Caucus 101 – A how to guide to participate in the 2012 DFL caucus

Tuesday February 7, is caucus night.  To get you prepared, I’ve updated a post I made before the 2010 caucuses.  I’ll be at Farmington High School convening the Farmington caucuses, I hope to see you there. 

I wrote the following guide to what happens at the DFL caucuses after writing a post about people being scared away from the caucuses because of their 2008 experience. Plus, I think a lot of people are more comfortable if they know what is going to happen at an event, I know it makes me more comfortable. But I also think the year we had the most attendees at the DFL caucuses in 2008, is not representative of how caucuses usually run, so people should not think they will be as hectic, or as unorganized as 2008.  Here is a little how to caucus guide. If you are like me and need a little reassurance to be comfortable, maybe you will show up this year…

Caucus 101 – A how to guide to participate in the 2012 DFL caucus

The 2012 DFL precinct caucuses are meetings organized by the DFL to begin the process of selecting candidates for the 2012 elections. In 2012, elections will be held for President, U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, State Senator, State House of Representative and other local officials. The DFL caucuses are also the first step in shaping the DFL platform and policy positions that the DFL will push for the next two years.

Step 1: Find out what house district and precinct you are in.
Caucuses are usually organized by precinct within senate or county districts. The names of those districts will be changing to “organizing units” this year, so keep that in mind.  The Minnesota Secretary of State website has a polling place finder, which should provide you with information about the political districts you reside in. Follow the steps by entering your zip code, followed by your address, to find out your district information. Besides telling you where you vote, it also tells you your congressional district, Minnesota senate district, house district and precinct, along with a few other districts. Your precinct is often a combination of your town with the letter “P” and a number or for smaller towns, the name of the town. Example: Farmington P-4 is precinct 4 in Farmington.

Step 2: Find your caucus location.
After you know your house district and precinct, you can find out where your precinct caucus is. Since caucuses are organized by local DFL parties, the Secretary of State is dependent on receiving the location information from local party officials. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s office just launched an online caucus finder, but if it is not available, you can find your caucus location by contacting your local DFL Senate District official. For instance Senate District 36 (SD36) is planning the caucuses in the SD36 area. The local leaders or the website in SD36 will provide you the information for your meeting location.

Step 3: Show up.
Once you know where to go, it is as simple as showing up. Arrive a little early to sign in. Registration begins at 6:30 p.m., and the caucus is convened at 7:00. At many caucuses, multiple precincts meet in one location. Generally, you go directly to your precinct to sign in, but people or signs should direct you. There is generally a fair amount of literature to review. There is always DFL party literature, and often candidate literature. It is not uncommon for local officials or candidates to make an appearance too.

Step 4: Engage with others in your precinct as you wait to begin.
The caucus is a great place to meet neighbors who share your political view. But caucuses also are the first step in developing resolutions to be included in the DFL platform. Talk about ideas and engage others. The caucus is the first step to offer a resolution on an issue important to you. Before the close of the caucus, attendees in your precinct will vote on the issue, and if the resolution is passed, will forward the resolution on to the next level of discussion. The Resolution Form is on page 34 of the “2012-2013 Offical Call,” the DFL’s booklet that includes, among other things, rules for DFL meetings, including the caucuses. Click here and go to page 34 to open the resolution form.

Step 5: The caucus begins.
The caucus begins with a few introductions and a couple required announcements. To begin the process, the caucus attendees elect a caucus chair, a secretary to record notes and tellers to count ballots. These positions are occasionally opened up to volunteers, then consented to by the body with a vote. Caucuses are run using parliamentary procedures to nominate and elect officials. Do not be embarrassed to ask questions if you are unfamiliar with how to phrase something — others, including the conveners and even the chair are often in the same boat.

Step 6: Elect precinct officers.
Caucus attendees elect officers who will be responsible for organizing political activities within the precinct. Each precinct elects a precinct chair and two precinct associate chairs. Within the DFL, at least one male and one female must be elected. For example, if a woman is elected chair, at least one associate chair should be a man, and vice versa. Precinct chair responsibilities can be very different from district to district. A key responsibility is to attend local DFL committee meetings and to help organize and increase the presence of the party through voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. Additionally, in some districts, the precinct chair is expected to raise a certain amount of money in a district. In others, it might be as simple as calling people in the precinct to remind them of a meeting or an election. Literature describing the duties will be at your precinct location.

Step 7: Elect senate district delegates.
Each precinct has a predetermined number of delegates to elect to the county or senate district convention. The caucus attendees will elect representatives to be delegates. In many districts, there are often more delegate and alternate openings than there are people willing or able to attend the convention. You don’t need to launch a massive campaign to be elected to the next level. It is important to make sure your precinct chair checks the “delegate” box on the attendance forms to ensure you are included in the rolls for the convention. Keep something in mind. After the caucuses a list of the convention attendees is often acquired by candidates. Expect calls from candidates.

Step 8: Vote in straw polls.
Depending on the elections, attendees of the caucus may be given a straw poll ballot to indicate their preference among various candidates. I’m not sure we will have any reason for a straw poll, but if there is one for President for example, cast your vote before 8:00.

Step 9: Finish up.
If there are pending resolutions, finish considering the resolutions. The chair will announce the results of straw polls and finish up with any closing announcements.

Step 10: Adjourn.
Finally, the caucus chair will ask for a motion to adjourn the caucus.
After the caucus there are tasks that need to be completed. Cleaning up the area is the simplest duty to help with. Reporting results and entering attendance data into the DFL database is also an important task.

Step 11: The Convention.
Usually about a month after the caucuses, each Organizing Unit holds a convention.  It is at that convention that we elect delegates to the state convention in Rochester, elect local DFL organizing unit leaders, and endorse local candidates.  If you are lucky enough to be elected to attend the Organizing Unit Convention, please make every effort to attend, get involved with committees, be active, and take charge.  It is very rewarding.

Note: While many of these steps fit caucuses statewide, I did write this specifically with experience in the south metro. Feel free to forward this or repost it. Please credit if you do.


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