Caucus Accomodations

I think it is a sign of how casually we view our caucuses that parties can do so little to make them successful. It is a sign of the apathy of the general population to the political process that party leaders really have no idea how many people to plan for and a sign of how unconcerned the parties are that they do not make significant effort to adjust to conditions as they are known. Let me take my precinct caucus as an example.

Our precinct had 91 people sign the rolls. I’m confident that this failed to count people who came and then left because of the cattle-chute conditions. (I know of people who came and then left but I cannot confirm how many of those signed the roll.) Those who stayed were packed into a room that was designed to seat perhaps a dozen students at a local junior high school. I’m sure a firemarshall would never allow more than 30 people in a space that size even if the desks were removed. It was not even a regular classroom.

Many people who stayed were out in the hallway where they could not hear from the candidates for the various positions nor the questions that were being asked. All they could do was pass in their ballots.

I am told that our precinct was in the same room in 2008 when only 56 people attended. (I was not living in this precinct until shortly after the caucus meetings that year.) The party leaders did not adjust the accomodations despite the fact that they were clearly inadequate two years ago and despite the fact that there was a great deal more poliical energy in the state before the caucuses this year than I have ever felt in the past.

In many places I know that caucus meetings have been held in neighborhood homes. While that may provide enough space in many cases, few homes could really accomodate the crowds we had this year in many places and even if they could, I know some people who do not feel comfortable in a private residence for this kind of official community meeting.

Knowing that parties often do not have a good idea in advance (like they should have this year) regarding how many people will show up, they need to hold caucus meetings in locations that can accomodate large or small groups. Schools might sound ideal for that but few schools can really handle more than two large groups individually and the junior high where I was had ten precincts attending. Parties should break their precincts out into more locations using schools, churches, city halls, and community centers so that they are able to keep people close to home and have space to accomodate unexpectedly large groups when necessary. I can’t say for other churches but virtually any LDS chapel has rooms to house at least two large groups comfortably. I would imagine that many churches of other denominations can also house mutiple good-sized caucus meetings. If we were to add these locations along with libraries, city offices, community centers and other such locations we should not need to feel like cattle headed for slaughter when we attend precinct caucus meetings.

Ideally I would love to see one meeting location in each precinct where both Democrats and Republicans hold their caucus meetings. If the emphasis were on “neighborhood” rather than “party” they might even say the pledge of allegiance together before splitting for their separate meetings.