by Judy Ferro
Canyon County’s Republican and Constitutional party members will vote at a special presidential primary at precinct polling sites between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8. In prior years these parties caucused or waited to vote in May primaries.
Democrats will caucus, as they have for decades. This year Canyon County Democrats will caucus at Sage Valley Middle School, 18070 Santa Ana, off of Ustick Rd. between Middleton and Midland Blvds. No one may enter after the counting and program begins at 7 p.m. Doors will open at 5:30 so everyone can be signed in to their candidate’s sub-caucus by that time.
Until 2012 Republicans voted for presidential candidates in the May primary; Democrats always caucused weeks before.
I attended my first caucus in 1968, after Lyndon B. Johnson stunned America by announcing he would not run for re-election. Robert F. Kennedy was the favorite in a field that included Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and George McGovern.
The party stalwarts argued that we should send our delegates undeclared because that guaranteed they’d be courted by candidates at the national convention, and that’s what we did.
In 1976 every state seemed to have a favorite son in the Democratic race; the 14 candidates included Idaho Sen. Frank Church, Washington Sen. Henry Jackson. Arizona Rep. Morris Udall, and California Gov. Jerry Brown.
This time the party leaders wanted our first round vote to go for Church; other candidates would still court our delegates as the field narrowed. Newcomers, however, took the floor to argue passionately for former Alabama Governor Jimmy Carter. I didn’t want to trust our government to someone so inexperienced, but many wanted a candidate that got new people excited.
So, please, do not ask me why Idaho Democrats decided to caucus this year. It’s what we do. We’ve discussed changing to the new presidential primary, but there are complications that need addressed so, for now, we are sticking with a system that we know.
And that system did not change when Republicans decided voters should register their political party with the state. Democrats aren’t concerned with how you registered. We accept a signed statement that you are a Democrat and qualified to vote in Canyon County. It is requested that you do not participate if you took part in another party’s presidential nominating process.
Basically, there are two parts to the caucus: finding the number of delegates to be pledged to each candidate and electing those delegates. Your vote counts if you stay through the first part. Volunteers can provide rides and assistance for the handicapped. Caucuses do not, however, offer absentee ballots.
Caucusing does take time. There are introductory speeches. Then each sub-caucus elects a chair and a person to speak for its candidate. After the speeches, there is a chance to discuss and change your candidate.
And that is before those wanting to be among the 34 delegates to represent Canyon County at the state convention introduce themselves.
A caucus is not merely a vote; it is an event. Working with hundreds of Idaho Democrats can be exhilarating. Hearing newcomers, particularly young people, speak of why they are Democrats is inspiring. The process takes time, but it happens only once every four years.
Yes, presidential primaries may be in the future for Idaho Democrats. They are quicker for voters, and the state bears the cost. Soon our rank-and-file may, like others, have no idea where their state delegates come from and no chance of becoming one.
But many of us don’t relish giving up the equivalent of a home-cooked Thanksgiving feast for a TV dinner