By Mary O’KEEFE
The California Democratic Party recently held caucuses to fill delegate slots for the Democratic convention. One of the busiest caucuses was held at Glendale Community College on Jan. 11 to elect delegates from the 43rd State Assembly District.
“The Democratic Party State Convention delegates actually number about 3,300 people,” explained Convener Thomas Patrick O’Shaughnessy. “One third of the [delegates] is elected to the bi-county committee we run every four years and [those] are the ones that show up on the June ballot [in a] presidential [election] year. The next third are elected officials – assembly members, Congressional members, constitutional officers and their appointees – and the final third are the people coming out of the ADEM [Assembly District Election Meeting]. These are people elected straight out of the community who show an interest without any political resume.”
The process is an old fashioned way of getting “real” people, not politicians or voters with an agenda, to the convention; however, CVW received a letter from several concerned local citizens that was forwarded to the State Democratic Party that challenged the way the caucus at GCC was held. Authors of the letter were concerned about who was voting on the ballot and the checks and balances of the procedure.
Registered Democrat voters were to vote on individuals or they could follow a slate of suggested candidates. Unofficially, many delegates on the slate may have informally committed to specific candidates in each region. No voter was required to vote for a slate and could vote for any seven women or seven men totaling 14 on the ballot that was offered at GCC.
The number of delegates per district is determined by the voter registration at the time of the election.
“The caucuses ranged from low [turn outs] to high turn outs,” said Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and vice-chair of the California Democratic Party.
Bauman said some locations had voter turn out of about 1,000 at the high end to about 200 at the low end.
“The caucus is open to any Democrat … that lives in the district,” he said.
It is a system of politicking where those who bring out the most supporters win but it is also a way to get the community involved in the election process.
“These [delegates] can be scientists, teachers, unemployed [people]; they can be retired,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It fills the body out so when you see the 3,300 you see what society looks like – all colors, men, women, LGBT …The minute we stop doing this we stop being the Democratic Party.”
The voter turn out at GCC was very strong. O’Shaughnessy said last year there were 500 voters and this year he printed 1,000 ballots expecting to use almost all of them.
The voters entered the polling place, gave their name to workers and received their ballots and an envelope they were to sign and place a voluntary donation to the Democratic Party; however, while CVW was there, those entering the polling area were not checked-in consistently, a point made in the complaint letter. In fact, two people who were actually registered Republicans, ballots and envelopes in hand, asked what they were to do. They had come in response to an invitation from a friend not understanding the caucus procedure. They commented they could easily fill out a ballot without being challenged.
O’Shaughnessy said voters were challenged randomly, at about every 50 people, but with so many voters it was difficult to see who was being challenged.
Bauman said complaints like those in the letter are sent to the Sacramento Democratic Party office.
“There have been complaints raised and the office in Sacramento is looking into that,” he said. “I don’t know the current status.”
There did not seem to be an area for provisional ballots, another point raised in the letter. Provisional ballots are for those voters who are not on the official roster. Although he did not attend the GCC caucus, Bauman was at other locations and said he did see provisional ballot boxes.
“This [the 43rd District] is a very spirited contest between slates,” he said. “Any challenges will be reviewed by our compliance committee.”
He said the Democratic Party would use anything learned from this year to make the next year’s caucus experience better.