Caucuses coming to Wadena Feb. 7
2012 brings a presidential election - will President Obama be chosen for another four-year term? Will he be replaced by a Republican candidate? Which Republican candidate? What do Wadena area voters have to say?
Caucuses take place Tuesday, Feb. 7 at starting at 7 p.m.
Brian Hillesland, chair of Wadena County Republicans, said the caucus is the first step in an election year to pick a presidential candidate - but it is also a chance to talk about issues and hammer out the party's platform.
So what can one expect in a caucus?
Del Moen, who has convened for the Wadena County Democratic-Farmer-Labor caucus for several years, said the political parties set their own rules, and those rules can change from year to year.
Locations around Wadena County are hosting multiple precincts which meet together, but ultimately split up into individual precincts. For example, voters attending the Republican caucus for Wadena Precincts 1, 2 and 3, Leaf River Township and Wadena Township will all meet at the M State cafeteria but split into five groups by precinct.
"You meet at a table or two depending on how many people are there," Hillesland said.
Each township is its own precinct, and smaller towns are their own precincts. Wadena is the only city in the county with more than one precinct, and the part of Wadena in Otter Tail County is in a different precinct from other parts of the city. Wadena County has a total of 24 precincts.
Hillesland said that in 2010, Wadena Precinct 3 had just seven people - although since it is a presidential election year, the numbers will probably be higher this time around.
"In 2008 when there was a presidential election, there was an old-fashioned kind of caucus where there was a lot of people in attendance, a lot of people had the opportunity to go sit in their corner or their spot in the room to represent who they wanted to see as a candidate," Moen said. "That doesn't happen very often, and that was a lot of fun when it did."
In the general election, voters show up, pick their candidates and leave - or may fill out an absentee ballot if they cannot make it to the polling place in person.
To vote in a caucus, however, one must be there in person and stay for the duration of the event - one cannot just cast a ballot and leave.
"The rules state that the caucus has to last one hour," Hillesland said. "There's a lot of discussion and a lot of resolutions ... It could go a couple hours."
He said the straw poll taken at the caucus is secret - people don't have to declare their favorite candidate out loud - and it is also non-binding.
Precincts also elect delegates and alternates to go to the county convention, and in turn the delegates from the county convention go to the district and state convention.
Even though the delegate usually votes for the candidate who received the plurality of votes at the precinct, he or she is free to vote for another candidate.
Voters do not need to register in advance - residents of the precinct may sign in as they arrive.
One usually does not have to be a registered member of a political party in order to attend its caucus, but trying to manipulate or protest the opposite party's caucus is frowned on.
Hillesland said one does not have to be a registered Republican to vote for a presidential nominee in the Republican caucus - and yes, Democrats dissatisfied with President Obama or independent fans of Ron Paul are included. On the other hand, the caucus convener may quiet attendees who speak out in opposition to the beliefs of the party, and trying to cross over political parties to sway the votes is discouraged.
Moen said that people who are not registered Democrats may attend the caucus if they are generally leaning toward the Democratic Party. He said that some people may try to manipulate opposing caucuses, but it is uncommon in a small town and the two parties usually respect each other and have orderly meetings.
"We're glad to have people there," he said.
In the general election, the electoral system is winner take all - there are either "red states" or "blue states" - but states have their own rules in caucuses and primaries. Republican presidential candidates who have not taken first place in a state primary or caucus yet have won delegates counting toward the nomination.
At the time of writing, Republican presidential candidates with active campaigns included Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Rick Perry withdrew last week.
Hillesland said that write-ins are also allowed for the caucus straw poll.
Even though the Democratic Party has incumbent President Barack Obama, the local DFL caucuses will determine who will be chosen to challenge U.S. Congressman Chip Cravaack for the 8th District - depending on how districts are redrawn - and possibly some candidates for smaller local offices.
Moen and Hillesland said attending the caucus is also a change to change the platform.
Moen said that while some people think caucuses are outdated and antique, they are a good way to get involved in issues and politics - not only to pick a candidate, but to participate in grassroots democracy.
Hillesland said that the party's platform begins at the precinct level.
"Somebody might say, well I want to change the platform to say ... we oppose abortion - of course that's already in there. But that's where those things originate. And it's voted on at the precinct level, and then at the county level, and then at the district level, and then at the state level, for those changes in the platform," Hillesland said.
"You can argue and debate an issue. It's a lot of fun. That's the part that I really enjoy," Moen said.
Each precinct will elect officers - and because it is such a small group, anyone has a good chance of being elected.
"This year is a really important election," Hillesland said. "At the Presidential level, at the Senate level and at the local level. The best way to get involved is to start by coming to the caucus."
The state of Minnesota has provided a caucus finder to help constituents locate their precinct caucuses at caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us/