Caucus Was Hell

CN: Photos and descriptions of crowds and close quarters

I get a special giddy excitement from large crowds, but I’m weird that way. Caucus was a big circus for me. Except for that one length of hallway where we were stuck for about 15 minutes and I couldn’t get any phone reception.

But I think that many people who have kids, any kind of crowd anxiety, language or cultural barriers, mobility challenges or just other shit to do on a Tuesday night*, would agree that this is a… less than ideal situation:

A large group of humanity swells from directly in front of the camera to all the way down to the end of a long school hallway.

Let me back up, though. The photo above was actually quite late in our caucus journey.

The Hubby and I had the foresight to walk the eight blocks to our polling location rather than to try to bring the car down (smart…so, so smart). I found walking to be a neat experience because the closer we got, the more people we encountered who were also walking in the same direction. It felt purposeful; we were all headed to the same place to participate in the democratic process! (again, weirdo here. Also an optimist and a bit of a fuckin’ poet, so je m’excuse).

When we arrived at approximately 6:40pm, the crowds appeared fairly light. There were people arriving and disappearing into the large brick building, and aside from slightly more traffic noise than usual, nothing seemed out of place.

A shadowed, modern-looking brick school at dusk, with the name "Green Central Park Gymnasium" on one wall. A group and several individuals are seen walking toward a lit entry.

Small groups can be seen walking toward the lit entrance to the gym.


People on foot approaching the school from a nearby intersection.
People approach Cental Gym on foot from 4th Avenue and 35th Street.

When we arrived at the entrance, a small line had started to extend out of the doorway. After about five minutes, the line behind us had grown to this:

Peeking between two brick walls, a line of voters stands in the darkening outside in warm coats, hats and gloves. The line extends out of sight around the building.

Reminder: It may officially be spring, but it was still cold on Tuesday night. Luckily, many of us Minnesotans have experience with this kind of thing, and all of the people who I saw were dressed in warm coats and hats.

We made it in past the entry and found ourselves in this line:

An industrial looking school hallway with fluorescent lighting. A group of people lean up against one wall and wait for the line to advance.

That wasn’t too disheartening because we had been expecting some sort of line, and this couple hundred yards didn’t seem overly intimidating.

Boy did it move slowly, though.

It did get appreciably worse when we reached the end of this hallway and discovered that our line was merely one arm of several. I don’t have photo of it, but at the end of the hallway pictured above is a large atrium. The atrium was a boiling, bubbling mass of humanity, and all of that humanity was trying to work itself peaceably into the large hallway that I showed in the first photo of this article.

It wasn’t until we had moved much farther down that hallway that we found the balloting tables. Once we found the balloting tables – the understaffed, cramped, inadequate by any measure balloting tables – we learned that we had to find and navigate to the correct balloting tables, which were grouped by ward and precinct (but not well separated from each other). I heard and saw some people storm out in frustration when they realized that they didn’t know their ward and pricinct, and they learned that the only precinct map was located back in the atrium. Everyone was squeezed and squeezing toward 8×10 tables to sign in with our identifying information, get our paper ballot and a pen, and jam our completed ballot into small, overstuffed boxes.

Link in case video embeds incorrectly:

This is a video that I shot from behind the balloting tables after I wriggled free from casting my vote. Any thoughts that I had had about staying for the community caucus discussions were washed away in the tide of people that was still flowing in and out (but mostly in) to the school.

As we exited at the back of the building we ran into a young group of punks who were sneaking elderly voters in through the back door to the front of the line. *applause*

I should mention that I saw no one directing traffic throughout any of this. The first volunteers that we saw were gathered around the balloting tables. Everyone who I observed in the crowd behaved calmly and politely, and the volunteers were working their butts off, but the organization and resources were not sufficient to handle the turnout.

So yeah….about that switch to a primary system, y’all…

*Not to mention the segments of the electorate who are disenfranchised by our current caucus system who can’t make it out to or choose not to traverse the confusing, overcrowded caucuses.


Caucus Was Hell
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4 thoughts on “Caucus Was Hell

  1. 2

    In Washington state, if you know ahead of time that you will not be able to participate in a caucus due to one of a few listed reasons (including work obligations, religious observance, and disability, but there may be a few others) you can appoint a specific person to caucus for you. Don’t the democrats in Minnesota have a similar system?

  2. 3

    The situation was nearly identical here in Colorado. The only thing that the 28 folks who attended my precinct caucus could agree on was that we needed mail in primary ballot next time.

    “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” – Will Rogers

  3. 4

    Another guy from Oz here. Its always weird hearing about voting experiences in the US. You have created a legend about how hugely democratic you are but such simple things seem so..uh…awkward and disenfranchising.

    Here in Oz I look forward to our local council election on Saturday. I know there will be a sausage sizzle and that the process will itself be quick and without much inconvenience.Ok, sometimes I arrive late and the sausages have run out. That’s my own fault, or more rarely my wife’s.

    In federal, state or local elections I always get to meet my candidates in person and quiz them a bit, usually at a shopping mall or on the street, a few times in a cafe. Apart from John Howard and Julia Gillard I have met all our prime ministers since Gough Whitlam. I met Bob Hawk at the beach when he was having a BBQ. I guess the population size makes a huge difference but our city densities aren’t too dissimilar.

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