Primary vs. Caucus: The Debate Dividing Washington State

Should we get rid of the Democratic caucus? What's the best way to choose our presidential nominee?



Caucuses are cool because they also feed people into the political process that otherwise wouldn’t have been. I was voted in as an alternate representative for my district last year and got to have a say in later events that determined the party platform.

If I voted by mail, I wouldn’t have had a say in that and I wouldn’t have known how to have a say in it.

While caucuses are lengthy and more painful than a ballot primary, they are gateways to political participation and a way to challenge the inherent party structure.


To me caucuses make sense in agrarian communities; a chances for folks in rural areas to get together have a picnic, a few drinks and discuss the issues and concerns of the community. In urban areas they do not make any sense to me, ain't nobody got time for that.


It comes down to this for me: The state translates ballots into dozens of languages. 2016 maybe MAYBE translated the call to caucus into about 6, varying by LD-- but even if you saw that call to caucus in your own language, there were no translators at the caucus sites (and certainly not at EVERY caucus site) so you still couldn't have your voice heard. Could you maybe recognize the names and point to your preferred candidate? Sure. But you sure weren't having democratic discussions with your entire precinct. The caucus is exclusionary. Full stop.


Mr. Sanders (Eli, not Bernie) reflects my feelings almost exactly. I miss the ritual of going to my local polling place on election day, and even more so, the experience of direct democracy amongst my neighbors. It felt good.

One thing that neither writer mentioned: For good or ill, caucuses let the fringes of the parties bring their issues to the table. Sanders (Bernie, not Eli) did much better in caucus states than in primary states. Would the Democratic Party be where it is today, if those caucuses hadn't been in place? (On the other hand, the same might be said for the Tea Party.)


@4 You bring up another good reason to scrap caucuses. Bernie Sanders would have barely made a blip if all the caucus states had primaries instead, and then we would not have to hear his supporters endlessly repeating their conspiracy theories.

They are anti-democratic. Like the Electoral College. Anachronistic and anti-democratic.


Caucuses are an exercise in entitlement. If you don't have to work on that day, don't have a disability, speak English comfortably, aren't elderly, aren't taking care of a sick person... then go, spend the hours, learn, debate and help pick our presidential nominee. If you aren't in that privileged group, the caucus leaves you out, disenfranchised. If you have to miss work, that costs money. If you have to hire help to get you there, translate for you, or need to hire childcare, then you're facing a poll tax to participate. Do we not care about the voice of emergency room nurses, bus drivers, construction workers who can't take the day off? Workers, the disabled, the elderly... these are the people our party fights for. The primary might not be exciting, or perfect, but it reaches a broader base of Democrats. Tell the party how you feel:


Eli says, ""This year's moved-up, spiffed-up, all-mail-in presidential primary (held by the state, no matter what the Democratic Party decides to do) will let you cast your vote while wearing your earbuds, shopping for nail clippers on Amazon, etc.” Yes, you can cast your vote in the primary, BUT, if the Dems decide to stick with caucuses, that primary won’t decide anything (like who the state’s delegates vote for for president). It’ll be the same pointless primary it has been. Just to be clear.


Katie is right. Caucuses are bullshit. Everything said in them is bullshit, no less so than the yammering on article comment threads in the scroll downs of online publications, just like this. It's jungle bird noise (we can't help it). The only thing that matters is that vote. I remember the 2008 caucuses and my precinct was split between Obama and Clinton, so we debated health care reform. Clinton wanted a mandate. Obama wanted a public option. Obama carried our precinct because of that. We got Obama and guess what, we got a mandate. The only vaccine against the bullshit is sheer numbers. So do what produces the most votes. Always.


"I Hate Caucuses" said, "It's possible to fill out an absentee form if you can't caucus due to religious observance, military service, work schedule, disability, or illness—but anything else, and you're shit out of luck. No civic process for you. (And, no, hangovers don't count as an illness.)"

The thing is - that statement is completely false. No excuses necessary absentee voting is guaranteed as part of the improved caucus process. The lack of factual information being disseminated is negligent abd egregious. Please educate yourself before spreading lies in public.

