Editor’s Note: John Connolly is a computer whiz, camera guy, and generally a jack-of-all trades who is staying at my house for a couple of weeks while in town on a business trip. He was mentioning to me his recent experience as a temporary precinct chairman in Washington State. I asked him to write it up, and the below is his tale…–RPM
By John Connolly
This 2012 election season is wrought with churning up failed campaigns, where they first appear to gain the confidence of the Republican community but we soon see those candidates dashed against the rocks of negative campaign ads and poor debate performances. Rick Perry takes the cake in that regard I suppose. The pattern of holding a debate and taking a vote, state after state I thought was a great process. I still do sort of, but I now understand why Ron Paul continues to play the Cool Hand Luke role through this process.
I never really understood the hoopla over the difference between winning a straw poll and adding delegates to your satchel of support. I look back a few weeks ago and I reminisce on how confused I was. If straw polls don’t count, then why count them? Back then, a few weeks ago, I thought, “Well, maybe it is just a good way to put your finger up in the voter air and detect the strongest wind of change.”
To clear it up a bit, delegates are earned in a caucus method this way:
A state is divided into hundreds of neighborhoods called precincts. Often times a precinct can be 5 or 10 people big, or they can be 500 to 1000 or more. The GOP determines how many delegates maximum can represent a given precinct (based on population size and other factors). Each precinct chooses a handful of delegates to represent their neighborhood. They vote most often with a quickly made paper ballot or show of hands after all the people who would like to volunteer to be delegates gives their speeches on why they want to represent the precinct and what presidential candidate they would like to vote for. Some precincts have no turnout and they have by that fact no representation. In some precincts, the number of people willing to be delegates is below the threshold set by the GOP. In those cases, all of them that want to, get to.
All those who are elected as precinct delegates go to the county convention. The same process then happens at the county level, meaning that the precinct delegates select from their ranks a smaller number of delegates to go on to the state convention.
Then again, at the state convention, the county delegates in turn select those who will go to the National GOP Convention. This year it is in Florida.
I hope this is clear. This is important to the story.
OK now back to my example.
On March 3rd, the state of Washington got its turn to dredge up supporters, count the straws as well as deliver precinct delegates. In Washington it is a long and drawn out process as it is in several other states. It was their first ever “caucus only” election cycle.
So I went to my precinct meeting place where many precincts also met. That is called a Precinct Pool. Since this was the first time Washington did not hold a primary this thing was packed with confused voters whose constant refrain was, “I don’t know what is going on here but I will do what I can to vote.”
Meanwhile, I could tell by the type of constant contact from the Ron Paul campaign, they were not at all confused. They know well, what all this is about and how they can use this caucus process to their advantage. In my precinct they did.
Precinct 304 had 19 preference voters. When we signed in—many people thinking this was just a formality of the registration process and not the “straw poll” itself—the form asked us to list, by our names, our presidential preference. Lo and behold this was our straw poll vote! Several folks did not know that, so they had to go back and fill in the blank as they were hoping to vote in secret. This was not the primary they were used to.
After we all signed in, the GOP representative gave the instructions for delegate selections. It was almost straightforward, but even still, three people left the building between the sign-in straw poll and the delegate selection process. I think they may have thought the straw poll was all they needed to participate in. Or maybe they did not have enough of a conviction to “waste” their time with the “arduous” delegate selection process. As I would soon learn, these people who walked out early may have either been wise or foolish – more on that in a minute.
In precinct 304 there were only 16 people that stayed for the delegate selection and only 15 voted. I remember the one elderly woman who sat there the whole time and then turned in a blank delegate ballot. She appeared to be as confused as can be. I can still see the blank stare on her face. Maybe she was just having a bad day. Who knows?
As we were about to start, we had to select a chairman. My wife nominated me without asking and before I knew it, there was a second and a vote and I was handed the GOP official delegate papers. Mind you this was my first time ever doing this and Roberts Rules of meeting order are not etched in my brain!
So I followed the instructions of the GOP representative and held a vote for the secretary for this meeting. We now had the “leadership” to select the delegates.
Out of the 16 people sitting there only four wanted to be delegates. We only had three slots that the GOP said could be filled. I decided to add my name since that was legal and this was my one shot to really support Ron Paul. Something those three people who left after the original straw poll vote never got to consider. Now we had five delegate candidates. No more jumped at the chance.
