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Have you ever wondered about the delegates to the Democratic National Convention, how they got there, and what difference they make?  Well, you may see me during the television coverage of July 25-28 because I am one of them this year.  Over the last several months I have had a unique opportunity to learn how our electoral system works first-hand and I must confess that the process is byzantine and less than democratic.  I am documenting here how I became a delegate and what my experience at the California Democratic delegate convention was like. Later I intend to share with you about my experiences in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention.

At the age of 51, and as someone who has been actively involved in politics most of my life, it is surprising that I had no idea how delegates were selected. Now that I understand better I can see why I and most citizens have no clue: the process is nearly secret.

For me, the first step to Philadelphia was going to the California Democratic Party website and filling out a form and submitting it by fax by April 13.  Delegates are chosen by congressional district and in Congressional District 20, which includes Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, there were about 60 applications to be Bernie Sanders-pledged delegates and about 20 to be Hillary Clinton-pledged delegates. More on this in a moment, but what does “pledged” mean?

Haffa is a professor at Monterey Peninsula College and a member of the Monterey City Council. The Partisan will be following him on the road to the DNC in Philadelphia. Stay tuned for future installments.

As it turns out, there are four types of delegates: Pledged and elected delegates like myself, PLEOS (Party Leader Elected Officials who are pledged), at-large delegates who are pledged, and super delegates who are unpledged.  Each congressional district is assigned a number of delegates based on the population and how many people voted in the last election.  In CD20, which is Sam Farr’s district, we were allocated three male pledged, three female and one alternate.  At large, PLEO and super delegates are not allocated by district and I’ll talk about them in a subsequent post. Back to the pledged delegates.

So, you submit your paperwork: now what?  What I did was join a slate.  My slate included three nurses—you want some women and some men to balance your slate because the delegates are divided equally between men and women.  Each of us on our slate was supposed to turn out as many of our friends and supporters as possible to the Sanders’ caucus and there were other slates doing the same both at for Sanders and for Clinton.

Our slate looked like this:

Sanders slate card

I emailed friends and also contacted folks on Facebook. Honestly, I didn’t work as hard at it as I should have and didn’t expect to win, but I was looking forward to the caucus because I would see other people who shared my values and those of Sen. Sanders.  We didn’t know where the caucus would be and it could have been anywhere in the three-county area.  Ultimately the two campaigns decided on Salinas, and the Sanders’ caucus was at Hartnell College and the Clinton caucus was at the Laborer’s Local 270 Union headquarters.

Nurses Bernie DelegatesAs it happened, there were almost 300 people at the Sanders’ caucus and around 100 at the Clinton caucus.  Electioneering at these caucuses is not only permitted, it seems to be encouraged.  All the candidates and various slates moved up and down the line of people waiting to get inside, handing out printed materials and talking to voters.  Now, raise your hand if you knew about this vote?  Right. Most of us never hear about this and it is not usually advertised much in the media, if at all.  Almost everyone there was there because some candidate had asked them to be there along with party insiders who know about these caucuses from past elections.  Normally, party insiders are a large enough bloc that they can potentially sway these elections.  At the Sanders’ caucus, however, there were almost no insiders present.  It was a diverse group of people, younger more than older, wearing their Sanders T-shirts and buttons.  With other candidates, I walked the line and asked for people’s votes, greeted and hugged friends, and handed out my slate’s flyer.

Finally the door opened and people could enter and vote. They had to be registered Democrats and were asked if they would pledge to vote for Sanders although this pledge was not binding.  It was heart-warming to see so many friends there; maybe I had a chance. There were also many people there wearing red “National United Nurses” scrubs.

But would these people who didn’t know me vote for me because I am on the same slate as the nurses?  People could vote for four men and three women, and I think this was my advantage because I was on a slate with three women and no other men.  Some people voted and left but many stayed to hear the candidates.  Of the nearly 60 certified candidates, maybe 20 were there to speak and we each had exactly 30 seconds.  It is hard to be persuasive in 30 seconds but as we stood in line I tried my best to arrange three key ideas. Who am I and why am I worthy of representing hundreds of thousands of voters on the Central Coast at the convention. Why I support Bernie?  What kind of delegate I will be.  After everyone spoke, I felt like we would be well represented no matter what because there were so many well spoken and passionate people.