Joanne Fleming
State Committee Member
3rd Legislative District Democrats
Co-Chair Caucus Improvement Committee
WSDCC Rules Committee sub committee


Exactly what Joanne said. The new DNC rules specify that there must be a way for no-excuse-needed absentee ballots to be submitted, so it will NOT be like in 2016. Don't want to attend the caucus? Fill out the absentee ballot. The Improved Caucus is the best compromise while not missing out on the good stuff.

I've lived in Iowa (caucus), Missouri (primary), California (primary sort-of), and Washington (caucus). I 100% prefer the caucus.

I live in a very rural area with not many Democrats, and it was absolutely heartwarming to see such a massive amount of likeminded people all in one place. I didn't even know we had Democrats out here, let alone a party with meetings every month! I learned when and where the meetings where while at the precinct caucus.

Also, that caucus people didn't like that lasted all day? That was the LD caucus. That won't be going away, and may even be worse. Instead of only having the people elected as precinct delegates and alternates show up to the LD, if we have a primary we will have anyone that wants to show up at the LD caucus. We might have just a small group of party insiders...or we might have all of the registered voters in the LD. We won't even know!

We all have things we like or dislike about the caucuses, but can we at least stick to the facts and go off of what the NEW rules are rather than expecting that the same exact thing will still be the way it works?


I understand why the state party has been pushing for a primary and riding the wave of discontent from 2016. Before you kiss democracy away and cater to house-secure, predominantly white, english speaking people who keep up on their voter registration; imagine airwaves and rags dominated by high cost ad buys that end up with Consultants getting all of the attention and money for a Primary with tons of other states that WA becomes an also-ran. No thanks. Political Discourse and discussing bold new ideas > a straw poll for name recognition.

A PoC, who brought his kids to the 2016 precinct caucus and went on to the national convention.


This article talks about the caucus as if we are going to have the same system this time around. We are not. No matter what. The caucus will be different. Also, this article acts like the primary is going to rid you of any personal duty to show up somewhere. That is also not the truth since we are going to still have a caucus, just not at the precinct level. No matter what.

The primary makes no sense to have since you will still be able to vote absentee if you cannot make it to the precinct caucus and you are still going to have LD and beyond caucuses.


There is no way the State Democratic Party will be able to replicate the current "absentee" ballot - that is the one mailed to every voter in the state via the Presidential Primary. There are currently some 4.388 million voters in the state.
The precinct level caucus system is a form of voter suppression. You can only get an absentee ballot under the proposed caucus only system if you know about it. You wouldn't propose such a system for voting for any other office. So why are some Democrats still supporting it to select nominees for the highest office in the country?


@10 Heartwarming? Honestly? Hey who cares about how anti-democratic stupid caucuses are if they are 'heartwarming'. Give me a break. If the absentee ballot works the same way as the mail-in ballot for the primary what's the point of preserving the caucus then? Something tells me it would not work at all like that and there would still remain ample obstacles to voting.


OK, either switch to a binding primary rather than caucuses, or do radical reform OF the caucus process-radical reform consisting of changes such as this
1)letting caucusgoers fill out a preference ballot which would redistribute their votes when their first choice falls below the "viability" threshold-the minimum level of support required to stay in the fan-out process, rather than forcing everyone to stay until all fanouts have been completed just to have their votes count, a process that is intrinsically unfair to people with kids or people who have to work on the day of the caucus. Those who wanted to stay and stand for party offices could still do so;
2)A requirement that daycare and eldercare for those who wish to attend the caucuses but are responsible for the care of others;
3)Out of simple decency, a requirement to provide beverages and snacks;

It we switch to a primary
1) It needs to be limited to Democrats and independents only. Restrictions must be put in place to keep Republicans from voting in it.
2) It should also have a preference ballot to make the outcome more small-d democratic.

And the argument for a primary should not be about ANYTHING but making the process more democratic-it should not be about relitigating the results of the 2016 primary and it should not in any about trying to delegitimize the showing of any candidate from that year. Forward, not past.


Caucuses are participatory democracy at it's best.


It seems like the arguments from both Katie and Eli (as well as the comments) break down into two categories: Which is the better experience? (caucuses) And which produces the more legitimately representative outcome? (primaries) Do we really need to debate which is the more important priority? If you participated in the caucus, of course it was the better experience most of the time... but does that really trump out the exclusion of others from even having any say? C'mon, folks. That's quite obviously a privileged position.

