Like many people, I was eager to vote in this year's presidential primary, and then I remembered - we don't have a presidential primary. We have caucuses. Or at least that's what the Democrats have. I'm still confused about what the Republicans have.
This year, more than 1,200 people voted in Juneau's Democratic caucus and about 600 in the Republican event. Apparently it's been 30 years since participation has been that high. That's great. A party official told me most years the number is less than 500 from both parties combined. That's not great.
In Juneau, caucus goers had to spend two hours at Centennial Hall on Tuesday evening in order to vote and they had to be registered party members. As exciting as that process was, it left out those who either couldn't get downtown or couldn't be there for two hours - emergency responders on duty and others who work at night, many parents with young children, some people who depend on public transportation, those who are out of town on voting day and, of course, independent voters. And then there was my 18-year-old son who was really excited about voting for the first time but could not be excused for two hours from a school activity.
This is a crazy year in politics. People are really motivated now, but what happens when there isn't this much excitement? The caucus numbers will dwindle, but the choice won't be any less important.
There are more than 20,000 registered voters in Juneau. We need to make it easier for many more to participate. We could do that with a state-sponsored primary, which is how we nominate our congressional candidates. Like local and statewide general elections, in a state-sponsored primary the polls are open for 13 hours, we vote at our neighborhood polling place and we can vote absentee or stop on our way home at night. I'm usually out in less than 15 minutes.
We have caucuses in Alaska because many years ago the Legislature decided not to fund a presidential primary due to the cost, leaving each political party to host (and pay for) its own event. With the present system, we have more access to voting for dog catcher than nominating a president (just kidding). This is a democracy (not kidding this time). Isn't it time to give all Alaska voters a voice?
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