March 26 is a big day for Democrats in Washington—it’s the date of the precinct caucuses to decide the party’s presidential nominee. Washington has a presidential primary in May, but the caucus is the only vote that helps pick the nominee. [“State political parties aren’t bound to use the results of [a]primary in allocating delegates to a candidate.” Seattle Times]
The caucuses are very different from a primary. Instead of voting by mail-in ballot, most people will need to go to the caucus location for their neighborhood—in person—on Saturday morning.
Here’s a Q&A to make sure you and the other Democrats in your life have the information you need to help pick our party’s nominee.
When are the precinct caucuses?
Precinct caucuses are on Saturday, March 26 at 10AM. Plan to stay for about two hours if you want to be there for the whole meeting.
Where do I go?
Your caucus location is determined by your precinct, which is a neighborhood-sized area around your home designated for election purposes. The locations will usually be at a nearby school or community center.
You can find the meeting spot for your precinct online at demcaucus.com/register, and you will have the option to pre-register. Pre-registration is not required, but it keeps things easy on the big day. Once you get there, you will need to sit with the other people in your precinct.
What happens if I can’t be there in person?
This is important, and the answer depends on why you can’t be there. Here are the categories that make you eligible to vote if you can’t make it in person:
- work schedule
- military Service
- religious observance
- illness or disability
If that’s you, the date you need to memorize is March 18. That’s the day the state party needs to have your signed paperwork in hand by 5:00 PM.
The absentee ballot is called a “Surrogate Affidavit Form,” and you can access it online from the state party website here: wa-democrats.org/page/2016-democratic-caucuses. You can fax, scan, or mail it to the party HQ in Seattle. (Instructions are listed on the form.) Be sure to plan ahead if you’re using traditional mail service since it may take a few days for your ballot to arrive.
I have a personal commitment that day that is very important to me. Can I still vote?
Unfortunately, only people that are prevented from attending because of work, military service, religious observation, illness or disability are eligible to vote in absentia.
I’m not registered to vote. What is the registration deadline to participate in the caucus?
Unlike other elections, you can register to vote right at the event. Party officials say voter registration forms will be available on-site. You can also register online on the Secretary of State’s website, here: http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/myvote/.
I’m a college student and I am registered to vote in my hometown. Can I participate in Olympia?
Yes, but you have to change your voter registration to your Olympia address. Voter registration forms will be available on-site, or you can register online (see above). If you want, you can always change your registration back to your hometown before the general election.
What documentation do I need to bring to register to vote on-site?
You won’t have to present ID, but you will need to write down your driver’s license number or Social Security number.
I’m not old enough to vote, but I’ll turn 18 before the November election. Can I vote in the caucus?
Yes. If you will be 18 by November 8, 2016 then you are welcome to vote.
What if I’m not a registered Democrat?
You can still vote in the caucus. Whether or not you are officially registered, you will need to attest that you consider yourself a Democrat and that you are not participating in another party’s presidential primary this year.
I was convicted of a felony and lost my voting rights. Can I vote in the caucus?
People that are convicted of a felony can have their voting rights restored when they are no longer in prison or community custody. More information is available on the Secretary of State’s website: www.sos.wa.gov/elections/Voter-Eligibility.aspx
Where can I find more information?
The state party website is the best place for general information: www.wa-democrats.org/page/2016-democratic-caucuses/.
The Thurston County Democrats are also a good resource. You can visit their website at ThurstonDemocrats.org or call their office at (360) 956-0235.
Michaela Williams lives in Olympia, Washington.