So here are two alternatives:

Option 1: We flip it. We keep the caucus first but have it be advisory and have the primary be the one that picks delegates. You get your better experience that is good for engaging the citizenry and you get an actual vote that isn't so exclusive. I loved my 2016 caucus but the outcome was not at all reflective of what most voters wanted, as demonstrated in the very different primary result.

Option 2: How about having Washington state innovate? We combine the two processes. The votes are cast the same way as a primary – so anyone can participate – but on the election day, we still have a process where those that can and want to participate, show up by precinct and try to engage and persuade their neighbors before they vote? It's optional but it maintains that in-person engagement that keeps the process from becoming a remote, rote experience. Best of both worlds.


Nice April Fools Joke there.

I mean, we all know the reason for a Primary is so that foreign donors can astroturf our elections and let the Russians and Chinese hack the vote via FB and Twitter, whereas they can't actually hack an in person Caucus, because your neighbors know who you are.


I liked caucuses until I ended up as a delegate for the 34th District caucus in 2016. What a shitshow, even for a caucus.

Anyone on here claiming caucuses foster intelligent debate obviously missed out on that experience.


Cock > Caucus


Caucuses are an artifact of days-gone-by machine politics and smoke filled back rooms where shady deals were made.

Caucuses don't belong in 21st century America. I fully support using the primary system to choose a party's Presidential candidate. It's the caucuses that need to go away, not the primary.


"Caucuses are citizens talking with other citizens, face to face, unmediated by televisions or smartphones or computer screens, about matters big and small. They're full of folks who don't normally talk politics suddenly airing their views, correcting others' misconceptions, convincing and being convinced, and then voting, accepting the outcome, and, if the outcome is not what they wanted, making plans to convince more people in the future."

Sorry, did ANYONE in Seattle actually have this experience in 2016? My precinct caucus was a disorganized debacle in a over-filled, over-heated elementary school gym, with everyone screaming at the top of their lungs at each other and begging to get it over with so they could go home.

The caucus system is a version of the smoke-filled room where only the most affluent and connected make the decisions. If the Democrats are supposed to be a broad-tent party, then let's have a primary.


I'd prefer we just ran with the primary. Each of the caucuses I've been to were dysfunctional in one way or another. And though my voting record is quite good I've had to miss several caucuses because... random Saturday.

I want to share my opinion on this with the party but the form they have for doing it looks suspiciously like a lead generator for their endless donation requests.


Mid-level concerns compared to full-spectrum Morally Progressivistic change ( hint: black box voting; proportional representation; multiparty system; range voting ; direct democracy; no private monies, et cetera . -- ).


@13 -- "The precinct level caucus system is a form of voter suppression. You can only get an absentee ballot under the proposed caucus only system if you know about it. You wouldn't propose such a system for voting for any other office."

Excellent Point, Steve. In our LD, ALL absentee votes were cast for Hillary.
It seems her suporters knew all about it -- which was good, for them.


"This year's moved-up, spiffed-up, all-mail-in presidential primary (held by the state, no matter what the Democratic Party decides to do) will let you cast your vote while wearing your earbuds, shopping for nail clippers on Amazon, etc." --Eli

We need Ranked Choice / INSTANT Runoff voting!


You’re both wrong. The best way of selecting candidates is by lottery.

Every resident of Washington’s name goes in the hat. One is selected at random. The state troopers show up at that person’s house to offer an escort to the Governor’s mansion.

Everyone is eligible. Everyone has an equal chance.

Money plays no role. Political parties cease to exist. There’s no debates, no recounts, no vote rigging. It’s cheaper than an ele toon, and it’s more fair.


@28 that's an Isaac Asimov novel.


@27 Goddamn right. IRV plus a mail-in primary means a more democratic process that minimizes spoiler effects and gets more people involved without having to waste a Saturday morning standing in a crowded room. Down with the caucus. Up with the IRV primary.


But if we don't caucus how will whackadoodle narcissist shut-ins feel falsely enfranchised? I mean other than commenting on SLOG every 12 minutes?