Huge local turnout exceeded expectations
By Ann McCreary and Marcy Stamper
Methow Valley Democrats felt the Bern Saturday (March 26) at a packed precinct caucus that gave Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders a big victory over Hillary Clinton in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Turnout at the Methow Valley caucus mirrored the trend across the state and far exceeded expectations.
“We had 300 sign-in forms and had to go copy another 250,” said Gay Northrup, area caucus coordinator. She estimated that about 400 people came to the Democratic caucus held in the Liberty Bell High School cafeteria, about double the number anticipated.
After gathering into individual precinct groups, the standing-room-only crowd spilled out of the cafeteria, moving into the school gym and commons area to vote on presidential preferences and discuss resolutions for the party platform.
There were 30 precincts, from Methow to Mazama, represented at the caucus.
After an initial polling of candidate preferences within the precinct groups, residents had an opportunity to speak on behalf of their chosen candidate in an effort to persuade their neighbors to change their minds.
A second and final tally of preferences followed, and precincts selected delegates and alternates to go on to the Legislative District 7 caucus next month.
After tallying was complete, the Methow Valley caucus resulted in 33 delegates for Sanders, and four for Clinton, according to preliminary results, said Dennis Montes, Okanogan County Democratic Party chairman. Final statewide caucus results are being calculated by the state Democratic Party and are expected to be released by next week, he said.
Most precincts in Okanogan County had one delegate allocated to them, but seven precincts in the Methow Valley had two delegates. The number of delegates allocated to each precinct is based on formula that considers Democratic voter turnout in the precinct in past elections, Montes said. In three of the precincts with two delegates, the vote resulted in a delegate for each candidate.
Some speakers gave impassioned statements on behalf of their preferred candidate, and some votes changed as a result.
“My biggest worry is climate change,” said a mid-20s Twisp-area resident, speaking in support of Sanders to her precinct group of about 16 people.
“We’re being handed a world we can’t live in. Most candidates aren’t even addressing it,” she said, fighting back tears. “Some younger people say they might not even vote in the general election if Bernie is not the candidate,” she said.
The prospect of younger voters sitting out the election if Sanders is not the Democratic candidate was clearly alarming to others in her precinct.
“This is a huge turnout and I think it’s because Bernie has brought something to the conversation that mobilizes us,” said one woman who favored Sanders.
But, she said, if Donald Trump is the Republican Party candidate, Democrats will need to support their candidate to prevent a Trump victory.
“It’s not responsible to the American people to allow that to happen. I’m an idealist … but I will vote for Hillary,” she said.
“Please, vote the whole ballot,” urged another voter.
Many of those attending the caucuses credited excitement created by the Sanders campaign for the large turnout.
“He a statement for the future,” said one caucus participant. Another said, “I would be very comfortable with Hillary. I just feel I’d like to support the groundswell and the involvement of young people.”
“I hate to have fear be a motivator, but Trump is a scary man,” another voter said. “On the other side, Bernie is the epitome, to me, of what we need.”
After voting on their presidential preferences, caucus participants discussed a wide range of issues that they would like the Democratic Party to consider as part of its platform.
Issues included regulating banks, reducing the influence of money in politics, addressing climate change, humane treatment of animals raised for food, foreign trade policies, and funding for Planned Parenthood. The resolutions were forwarded to the Okanogan County Democratic Party.
Many precincts concluded their voting and discussions quickly and were done within an hour, but others stayed to talk and debate with their neighbors for more than two hours.
“It was … interesting to be in a group of 11 people and have time to briefly get to know one another and have time to discuss issues and candidates important to us,” said one participant.
Montes said many voters had visitors for the Easter weekend, and some people brought children and relatives along with them while they participated in the caucuses.
“It was really heartening to see people believing in the democratic process. I appreciate and thank all the people who came out and participated in the caucus considering it was Easter weekend,” Montes said.
Selection of delegates at the precinct caucuses is the first step in choosing Washington’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention, to be held July 25-27 in Philadelphia. The next steps include legislative district caucuses on April 17, county conventions on May 1, congressional district caucuses on May 21, and the state convention on June 16-17.
The Okanogan County Republican Party used its Feb. 20 caucus to prepare a proposed platform to present to the state and national conventions. The Republicans will choose their nominee and allocate convention delegates through the state’s presidential primary election on May 24.
The proposed Republican platform includes constitutional rights; land, water and environment; economic affairs and social issues. The preamble affirms their “dedication to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and “an individual’s civil right to own and control property without government intervention.”
The Democratic Party will not use the primary election results to allocate any of its delegates. They will rely solely on the results of the March 26 precinct caucuses.