An inside look at the voter’s experience – Part 3

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A group waits to caucus at Mountlake Terrace High School on Saturday, March 26.

This is the final piece in a series of three parts by Mountlake Terrace resident Michelle L. Hankes on her experiences as a voter throughout the years and becoming more engaged in politics. Read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here.

I have spent the past week being rallied, pepped up, and ready for change. So, now what? What does a voter do now that you know what is important to you and your family and believe there is a presidential candidate who can achieve that?

You caucus.

When I first decided to join my local caucus, I had to figure out what that actually meant. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a caucus is a meeting of the members of a particular political party to select candidates or decide on policy. I wasn’t sure if that meant people just sat around talking for awhile and then voted on things or if it was some grander processional of political masterminding. I really didn’t know, but I wanted to find out.

I signed up to join my local caucus online, printed out my form and made sure I knew when, where and what time. My local caucus happened to be at Mountlake Terrace High School at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 26. A friend also had the same caucus location, so we rode together.

The tables in the cafeteria downstairs were set up with precinct numbers, the same as were highlighted on our online caucus forms and voter registration cards – all we had to do was find the right table and have a seat. This is where my friend and I split up and joined our respective groups.

I found my precinct number amongst the sea of filling tables and sat down with my neighbors. The great thing about joining a caucus beyond feeling as though you are truly contributing is that you get to meet your actual neighbors. I know most of the neighbors on my street, but this was a great chance to meet new neighbors. I chatted with the woman across from me and found out she lives just down the hill from me. We chatted about the upcoming light rail project, rezoning and planning commissions decisions. It was a joyful experience just to hang with people I am sure I have seen in passing. There were about 25 people at my table as we began – men, women and toted children of all ages. I felt a swell of pride in our community to see how many folks turned out and the variation of ages and cultures – all with the desire to be a part of a system that was created to include us all. The founders of our country had it right – every vote matters. We may not always get what we want, but by participating, we sustain a system that was intended to include everyone.

We sat and chatted for awhile, got to know one another and waited for the instructions on what to do next. The Precinct Committee Officer, Dave Gossett, stood on the stairs overlooking the sea of caucus goers to give us an introductory speech, some basics, along with an update that we would be starting half-an-hour later than intended due to a few last minute changes and additional caucus sites being added or changed statewide. Everyone was to be given a fair chance to get to their location and participate. Sounds fair to me.

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Mountlake Terrace residents, Melodie Madison and Elizabeth Wilson, are excited to caucus.

We were given a packet of information with instructions, a combined preliminary/final candidate tally form, delegate signup sheets, donation envelopes, scratch paper and a pen. From there, we were asked to designate a caucus chair, secretary and clerk. Volunteers were nominated and we voted. The caucus chair’s job was to keep our group on task and move us along. The secretary and clerk wrote down the tallies and kept simplistic minutes of what was being said. After the basic instructions, we were on our own and free to caucus.

We started by taking an initial tally (the preliminary vote) of who was voting for who – the two primary candidates, any other candidate and uncommitted. From there, we were then instructed to allow anyone to talk in favor of a particular candidate or ask any questions they may have and allow another caucus member to answer it. We had two primary speakers – one each in favor of the two primary candidates. In the noisiness of the over-crowded cafeteria, we found that we couldn’t hear one another, so we moved into an area away from the throng and continue our conversation in a circle. In this instance, we gave anyone who wanted a chance to say something that very chance and it became an amazing thing. People shared their stories, their thoughts, their insight without much rebuttal or refute.

Elizabeth Wilson, a disabled vet, and her husband, Matthew – who runs a homeless shelter downtown – shared their thoughts on healthcare reform and why they have an affinity for the candidate they want to vote for. Another man spoke about his concerns with Congress and if anyone could get the job done. A passionate voter spoke about her desire for a female president that can keep the status quo while making some necessary changes. Everyone had their chance. If you had something to say, there was time and room to do it. Healthcare was widely discussed, as was global concerns, foreign policy, national debt and concerns about the polarization of parties, opposing and within.

No one scoffed and everyone was in equal allowance to give each other a chance to speak. It reminded me of the beauty of this election and every other one. The original intention of creating a democratic society was so that each person had a chance to be heard and support whomever they want to support. And the citizens of Mountlake Terrace got it right. My civic pride could not have been bigger.

Once all the voices were heard, it was time for a final vote and tally. In this instance, because we had the room (most groups simply voted by a show of hands), if you were voting for Candidate A, you moved to the left side of the room. If you were voting for Candidate B, you moved to the right. And any uncommitted voters could remain so and that would be counted to. By the end, only one person’s mind had been changed from uncommitted to a particular candidate. The tally was taken, written onto the final forms, and delegates were chosen for the next round to be held in a few weeks’ time. Each delegate is asked to honor the vote and tally by delegating what the people have asked for. This process continues for several months until the presidential nomination of the party completes the cycle.

What I found is that many people are concerned for their future, but also want to be a part of that change. They are showing pride in their community, as well as respecting another’s views. Some were highly passionate about what they felt and had delved deeply into everything, while others just wanted to cast their vote quietly, still being heard. It was an amazing process. Not only was it a chance to be a part of choices and change for our entire country, but it was a chance to connect to community that I live in every single day.

Regardless of whether or not your vote wins the election the way you want it to, it does matter. It matters because you express your views, voice your opinion, and share your vote with millions of others doing the same thing. It becomes the voice of many, not just one, regardless of what is being said. And, without those voices, the voices of the many, the words fall on deaf ears, never getting heard. As I said in the beginning, I have always been an active voter and an activist for many things, including freedom and the right to be heard–but, what I learned is that being an active voter on a small scale makes the large scale more resonant. You meet the people that whatever changes come affects. You connect with your neighbors in ways that you may not have before, and you get to see the faces of people who want the same change you do.

Every reason why I continue to participate. When you see those faces, you realize it’s not just about you and yours – it’s about all of us, each and every one.

–Story and photos by Michelle L. Hankes

Michelle L. Hankes is a local writer, reader and avid fan of all things joyful. She has authored three books about nature, metaphysics, and spirituality and has written articles and poetry for several publications. By grace and funny circumstances, she has lived happily in pretty and peaceful Mountlake Terrace for nearly two decades. For more information, visit www.MichelleHankes.com.

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