It’s election season and the fight has come to Maine. On Saturday, Republicans from all over Lewiston gathered at Lewiston Middle School to pledge their delegates. Ted Cruz won both Androscoggin County and the state. On Sunday, Democrats met at Lewiston High School. There, Bernie Sanders won the majority of delegates.
How exactly does a caucus work? The system is only used in Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Iowa, and it is both confusing and archaic. Traditionally, a caucus is based on a town hall style of voting. At the appointed time and location, a group of people gathers together to discuss issues, hear speeches, and, finally, vote. The caucus, however, is not nearly that smooth.
A Student reporter attended the Democratic Caucus on Sunday. At 1:00 pm., they arrived at Lewiston High School along with approximately 540 other people. 130 people voted absentee. Voters packed into the cafeteria to register to vote as a Democrat (Maine has a closed caucus, so only party members may vote) and check in. Half an hour later, the line was still long and the caucus was delayed. Speakers, including party chairmen, caucus organizers, and 2016 2nd District Congressional Candidate, Emily Cain, spoke. Amid a growing excitement, voters waited for the caucus to officially begin. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton Supporters cheered and waved signs, and first time and 10th time attendees stood up—it was the first time for nearly all of attendees.
Then finally, at 1:50 pm., it began: the caucus was called to order. Quickly, a caucus secretary and chair were elected unanimously and a plug was made for election clerks to run the November excitement. Then it was down to business. A speaker from the Bernie Sanders Campaign named Drew got up in front of the half-full gym and talked about the need for universal health care. Minutes later, Maine Senator Peggy Rotundo spoke about the unique qualifications of Hillary Clinton. Then, a series of candidates for State Legislature spoke on their campaigns, their qualifications, and their goals.
Finally, at 2:20 p.m., the caucusing began. The participants were divided by ward (which is essentially, a Lewiston Voting District). Ward 1, which includes a large part of the Bates Campus, filed into the Cafeteria. There, all 177 voters were counted by hand. Once a number had been agreed upon (it took two tries), everyone moved to stand in the designated spot for their candidate. After two rounds of voting and two speeches, the 13 delegates for Ward 1 were partitioned. Bernie Sanders won nine delegates and Hillary Clinton won four delegates.
But the caucus was not over yet. For every delegate to the State convention (the process where National Delegates are awarded to a candidate), the caucus needed to elect someone to cast it. Eventually, each side picked its delegates. On May 6 and 7, several Bates Students including a Student reporter, will attend the State Convention.
After all the eccentricities of caucusing, why does it still exist? On the Republican side, Lauren Stimpert ’16, Vice President of the Bates Republicans, defended the process. “…This caucus was unique because it had voters in Maine (as well as the rest of the U.S.) really fired up about the election and their candidates… The tone of this election really mobilized Mainers to get out and vote.”
Mikka MacDonald ’16, a member of the Bates Democrats, feels conflicted about the process. “We were excited to have a strong Bates turnout on Sunday. For most of us, including the majority of Bates seniors, it was the first time that we ever had the opportunity to attend a caucus…I felt that a caucus environment offered a personal and empowering atmosphere, but did so at the cost of efficiency. The dichotomy offers a debate: would we rather have a highly engaged (and hopefully informed) voter base, or a large one?”