Last Tuesday kicked off a spate of significant primary and caucus states, each new result shaping both the candidates’ campaigns and the possible future of the country.
From our respective homes in Brooklyn, Colorado, and Australia we each had a different experience of Super Tuesday – though all of them likely involved a good deal of anxiously refreshing our browsers as the results came in.
A week later, the stakes somehow feel even higher as we await today’s results. In between compulsive browser refreshing, join us for a look back at the past week of election action.
After the astonishing results on Super Tuesday that saw GOP frontrunner Donald Trump winning seven states, large numbers of groups from nearly all aspects of the political spectrum are growing more and more concerned with the prospect of Trump gaining the Republican nomination (and, of course, being one step closer to actually being elected the next president of the United States of America). Not only has he evoked backlash (however expected) from various social justice groups, but his polarising presence has caused rifts within the Republican Party and its unofficial media syndicate, Fox News Channel.
At its most immediate glance, such a shake-up seems interesting, to say the least, especially within the lens of a very historically rigid two-party political machine. But now many are observing that, from as far back as Trump’s unsuccessful first campaign for president in 2000 to his even more embarrassing Anti-Obama birther crusade in 2011, public opinion on the man is steadily mutating from skepticism to amusement to anxiety to fear.
Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed an audience last Thursday at the University of Utah, just two days after Super Tuesday, to convince Republican voters that electing Trump as the GOP candidate will all but forfeit the presidency to the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. More specifically, Romney’s speech attempted to persuade voters that Trump isn’t what he seems or says he is, and that “dishonesty is Trump’s hallmark.”
In a contrasting tone, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver dedicated an episode to a similar cause. The dedicated segment proved Trump’s rise a genuine concern, describing the candidate as “America’s back mole… It may have seemed harmless a year ago, but now that it’s become frighteningly bigger, it’s no longer wise to ignore it.” Oddly enough, both Romney and Oliver made strides to demystify Donald Trump the man from Donald Trump the name and persona. One reason that Romney offers as an explanation to Trump’s campaign success thus far is that:
Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants, he calls for the use of torture and for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit first amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.
Oliver’s segment calculatingly rebuts a few of the most popular reasons Trump supporters (and oftentimes Trump himself) stand by, and each rebuttal zeroes in on an uncomfortably large chasm between fact and lie, a chasm oftentimes difficult to notice due to Trump’s larger-than-life persona. But even that isn’t wholly accurate. As it now appears, Trump isn’t so much larger-than-life as he is larger-than-real-life, meaning he is such a cartoon character that he can almost dodge scrutiny by raising his voice or talking over you, or taking a cheap shot that is so altogether infuriating that one might forget what the topic was to begin with. When Romney claimed that Trump was “directing our anger,” he wasn’t just talking about Republicans. It’s trademark red herring. It’s Trump Red Herring, the best, highest quality red herring of all.
The importance of caucuses
I followed a line of people down a bright orange hallway. Here and there we passed dim doorways where muscular (and otherwise) men and women lifted weights and jogged on treadmills. We stopped at the entrance to a half basketball court and waited to sign in. When we at last entered, the gym was already starting to split between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters. I sat next to a box of cookies and grabbed a Bernie sign.
My Super Tuesday caucus location was one of several local fitness centers, and as the room began filling up I started to recognize quite a few familiar faces: a local artist and his wife, that guy I occasionally run with at group runs, two of my neighbors, the owner of a coffee shop I frequent a bit too often, and those people at the grocery store I always seem to run into. Some had Hillary stickers and others, like me, picked up Bernie signs and waved to their friends entering the room. This was my first caucus and I don’t know why, but I’d been expecting to be surrounded by complete strangers, not people I saw everyday.
The caucus system is an American invention, dating back to our wee years as British colonies. Essentially, a caucus is a meeting of voters for a specific party who, over the course of one to several hours, publicly show their support for a specific candidate. At the end of it, votes are tallied and delegates are assigned for each precinct. I went in with a very grim opinion of the caucus system.
In Colorado, anyone who wished to participate in the caucus would have had to register as either a Democrat or a Republican by January 4th. In Colorado, Independents and unaffiliated voters aren’t allowed to participate in the primary process. That discounts over 1 million people, many under the age of 35, from being able to choose their candidate.