Then we waited around for about two more hours as volunteers counted the ballots. It is an understatement to say I was surprised when it was announced that I was the highest vote-getter. I never expected to win.  So, there were four men and three women, but how many would actually go to Philadelphia and the convention? That would depend on the percentage of the vote that Sen. Sanders got on June 7 in Congressional District 20, during the state primary.  At this moment, we still don’t know the final count. Election night it appeared Secretary Clinton won CD20 with 54% to 46%.  That meant there would be three Clinton delegates plus one Clinton alternate and three Sanders’ delegates.  A week later, the vote flipped as Sanders moved ahead in our district, so then three Sanders delegates plus one Sanders alternate and three Clinton delegates would represent our district.  The votes are still coming in and Sanders’ lead is growing somewhat; if he were to get more than 57% the delegate distribution would be four Sanders and two Clinton and I don’t know what would happen to the alternate!  If this sounds confusing, it is.

Here are my takeaways from this process.  A very small number of people select the actual delegates, basically a few hundred. Most of those people are there because someone who was running asked them to show up and vote. Is this the most democratic process? Do I even need to ask?  I won and I am grateful, but the process is so secret and so few people participate that it seems less than democratic. This year the Sanders’ campaign brought many people into the process who don’t normally participate, and our caucus was larger than most, but even so, 300 people picked the delegates for a district that includes some 700,000 voters.  People either voted for people they knew, voted because the person they knew was on a slate and voted for the other people running with their friend, or voted based on a 30-second elevator speech. This seems less than a thorough and in-depth way to choose delegates.  The whole process seems a bit elitist, to be honest.

I am honored that I won, but was it really me or the quality of my fellow slate-mates and perhaps the recognition I enjoy being an elected official?  I do think our district is well represented. In addition to myself, we have two nurses, Jennifer Holm and Sandra Martinez, plus the alternate is land-use activist Gary Patton, the attorney and former Santa Cruz County supervisor.  I can’t speak to what happened at the Clinton caucus but they also have fine delegates: Tony Russomanno, Carole English, and David Kong.

In a subsequent post, I will tell you what happened at the state delegate convention where the elected “delegates” and our super delegates picked the PLEOs and at-large delegates and also chose delegates from our state caucus to serve on committees.  If you think this will be a simple and transparent process, you may be surprised: I know I was.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gordon Smith June 23, 2016, 2:05 pm

    Alan, Thanks for doing this.

  • Larry Parsons June 23, 2016, 2:24 pm

    Alan, from my perspective as a no-party-affiliation voter, a few observations:
    1. The caucus process you describe to select pledged and elected Democratic delegates in the 20th Congressional District seems to be a reasonable one steeped in the verities of local politics — getting out your supporters, talking to friends, and participating. These events don’t draw legions of participants. Delegates were selected who are pledged to Sanders and/or Clinton. Task accomplished.
    2. Your lament that it seemed elitist and less than democratic leaves me wondering if you’d rather have had would-be delegates mounting mini-campaigns throughout the district to convince great numbers of voters they were really, really, really supportive of Sanders or Clinton. That would be cumbersome, costly, time-consuming and tedious to this outside observer. Turnouts of 300 and 100 actually seem impressive.
    3. I’m certain any system can be improved, but I was left wondering how this year’s process to select Democratic district delegates differed from years past. Has the party — and the people active in the party — moved toward more openness and transparency or in the opposite direction? And how are local GOP convention delegates chosen?
    4. As for your self-doubts, I’m sure you will be a fine Sanders delegate if you go to Philadelphia. By the way, the proportional allotment of delegates you describe seems fairer than a winner-take-all process.

    • Christina Lund June 23, 2016, 7:50 pm

      Thank you Larry for raising these points. The process is out there for anyone who really wants to become involved. I’m fed up with insinuations that the system is engineered by some secret, dark evil force, an undercurrent in your description and by other Bernie partisans. I’d be more polite but I’ve been so bullied by Bernie supporters that I’m ready to pull out what hair I have left.

