Readers respond: What (if anything) is wrong with Minnesota caucuses?


Readers REALLY didn’t like the headline on Sheila Regan’s column about her experience at a precinct caucus last week! Beyond the headline, though, some people raised serious questions about both the column and caucuses. Here are some of their comments and questions (edited for length.) I’ll lead off with Betty Tisel, whose long-term political activism and commitment shine through:

Betty Tisel: Where do I even start with this? Caucuses are run by volunteers. If you don’t like it, get involved and make it better. Don’t alienate others from political involvement by using headlines like this. It’s a great time to get involved because the process is shifting, especially in municipal election years like this one, due to the changes brought about by Ranked Choice Voting. Stay home or make it better but don’t dis the whole process and alienate young folks with this kind of headline. Ask questions, volunteer, or stay home, it’s your choice.

Tisel also offered to write “a CAUCUSES 101 type piece” in advance of the next precinct caucuses. I’m looking forward to it! 

Harvey Zuckerman: Were we at the same caucus? I guess so, since it was the only one at that location. Funny how two people can have very different views of the same event.
I totally agree that the process is confusing, especially since we have separate years for national and municipal caucuses. It would be a great idea to spend the first 10 minutes of each caucus, explaining the process and would encourage the party to build that in to agendas. However, it then depends on the knowledge and clarity of the person explaining the process. As volunteers, that is not always consistent or clear. …
It is totally a volunteer driven process, as Betty mentioned. As a city, our voters decided to adopt Ranked Choice Voting rather than using primaries to select our city officials. Let’s give this newish process a chance to work out the bugs, if there really are any.
You are correct that the caucus selects the delegates that then vote to decide who gets the party’s endorsement. Primaries offer the most opportunity for true citizen engagement in the process. The strong turnout at our caucus and the  appalling voter turnout for primaries are proof of that. 
If you want to make a difference in this city which is pretty much DFL controlled, the first and best opportunity is in the endorsement process. 

Johan David Baumeister: Sheila, your suggestion to replace caucuses with a primary shows that you just don’t understand system at all. The primary has nothing to do with the endorsement, and is specifically designed for maximum participation with minimum time commitment. The caucuses are the way to understand how the most active and involved portion of the party feel and think about the candidates, which is important for several reasons. Furthermore, had you actually bothered to attend a caucus last year you would have understood they also help craft the party’s platform. …

I happen to agree that caucuses have an accessibility problem… when run poorly. But when well-trained volunteers lead one, as happened at my first caucus, they are a thing of democratic beauty.

Your headline should have been “DFL needs to train caucus leaders better.” 

On the other hand, some people chimed in with their own criticism:

N. Jeanne Burns: I had the same experience in 2008. I hated my caucus experience. White men dominated and shouted down women and people of color who were trying to talk. It was terrible.


Aaron Lauer: Though I agree that the headline is very counterproductive and that caucusing in principle (and often in practice) is an effective expression of democracy, I’ll have to defend Sheila on this piece, as I’m pretty sure I was at the same meeting she was. The meeting was very poorly run in my opinion. The moderator didn’t know the rules, people in the crowd didn’t know the rules but were shouting them out anyway, we heard little about any resolutions, and by the end of the meeting all people present ended up becoming delegates anyway. I don’t think ditching caucuses is the right idea, but I would suggest that the DFL make some major changes to their process or risk losing the voices of interested and engaged citizens in their party in the future.


Emily Pearson Ryan: Hilarious, Sheila.  I had approximately the same exact experience at my caucus, except that some generous soul warned me that whichever number I listed would get inundated with calls from candidates, so I filled the forms out accordingly.  Also, I got a call afterwards saying I’d sat through the entire caucus for the wrong precinct, so I could just show up as a alternate for my precinct at the convention… 

There’s more — go to the original article and scroll down for comments. (You’re welcome to add your own.)

As for the criticism of the column as not good reporting or not well-researched — this was a column, not a news article. That’s indicated by both the byline and the top-of-column-two box saying “Behind the Story is a regular TC Daily Planet column, featuring stories and reflections by Sheila Regan.” Columns are different from reporting. In this one, Sheila described her own, subjective, personal experience at her own precinct caucus.

Read on!

We published an article from Rebekah Peterson and a blog post from Jeff Skrenes ahead of the caucuses, both urging people to participate and offering some explanations of what the caucuses would do. We also published Jeff Skrenes’ post-caucus blog post — No resolutions at precinct caucuses shuts out North Minneapolis voice. (You can probably guess which of all the caucus-related stories got the most readers, attention and comments.)

Jeff’s post-caucus blog raises some important issues, and deserves wider readership — if you’ve read this far, you are probably a die-hard politically-involved citizen, so please take a look at it.

And please keep commenting and writing.