This is what democracy looks like

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In more than 20 years of attending Minnesota precinct caucuses, I’d gotten accustomed to driving up at the last minute to join a half dozen or so neighbors taking part in the democratic process.

I knew something was up Tuesday night when I got stuck in a traffic jam some six blocks from the Rondo Education Center, the school just up the hill from downtown St. Paul where my caucus was held. After finally finding on-street parking more than a block from the school, I joined a long line snaking out of the building.

It turned out there were two lines – one for the Democratic Farmer Labor Party caucus, the other for the Republican Party caucus. Folks who wandered into the wrong line were good-naturedly steered onto the right path. Those assembled represented all the great diversity of St. Paul. And for the first time that I could remember, many people brought their children.

The line moved quickly and soon I found my way to a classroom where I met dozens of neighbors I didn’t know. Some quickly filled out the presidential preference ballot, then scooted out the door. But others stayed to take part in the caucus, get elected as delegates to the legislative district convention and debate resolutions.

We cheered when a young man with purple hair, who announced he was just turning 18, turned in his ballot to vote for the first time. Several of us warmly shook hands with my neighbor, Dick Radman, a longtime Building Trades leader who has taken part in every Minnesota caucus since World War II.

We passed resolutions endorsing universal health care, calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and supporting an instant runoff voting system for future elections. The resolutions, scrawled on sheets of notepaper, will be sent for consideration in the party platform along with hundreds of others.

My DFL Party caucus, like many others in the building, ran out of ballots and we resorted to a true Minnesota solution – Post-It notes. Folks continued to show up to vote, long after the caucus had started. At eight o’clock, we counted the presidential ballots. Barack Obama outpolled Hillary Clinton more than three to one.

Then it was time to put the classroom “back the way we found it,” stacking the chairs back up on the tables and picking up wrappers from the Snickers bars I’d thought to bring along (I figured some folks hadn’t had dinner). Smiling, we shut off the lights and joined the growing throng walking out of the building into the cool February night.

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