and unregistered or independent voters) go to their local Democratic caucuses this Sunday, March 6. Arcane, complicated and chaotic as they may seem, caucuses are not just a hoop you have to jump through to cast your presidential nominee vote, they are also the entryway into the Democratic Party power structure. Attending a caucus is the simplest way to gain access to the State Convention to be held this May 6-7 in Portland, and the State Convention is where real change is possible.

How do you go to the State Convention? Easy. Go to your local caucus and volunteer to be a delegate for your town. Usually there is no competition, and towns even struggle to fill these slots. Even if there is competition and you don’t get chosen, just write your name in as a spare delegate, and the Party will probably call you up to fill in a slot another town couldn’t fill.

The State Convention is the most powerful governing body of the Maine Democratic Party. The delegates to the State Convention have the power to propose changes to the Maine Democratic Party Rules and Platform, elect the members of the Democratic State Committee, elect the delegates to the National Convention, and elect representatives to the Democratic National Committee (the DNC, currently headed by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz).

What sort of changes should we be seeking to the Maine Democratic Party rules? One problematic area is the concept of “uncommitted” delegates. People can actually vote “uncommitted” in their local caucuses, and send “uncommitted” delegates to the State Convention. These delegates can vote for any presidential candidate (making them a sort of state level superdelegate), or cast a vote for an “uncommitted” national delegate, thereby creating another de facto superdelegate who can actually influence the final vote on the presidential nominee. I am hoping to become a State Delegate and gather enough signatures to propose getting rid of uncommitted delegates at the State Convention, and will need the support of other State Delegates (maybe you?) to get it passed.

If there are rules you would like to see changed, once you have been chosen as a State Delegate you can use this form to gather signatures to bring it up for a vote.

State delegates also have the power to change the Maine Democratic Party platform. This is an important document that embodies what our State Party stands for. It is the subject of much debate and biannual revisions. This year there were many exciting changes, which are likely to be challenged and debated at the State Convention, with the possibility that they are either affirmed or eliminated. Care about Ranked Choice Voting? That was added to the Platform by the Platform Committee, but will likely be challenged at the State Convention. As a State Delegate, you would have the power to speak for or against it, and vote on whether the Democratic Party endorses or ignores this important issue. Once you are chosen as a State Delegate, you can also propose your own amendments to the Platform or challenge sections you don’t like using this form.

State Delegates elect the Maine Democratic State Committee, the governing body that enforces and makes the rules between the bi-annual State Conventions. This body wields a great deal of power, for example over how delegates are apportioned to towns. As a State Delegate, you can either run for a seat on the DSC, or elect someone who shares your views.

Besides having the power to change the Maine Democratic Party Rules and Platform, and run for or elect members of the DSC,  State Delegates can run to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention to be held July 25-28 in Philadelphia. Just as the State Convention is the most powerful governing body of the Maine Democratic Party, the National Convention is the most powerful governing body of the National Democratic Party. Even if you don’t run for National Delegate, State Delegates elect the National Delegates, and can wield influence by electing National Delegates who support their desire for changes on the national scene. Hate the concept of superdelegates? This is your shot to either run to be a National Delegate who will propose to eliminate superdelegates, or support the election of someone who will.

The election of National Delegates by State Delegates is also when it is determined which presidential candidate Maine’s National Delegates will be voting for at the National Convention, which is where the final decision is made on who will be the Democratic presidential candidate. Since most State Delegates will be bound to vote for a National Delegate who will vote for the presidential nominee their town chose, that part is mostly ceremonial and predetermined. However, State Delegates will have access to the “uncommitted” delegates mentioned above, and can try to persuade them to vote for your preferred candidate, possibly gaining your candidate additional National Delegates, a potentially important boost in a close race.

State Delegates also elect representatives to the Democratic National Committee, the governing body that makes and enforces the rules between the bi-annual National Conventions. This body wields enormous power, for example over how delegates are apportioned to states, or how National Party funds are spent. As a State Delegate, you can either run for a seat on the DNC, or elect someone who shares your views.

Finally, State Delegates can run to be Presidential Electors in the Electoral College in the general election. This is a largely ceremonial position, as Electors must vote as their state voted, but still a pretty cool addition to the resume.

So, not psyched about the way the Democratic Party handled this year’s presidential nominating process? Time to seize the power and make some changes! It’s our Party, and our responsibility. If we don’t bother, next time we have no one to blame but ourselves. See you at the State Convention!

Photo of the 2008 Cape Elizabeth Democratic caucus via Flickr/Marsh Gardiner

About author

April Thibodeau
April Thibodeau 11 posts

April Thibodeau majored in Political Science at the University of Maine and has experience in law, non-profit work and political advocacy. She lives on Westport Island with her husband and two cats and enjoys gardening, homesteading and rural life.

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