The goal was for everyone to vote for the three delegates that most represented their views. The five of us took turns giving our modest but impassioned speeches for what we stood for and who we would vote for.
First was the diehard Gingrich supporter. Then there were two on the fence, one Paul-Romney and one Paul-Santorum that spoke of their desire to see the change that Paul would give, but would concede to their alternate choice if that is all that was available. The fourth speech was a diehard Ron Paul fan. He admitted to the vote for Obama in ‘08, and would not be “snookered” again. He studied the Constitution and became engaged in searching for the soul of liberty the last three years and no other candidate would suffice.
Then it was my turn. I was a pro-Bush fan back years ago, until I awoke one morning to TARP and the rest is history for me. Given that the field narrowed to the current four presidential candidates, I was a Ron Paul diehard too. I got my chance to tell how the Fed was created and how they create money out of thin air and why it is a hidden tax and how his foreign policy is so miss understood. It was a moment.
Now everyone knew where each of us stood. In the end even though Ron Paul only obtained 6 out of 19 straw poll votes from my precinct, the delegate ballots turned in what I never expected. Both diehard Ron Paul supporters became delegates alongside the Gingrich supporter. The “on the fence” people lost out. So Ron Paul gets little better than 25% of the straw poll in our precinct and yet gets 66% of the delegates to his name. I know this is just one small precinct, but I wonder based on the Ron Paul supporter enthusiasm how common this story is.
Then I hear of one report where another precinct had 8 people, 7 Romney fans and 1 Paul fan. They only had room for one delegate. They voted in the Paul person. That is 13% of the straw poll for Paul, yet 100% of the delegates.
If this is a pervasive trend, and based on the way Ron Paul supporters turn up to take the lead in these elections, it could very well be that Ron Paul is racking up delegates under the radar. How far off could the supposed delegate counts really be? The media is doing their own calculus, but Ron Paul is collecting real names and real numbers based on real votes and real delegate appointments. They are publishing reports vastly different. And they may be a slight skew, but they don’t want to lie to themselves, as they need to know where they are strong and weak as well. As I am editing this very article the report for the Clark County Nevada Caucus turns in a Ron Paul domination of about 2/3rds of the delegates and all 14 Clark County delegates were awarded to Ron Paul delegates. Still think Ron Paul is unelectable?
I contend that it is far more likely that Ron Paul has almost as many real delegates as Romney nationally, if not more, and if the media ever reported it, this whole fabricated concern of electability becomes an obvious and obnoxious deception and the establishment could be severely squashed this time around. Similar to a Ronald Reagan trounce but far more drastic.
Sure, I am biased toward Ron Paul because I no longer want to have my dollar tied to nothing and worth less with every passing year, so you could say I am just spinning anecdotal evidence in his favor. But the numbers are the numbers in my precinct and the numbers widely reported appear to be assembled through the same funny math that they use to deliver the unemployment news monthly.
So what about the straw poll and its power to persuade? In some strange esoteric way my three colleagues that left the process early and hundreds of thousands like them are having an effect since the media is weighting their straw vote so heavily. They are helping to sway the general public in the direction of the straw poll results which are not the means by which a candidate is elected in many states. It is misinformation at best but more like propaganda in reality. And when they do report the national delegate count, they are not telling the truth. The truth is Washington will not award their state delegates for a couple more months. And if you think the delegates at the state level will mimic the straw poll, you may want to think again.
Subsequent states are voting based on those straw polls and inaccurate delegate numbers rather than the real data that is not available until states like Washington hold the county caucus and then the state caucus.
What if Ron Paul actually wins Washington and other caucus states for real? How heartbroken will the closet Ron Paul supporter be when they find out they could have avoided wasting their vote on an establishment candidate.
If you are not asking for voting advice, please feel free to move on to your next web destination. But if you want help, as many appear to need it when you look at how this is all playing out, my suggestion is to vote for the person who you know will defend the causes as you deem appropriate. Keep your conscience clear. And if Obama makes it back in, then let his party take the blame for socialism. Don’t be so blind that you think voting in a socialist Republican is better than leaving the current Progressive Liberal in office. TARP and overspending RINOs are damage enough.
John Connolly is a software developer and avid sushi eater in Washington State.