04 February 2008

What Do Caucus Night Numbers Mean?

Tomorrow night, Democrats across Colorado will go to precinct caucuses, the first order of business of which will be to consider nominees for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Only registered Democrats may participate. The Colorado Secretary of State has a link to confirm your voter registration, your county party website has a listing of caucus locations and a precinct finder. You should arrive at 6:30 p.m. to check in, and business will begin promptly at 7:00 p.m. Rules for Republicans are different in material respects from the rules for Democrats discussed in this post.

Each precinct has been pre-allocated a number of delegates and alternates to the next step in the process. A number of factors, such as the number of registered voters in the precinct, will impact this number, but a typical number for a precint in Denver will be 7.

Caucus attendees will first cast a straw poll, to allow those present to assess if any candidate has not met the 15% threshold. Those present will have Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mike Gravel and Undecided as choices. No delegates from a given precinct will be allocated to any choice that fails to secure 15% support at the caucus.

This does not necessarily mean, however, that caucus night results will translate directly into Colorado delegates to the Democratic national convention. In order for a precinct's preference poll to count, it must find actually human beings to fill its slate of delegates and alternates to the next level in the process, and those human beings must actually show up to the next level in the process.

For example, suppose that a precinct has 7 delegates allocated to it, which are split based upon a preference poll 5 for Hillary Clinton and 2 for Barack Obama. If only 3 people can be found on caucus night to volunteer to serve as delegates for Clinton, but both two delegate slots for Obama are filled, the actual result of the caucus will be to send 3 Clinton delegates and 2 Obama delegates to the next level. Moreover, if neither delegates nor alternates appear at the next level's meeting at the appointed hour, it is entirely possible that ultimately only 1 Clinton delegate and 2 Obama delegates could actually cast votes at the point which determines how many of a state or congressional delegation's convention delegates actually represent Colorado for each candidate.

Also, none of the delegates to the next level are bound to vote on the basis upon which they were elected at the precinct caucus. To continue our example above, if a post-February 5 scandal, for example, caused both of the Obama delegates from the precinct to change their allegiance to Clinton, they would be seated as Obama delegates, but the precinct might actually produce three votes for Clinton.

If caucus turnout is high and delegates from precinct caucuses to the next level are strongly committed to their candidates, both reasonable assumptions in this particular election year, it is unlikely that any of these potential discrepencies between caucus night preferences of the rank and file, and ultimate delegate allocations will matter very much.

It is also worth noting that DNC delegates are allocated at both the statewide level, and at the Congressional District level, in Colorado. The distributions of delegates among Colorado's seven Congressional Districts (each gets from four to six) is probably more equitable than the actual numbers of Democrat voters in each Congressional District. This also mutes the benefits and harms associated with turnout on caucus day. For example, if a candidate has record turnout in a Congressional District where he or she is strong, but there is weak turnout in a Congressional District where the candidate is weak, the strong or weak turnouts respectively won't have much impact.

1 comment:

intellecafe - editor said...

For the sake of comparison, there’s a real groundswell of support here in CA. Of course every poll I’ve read except one still shows a Clinton lead and a strong Obama advance, but we’ll never know until it’s over. I saw Michele O speak last night in San Jose. She’s just as brilliant and clearly well-intentioned and well spoken as her husband. That kind of rhetorical prowess has been sorely lacking, and the ache in people’s hearts for true leadership of that kind is absolutely palpable when you’re in a crowd like that. Hopefully the same will be felt in CO tomorrow. Best of luck.