      When I was 18 in 1972, I was able to figure out the caucus system in place fairly easily and am proud
      to say I beat out Alan Cranston’s son for a place on the Muskie slate– thanks to the defunct McGovern guidelines that allowed women, minorities and young people to become delegates. As Larry has pointed out, the process was not opaque for those who were active in local party politics.

      McGovern won California, and in those days it was winner-take-all. Still, some us fought for proportional representation at the state convention and lost. Like many other people, I put aside my reservations that the country would not vote for him and worked hard to get McGovern elected, (unlike the Bernie or Bust crowd). I don’t need to tell you how humiliating the loss was for the Democrats in the general election. Based on this experience, and many others after that election, I also understand the value of super delegates. So shoot me already.

      I’m glad Mr. Haffa that you’ve gone through this experience and wrote about it for the Partisan. Maybe in another twenty years, we’ll have a different system that will seem very complicated and inaccessible to the new activists. Then it will be your turn it to explain how we got there.

  • John Pearse June 23, 2016, 3:20 pm

    Vicki and I were at the caucus, mainly because we were asked to attend to vote for one of the candidates. Alan described the event very well. His slate was by far the best organized with the nurses in their scrubs, their flyers, and their table well positioned to meet everyone as they entered. I was surprised at how many volunteers were there signing people in and keeping order, but like Alan startled by how haphazard the selection of the delegates appeared. With some 60 candidates each with 30 seconds to present, it was clear decisions were made earlier. I did talk with quite a few candidates who were electioneering before the doors opened, and could have voted for almost any of them. As it was, Alan and Gary Patton (because I already am familiar with them and support them), Jennifer Holm who works with my daughter-in-law and it turns out was a student of mine way back when, and the candidate who asked us to attend got my vote. Hardly a well-thought-out decision. Would a more democratic process been better. Obviously. How would that be done? Well, for starters, registered Democrats should be better informed of the process and how to participate. Then a slate should be available well before the caucus.

  • Steve McDougall June 23, 2016, 4:01 pm

    I was in Long Beach last weekend. I’m the ADEM 30 Executive Board Representative.

    I voted for some of the delegates that were running. I didn’t vote for 20, only 13. (ADEM E-Board delegates could vote for up to 20 candidates.).

    I voted for folks I knew & respected, and/or those who reached out to me and made a positive impression. Former Speaker John Perez, for example, personally called me twice prior to last weekend.

    Sorry I didn’t run into you and say “hello”. I tend to sit in the back row, which I did for both sessions.

    Your desecription is pretty accurate from my point of view. However, these are the Party rules, and I’m OK with them as long as they are available from the beginning and are transparent…which they were and are.


  • Bob Lucius June 23, 2016, 5:20 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to get in involved and share your experience. This was a great window on a process many of us will never experience first-hand.

  • harriet mitteldorf June 23, 2016, 7:35 pm

    I have always been a voter registered as “not- affiiiated.” I understand, therefore, that I am not entitled to be invloved in choosing D or R candidates or platforms. I believe Sen. Sanders should be likewise constrained..

    He is certainly entitled to promote his visions, many of which I agree with. He is not, however, entitled to coerce the D party platform with them, particularly without providing a political path to their achievement.

    Most particularly, I hope he will subject his ideals to second place relative to making sure the Democratic party defeats Trump and many Senate Republicans.

    I believe delegates such as yourself bear the same responsibility.

    • Liz Love June 24, 2016, 12:30 am

      Well said Harriet. I think we all need to come together to ensure Trump is not elected. Alan, what are the internal discussions among Sanders supporters regarding this issue? As a strong Sanders supporter yourself, how are you feeling about it?

    • Helga Fellay June 24, 2016, 7:14 am

      Alan, I am so glad you received the most votes (which included mine). I am sure you know what your responsibilities are, in spite of what others may try to dictate to you about them. You ran to support Bernie Sanders and were elected based on that pledge. Your responsibility is to abide by the pledge which got you elected, which will align completely with your conscience, your convictions, your reason and your logic. Trump, who will never be allowed to be president, serves no other purpose than to be used as a scare tactic to pressure disillusioned democrats to vote out of fear, not follow their conscience and vote based on their convictions. Most of us are fortunately smart enough to see right through these disgraceful tactics.

