Erica C. Barnett

Everyone in the room is voting for Obama. It's the other races—those eight mysterious county charter amendments, initiatives with maybe-misleading names like Death with Dignity and Quality Care for Seniors, and three local tax increases—that people are here to learn about.

A crowd of uniformly attractive young people has gathered in a tidy, warm house for the Sixth Annual Election Potluck. The event, which changes location every year, is a chance for people to discuss the election over mac and cheese, couscous salad, and gallons and gallons of red wine. Knowledge of each race is measured by "five-finger consensus"—the better you understand an issue, the more fingers you raise.

First up: Proposition 1, the mass-transit expansion measure. One woman argues it's cheaper to build light rail now than wait until later; another is worried that, like the monorail, light rail will fall victim to "Seattle process." Within minutes, our host and timekeeper shifts the conversation to the King County Charter amendments, the parks levy, and Pike Place Market. Somebody frets that the parks levy is "too focused on playgrounds"; someone else worries that if we subsidize a private entity like Pike Place Market, we might as well fund sports stadiums, too. A heated debate erupts over the death with dignity proposals.

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As a bit of a savant when it comes to local elections, I tend to assume there's not much for me to learn. After about three hours of drinking and debate, however, I'm pleasantly surprised to find I'm wrong. In a roomful of folks with a wide range of political backgrounds, everyone has something smart to contribute. recommended

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