Primaries and caucuses

Ray Payne, Staff Reporter

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Last Saturday, while most media outlets were focused on the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucus, the Washington GOP caucuses were being held in counties across the state.

Unlike the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucus, the GOP caucuses in Washington are held to elect half of the delegates who will support certain candidates.

A caucus is a political party meeting in which party members vote for delegates who represent their choice of presidential nominee.

The county delegates chosen at each caucus will go on to their county’s convention to discuss the party platform and elect state delegates. From there, the state delegates will go to the state convention, where delegates will be elected for the national convention.

The other half of the GOP delegates will be awarded based on the May 24 primary.

According to Marlene Pfeifer, chairwoman of Kittitas County Republican Party, having both a caucus and primary negatively affects voter participation.

“It makes them not as excited to participate because they thought they would be coming as a representation of their presidential preference, and that really isn’t the case this time,” Pfeifer said.

After all the delegates have been selected, they will vote at the national convention to nominate a candidate.

Washington’s Democratic party will hold its caucuses on March 26. Unlike the GOP, all of the Democratic party’s delegates will be selected through the caucuses, therefore, they will not hold a primary.

Participating in the presidential primaries and caucuses is essential for voters to ensure their voice is heard. Youth voters are often the least involved in this process.

“Their biggest problem is they don’t [vote], so their issues never come to the forefront,” said Paul Jewell, Kittitas County commissioner.

There was very little youth participation at the Kittitas County GOP caucus held in the Hal Holmes Community Center on Saturday. The room was instead filled with people whose ages averaged above 60 years old.

One reason suggested for why there was a such low youth participation rate is because of the timing of the caucus.

Jewell said that precinct caucuses, which are weekend events, often feature older crowds because they have more time and interest to dedicate to the process.

Another reason there is such low youth participation is the process itself. The caucus system isn’t well known or understood.

“Washington state has probably the most complicated presidential primary system in the nation because we have both a primary and caucus, but we’re also a state that has a top-two-primary,” Representative Matt Manweller said. “A handful of people in the entire state understand it.”

Another topic some people find hard to understand is the Democratic Party’s use of superdelegates.

While the Democratic party does award delegates based on voter decision, there are also around 712 unelected superdelegates.

These superdelegates, typically high-ranking party members, can vote for whomever they choose in the national convention, regardless of what candidate won the caucuses or primaries in their state.

Understanding the effect delegates can have on an election is increasingly important as this election cycle has the possibility of a brokered convention.

A brokered convention occurs when no single candidate can secure the number of delegate votes necessary to win their party’s nomination. When this occurs, a second vote will be held where delegates can vote for whomever they want.

“Those people represent us on the national level, which really counts,” Pfeifer said. “So it does mean something.”

However, in order to participate at any stage of the election process, a person has to be a registered voter.

While this is an election year for the presidency, there are multiple state offices that elections are being held for.

“The elected officials, they listen to the people who actually cast ballots,” Jewell said. “And if you’re not casting a ballot, if you’re not part of the decision, they’re never going to have an awareness of your issue.”

Although the Washington GOP caucuses have passed, students can still get involved before the national election on Nov. 8.

“Get involved, stay involved, get active and you’ll have a voice,” Jewell said.

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Primaries and caucuses