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Participating in your precinct caucus requires a little more than a pulse, but not much. You have to be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old and a Minnesota resident for 20 days on Election Day, Nov. 7, 2006. You can’t be a convicted felon, mentally incompetent or under guardianship.(A person convicted of a felony may vote–and participate in a caucus–after serving their sentence and completing probation.)

You don’t have to be a member of a political party, or even be a registered voter: you only need to agree that you are likely to support the party’s candidates in the next election.

Each of the state’s three major political parties—Democratic-Farmer-Labor, Independence and Republican—hold caucuses the same night, which this year is March 7. (The Green Party is no longer a major political party, but they may still hold a caucus.) Some gatherings will feature chili or homemade cookies and all serve up an evening of good old-fashioned political discussion. Each party does things a little differently, but by the end of the evening all will have:

– Elected delegates to their next level convention (usually an endorsing convention for the Minnesota House of Representatives)

– Considered resolutions (that may eventually end up as part of a party’s platform)

– Elected precinct officers (the people responsible for party organizing activities in the neighborhoods that form a precinct).

Caucus effectiveness 101: nuts and bolts

OK, you’re halfway there: you’re eligible to go. Now, why should you? Isn’t it just a bunch of insiders and confusing rules? Yes and no. With a little help and a little preparation you can caucus effectively. Here is some insider information to get you going in the right direction.

How is business conducted?
Most caucuses use Robert’s Rules of Order (you make motions, need someone to second them, have discussion, vote). If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry—generally, caucuses make a real effort to make Robert’s Rules work for, not against, the process, and you’ll catch on quickly.

How long is a caucus?
Anywhere from one to three hours, depending on how many people attend and how long they want to talk.

The first order of business is to elect a caucus chair and the precinct officers.

Next is the election of delegates and alternates to the county or district conventions. You can nominate yourself, or you can nominate someone else. But you should nominate someone who shares your views.

What about my personal agenda?
If you’re upset about the way we pay for road repair, or you want more space set aside for dog parks, you’re in the right place. During the time set aside for resolutions, anyone can bring up their pet idea or cause. If a majority of attendees agree with your idea, it will be included among those voted on at the next party convention (the legislative district convention).

To get from there to the party platform, your idea needs to win a majority vote at the congressional district and state conventions (note: some parties may combine one or more of these conventions). Some party platforms are specific, others are more general statements of principles.

How do I support my gubernatorial candidate?
Parties may hold a gubernatorial straw poll at the precinct caucuses. Call your political party headquarters to find out.

Becoming a delegate: How do I get elected?
Competition for delegate slots in some DFL precincts can be fierce. But IP, Republican and some DFL caucuses often don’t even fill all their delegate slots, so a sincere newcomer can have as good a chance as a party regular. If the competition is stiff, consider becoming an alternate—often one or more delegates don’t show up, and you’ll get a chance to be seated and participate.

Delegates are elected by majority vote, consensus or in a walking subcaucus (more on that below). Arm twisting is often popular, too. (“C’mon, Sue, we need one more delegate!!! Please take the slot!”) In the DFL, delegates must be balanced by gender.

Now that I’m a delegate, what’s next?
Delegates advance to the next level of party activity, which is an endorsing convention. At this level, delegates endorse state House and Senate candidates (or vote for no endorsement), elect local party officers and vote on resolutions. Oh, and you can run for delegate to the next convention (the order is county, congressional district, then state).

Newcomers are (generally) welcome
Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer cautions first-timers to have realistic expectations. “If you’re attending college for the first time or on your first day of a new job, you expect to learn the system: where’s the bathroom, the drinking fountain? Attending caucuses is the same way. You need to scope out the situation. Be prepared to learn so that you can perform.”

If you’re a first-timer, consider attending a training session. Caucus trainings are free and put on by political parties and nonprofit groups. For more information, call your political party, the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus at 651-228-0995 or the Minnesota Participation Project, which is offering trainings this year in English, Somali, Hmong, Spanish and American Sign Language. Contact them at 651-642-1904 x 246.

The 411 on precinct caucuses
Precinct caucuses mark the beginning of the process that Minnesota’s major political parties use to choose candidates and issues to support in the 2006 elections.

When: 7 p.m. March 7, 2006

Where: After Feb. 15, call your county auditor for your caucus location at 1-877-600-VOTE.

Who can attend? Anyone can attend; to participate and vote you must be eligible to vote on Nov. 7, 2006.

Do I have to be registered with that party? No.

Other places to get information

MN Secretary of State: 651-215-1440 or

www.sos.state.mn.us.

Hennepin County auditor: 612-348-5151

Ramsey County auditor: 651-266-2171

What’s on the agenda?

– Elect delegates and alternates for the party endorsement conventions held in spring and summer

– Discuss issues and vote on resolutions that may become part of the party platform

– Elect local party leaders

– Gubernatorial straw ballots may be conducted at the start of the caucus

Party contacts

DFL 651-293-1200 or www.dfl.org

Green 612-871-4585 or www.mngreens.org

Independence 651-487-9700 or www.mnip.org

Republican 651-222-0022 or www.mngop.com

Know the lingo

Precinct caucus: public meeting held by major political parties to elect delegates, discuss issues and conduct party business

Delegate: person elected at a precinct caucus to attend the party’s convention

Endorsement: when delegates vote as a party to support a candidate

Nomination: candidates must be nominated to be listed on the November election ballot. Major party candidates are nominated at the state primary in September.

Party platform: list of principles and issue positions representing the party

Resolution: statement, usually written, of an idea, concern, issue or action for people at a party caucus to consider for addition to the party platform

Source: Minnesota Secretary of State’s office

The walking subcaucus
The walking subcaucus is sometimes used to select delegates when there are more people interested in being delegates than delegate slots.

It’s sort of like a game of sardines. Any participant can nominate a subcaucus, and then the goal is to attract other like-minded folks to join them within a certain limited time.

The more members your subcaucus attracts, the more delegates your subcaucus can elect. If you’re uncommitted or unattached, you can float around until you find a subcaucus that appeals to you. Sometimes, subcaucuses will merge to increase their delegate count. The number of delegates are allocated in proportion to the number of people in a particular subcaucus.

Walking subcaucuses are loved, hated and debated.

The positive: Smaller groups of people can elect delegates to represent their candidate or perspective—you don’t need a majority vote.

The negative: It takes time and calculators and is confusing for newcomers. This method is more commonly used at conventions than at caucuses.