      • david fairhurst June 25, 2016, 7:11 pm

        And why is it that “Trump, who will never be allowed to be President” so? In spite of the “worst” efforts of Obama, we still are a Democratic Republic and chose our representatives by vote.
        Will Hitlery still “be allowed” to become President if she is convicted of even just a few of the crimes she appears to have committed? Will she, if elected (only if the American people are blind lemming march steppers to the Maoist Democraps) start her administration under impeachment?

      • Scott McKenzie June 26, 2016, 7:45 am

        “Trump … serves no other purpose than to be used as a scare tactic to pressure disillusioned democrats to vote out of fear, not follow their conscience and vote based on their convictions.”

        Really? That’s Trump’s only purpose?

  • Alan Haffa June 25, 2016, 9:29 am

    Thanks for all the comments. I want to clarify and say that no process is perfect but I do think that when people like myself, politically active and informed, do not know how delegates are chosen that perhaps we need to find a way to better inform the party electorate of the delegate caucuses. This is not only a CD20 issues; it is statewide.
    I would suggest the following reforms to make the process more open, transparent, and participatory.
    1. The party should do outreach early in the primary process to alert and educate registered democrats about the process and how they can apply to be a delegate. The party has many of our emails and phone numbers; it could use this communication system to inform registered democrats three or four months before the delegate caucus.
    2. The California Democratic party website (Cadem) could have clearer information about the process.
    3. The parties pick the caucus meeting place. This year they didn’t announce where the caucus would happen until April 23, just one week before the caucus. That made it really hard to communicate to people. The decision must be made earlier and the party needs to issue press releases to get the word out.
    4. And since they have to show up in person to vote in caucus, location really matters. I benefited from the fact that it was in Salinas; people in Santa Cruz and San Benito had a long drive to vote. Fairer location probably would have been Watsonville. But key change would be notification by campaigns of locations at least a month in advance so candidates and central party committees can get the word out.
    4. I don’t know how you deal with the fact that basically, most people are voting for one or two people they know, who asked them to be there, but then they are voting for a number of other people (you had 7 votes to cast) that they probably don’t know. In that case, you make your decision based on voting the slate your friend is on or based on a thirty second elevator speech. If you give candidates three minutes to speak–even twenty people would take an hour and 60 candidates would take 3 hours. That’s not practical. I wonder if a pre-caucus seminar hosted by central committees where each candidate is given more time, say 3 minutes each, and the audience is allowed to ask questions, would work?

    Regarding the comments above about what will happen at the convention in Philadelphia and what I am going to do, I’ll speak to those comments and issues in a subsequent blog.

  • Scott McKenzie June 26, 2016, 7:37 am

    Mr Haffa,

    While I completely disagree with your ideology, I do agree with your assessment of our political processes. It is secretive, it is exclusive, it is funded in part by non-Americans. None of this is good.

    What is also not good is the volume of information held by the average voter. Today’s voter is more affected by celebrity and marketing than platform and substance.

    I’m not sure which is more dangerous… our political process or the quality of our voter blocs.

  • bill leone June 26, 2016, 8:35 pm

    Alan, in my view, you are a great model for all local, as well as state & nation-wide politicians to
    follow. Your honesty, transparency & willingness to share your views regarding the political process
    are without equal, as far as I can tell. Only Tim Barret, & Jason Campbell are in any way comparable.

  • Bob Oliver June 27, 2016, 7:46 am

    Sooo…If the system is so bizarre that even someone like Alan cannot “grasp” what is going on, are the rest of us simply supposed to throw up our hands in disgust and walk away? YES! It’s a perfectly designed system! Next, lets take a look at the judicial process…

    Bob Oliver 831 383-2676 boboliver9@gmail.com

  • bill leone June 27, 2016, 8:13 am

    My Bad, I failed to mention a few other exemplary elected officials: Mary Adams, Jane Parker,
    Bill Monning & Mark Stone.