Colorado Caucus PTSD
It pains me to have to write this. I don’t wish to be a part of the divisiveness that’s rampant in the Democratic party as we head to Super Tuesday. But the time has come to tell my 2008 Colorado caucus story.
Before I do, I’d like to say that I voted for Bill Clinton, twice. I was so impressed with Hillary Clinton—her ideas, her work, and her defiant attitude toward the Republican rumor machine, that I even joined the Hillary Rodham Clinton Fan Club. I still have the fan club button.
Over the course of the Clinton administration, however, the brightness of this duo dimmed. One scandal followed another, real and imagined, and it never, ever, let up. While Clinton left our country with a surplus and a few good policies, I saw him only as a fair president, not a great one.
So in 2008 I was not stoked to be a Hillary Clinton supporter. I didn’t like her ties to multi-national corporations like Walmart or her catering to the status quo, but her vote for the Iraq War was a deal-breaker. When a friend recommended Barack Obama’s book, Dreams from My Father, I read it and knew I’d found my candidate. I recognized the real deal: here was an individual with honesty (even when it wasn’t pretty) and integrity. For the first time, I volunteered for a campaign.
What excitement we experienced at the local Obama office on the night of the 2008 Iowa caucus! I told my daughter Zora, then a teenager, “Honey, you’re witnessing the making of history tonight.” I volunteered to be a Precinct Captain for the Colorado caucus. Although introverted and inexperienced, I welcomed supporters into my home, worked at the phone bank, and prepared for the big day.
Memories of that that night at the caucus eight years ago had grown fuzzy, until Iowa rolled around again. Reports of questionable activity jogged my memory. I called my friend Yolanda. We’d met during the Obama campaign. She’d been at our neighborhood caucus and had helped me out.
“Do you remember exactly what happened last time?” I asked her. “Something with the numbers . . .”
“The woman who came in to record the votes from the precincts wrote ours down wrong,” Yolanda said. “I think we had 43 for Obama, 6 for Hillary, something like that. And when she wrote them down she transposed them!”
“I remember now! You confronted her. I was completely freaked out. I was afraid she’d change them back again after she left the room.”
Yolanda mentioned another friend who was there with us as it happened; she witnessed this too.
It all came back. I’d been nervous that evening as I walked to the neighborhood elementary school. My first caucus, and I was the precinct captain. My job was to explain the procedure, to count the votes and calculate the percentages, to oversee electing delegates and alternates to the county convention. The thought of making a mistake terrified me.
The first thing I noticed in the crowded gymnasium were the many “Hillary Clinton for President” posters taped up on the walls—and only one or two for Obama. It was intimidating; this was a former first lady, and most thought her victory was a done deal. That’s what we’d heard over and over. Just as we’ve heard, over and over, that this time it’s a done deal.
We went to our precinct’s area and then divided into groups, Obama and Hillary. The overwhelming majority were there for Obama, at least a 6:1 ratio. The Hillary supporters looked upset. One was a woman from our neighborhood whom I’d known for years. It felt uncomfortable to be on different sides. She had two daughters, like I did, and I liked her.
I remember being nervous working the calculator to find out the percentages, but Yolanda, who double-checked my count, helped me out there, too. I recorded the numbers. Then the person acting as caucus secretary came for the results.
She wore a large Hillary Clinton button—and no smile. I made a nervous comment about how this was my first caucus, how it was a little overwhelming. She informed us that it wasn’t her first rodeo; she’d participated in many caucuses throughout the years. And then she wrote the numbers down wrong. Yolanda saw it and said something to the effect of, “No, that’s not right!”
“I made a mistake,” the woman said.
As she changed the numbers, Yolanda and I exchanged glances. The woman left the room, saying someone was waiting to pick up the information. In that moment my heart froze. I didn’t trust her. Of course I would be reporting the numbers to Obama headquarters, but what if the numbers didn’t match? What would happen? I didn’t know, and there was nothing I could do aside from chase her down and demand to supervise her. That wasn’t going to happen.
“Was that just me, or . . . ?” I was too shocked to say more.
We all know the story from there. Obama won.
As we go to caucus next week, be aware that there will be some chaos. There will be new precinct captains, and many who have never been to caucus before. The stakes are high for both candidates, but perhaps the highest for Clinton supporters. Some have invested years of their lives into the hope that she will be our first female president. And mass media has been telling them once more in all the major news channels, that it’s going to happen.
My message is simple. First of all, go. Our participation matters. Second, stay cool, be kind, but firm. Third, take a pen, paper, calculator, smart phone, whatever you need to help document the procedures.
Let’s aim for no mistakes and an honest count.
See you at the caucus.