On top of that, there is no process for absentee voting in a caucus. Voters must find their way through an overly complicated system of determining where their precinct location is, arrive there at a specific time on a specific day, and spend most of their evening there. Think about all those voters who don’t work 9-5 jobs, or the disabled, or the elderly, people without access to transportation, or people who don’t want to publicly announce their support for a specific candidate. I saw the caucus as an outdated ordeal that only the most dedicated voters (with a lot of free time) would participate in.
The acoustics in the gym were terrible. The cacophony of normal talking voices echoed throughout the small room as if everyone was shouting. Eventually, someone did start shouting. We were about to start. I couldn’t really tell what was going on. It seemed like we were electing someone and before I knew it, the guy standing next to me raised my hand and said, “I nominate Margaret for Secretary.” There were several “ayes” around the room, so I wandered up to the front and waved nervously.
We began with a straw poll. The presiding officer asked all in support of Hillary to raise their hands. I hurried through the room, counting nearly 70 people. Then it was Bernie’s turn. Again, I counted nearly 70 votes for the Vermont Senator. The presiding officer was a bit overwhelmed as she scanned through her instructions on what to do next. Only twelve people had showed up for her precinct last time and now there were over 100.
At a caucus, voters are allowed to speak for their chosen candidate and attempt to sway others to their side before the final vote. As Hillary’s supporters, many of whom I recognized, spoke up about why they were voting for her, I found that I didn’t fault them, even though they disagreed with me. When it was all said and done, Hillary took home four delegates and Bernie three. Overall, Colorado went for Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday.
Over two hours after it all started, I said goodbye to everyone and watched them file back down the bright orange hallway. I gave the presiding officer, a staunch Hillary supporter, a lift home. On the way, we discussed the evening’s events. While I still felt the caucus system disenfranchises many voters, I was struck by the feeling of community and respect throughout the event. In a world where we are becoming increasingly isolated by technology and social media and “the other team” is dehumanized, caucusing reminds us that these people are our neighbors, co-workers, and friends.
Learning to count
From March 1 to 8, American expats in over 40 countries have been voting in the Global Presidential Primary. Run by Democrats Abroad, the official arm of the Democratic party for Americans living overseas, this primary will yield 21 delegates at the Democratic National Convention in July.
So last Wednesday, as Super Tuesday was wrapping up across the US, I made my way to a pub in Sydney, Australia to cast my vote. The room was decorated with festive Americana and a giant TV was showing Super Tuesday coverage from CNN. It was just before 8pm and though they were wrapping up, the place was still abuzz with people discussing the day’s events.
Having voted absentee in nearly every election since 2008, placing my paper ballot into an actual ballot box was thrilling. For a brief moment, it felt like being home, right in the midst of all the action. Then the volunteer checking my ID exclaimed upon seeing my triple book passport and we spent a few ebullient minutes chatting about expanded passports and travelling in Burma. I was at home away from home, where I’ve always belonged. It was perfect.
We won’t know the results of the Global Presidential Primary until the 21 March, but as the 2008 breakdown was approximately 66% for Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton’s 33%, I’d bet on a decisive showing.
But in states across the country there have been several narrow-margin wins, demonstrating once again the importance of every single voter who goes to the polls or attends a caucus.
Yet some voters continue to question the efficacy of their vote, with most media outlets portraying the Democratic race as a foregone conclusion. Try to find, with simple Google search, the number of delegates Sanders and Clinton have won via popular vote without superdelegates included in the total. It took me nearly 20 minutes and in the end I just had to do the maths myself. Despite the fact that superdelegates have to vote in line with their constituents and thus it is purely speculative to attribute them to one candidate before the entire country has voted, presenting the numbers in such a way has the effect of making a Hillary candidacy seem inevitable. Like someone’s vote for Sanders wouldn’t count. Like they shouldn’t even bother.
The reality is that Clinton currently has 672 delegates to Sanders’ 477. That 195 delegate deficit is not only vastly different from the 631 delegate deficit every major news outlet is reporting, but it could also easily be made up with wins in states like Michigan, California, Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania.
In the coming days, we have primaries and caucuses in Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio for a total delegate swing of 980. There are still so many votes to count, and every one does.