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How to Get to the Convention as a Delegate

Democrats Gavel In National Convention on Monday


I ran to be a district delegate for Hillary Clinton at the Democratic presidential convention, which starts next week. The election was done by caucus on May 1, a process where registered members of political parties voted for candidates by selecting delegates to represent them at the convention.

In California, 317 district-level delegates and 30 alternates were elected in 53 Congressional districts. For most of the electorate, the process is a confusing one. No formal outreach or easily accessible information is there to help nonparty activists become involved. When I ran to be a delegate, I learned how it generally works.

Who Runs the Caucuses? Delegate caucuses are run by presidential campaign committees, not by the state Democratic Party (CDP) or local government. The campaigns are in charge of “locating, staffing and running the caucuses.”

Where Does Voting Occur? Voting occurs in congressional districts. Whoever conceived that idea wasn’t thinking about California geography. Congressional District 24 (CD24) includes two entire counties — San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. To drive from one end to the other can take four hours round trip. How do you get your family and friends to spend their Sunday afternoon driving up and down the Central Coast to fill out a ballot for you? You don’t.

How Are Voting Sites Selected? This process is driven by activists, especially those who are following state party announcements and are committed to a candidate. They know when to sign up for a location with their respective campaigns. In CD24, we arranged for two sites — at the north and south ends of the district.

Who Manages District Elections? They are run by conveners approved and trained by the candidate’s campaign. Volunteers are necessary to organize crowds and provide instruction about the process once voters arrive. A large turnout with not enough volunteers means voters could get impatient with long lines and leave without voting.

How Do You Become a Delegate Candidate? You need to know when to search the party’s websites for application information. This year, the application process opened in February; the deadline to submit an application was April 13. If you missed the deadline, you were out of luck.

How Are the Delegations Structured? Most California districts have six delegates with one alternate. The CDP requires that there be gender equity in the makeup of each district delegation.

How Does a Delegate Win? Turnout is the key. These elections are a numbers game. Grassroots organizing by delegate candidates can drive the selection process. Calling and social media are methods used to get voters to the caucus, as are creating a slate and getting friends to bullet vote for you. Winning will not happen as the result of a speech on site. Voters have the choice to vote immediately and leave, so much of the voting is done before the speeches even begin.

Is a Winning Delegate Candidate Assured a Seat at the Convention? No. Delegate seats are assigned to presidential candidates based on their “share of the vote in the CD.” Hillary’s win of 46.7 percent of the CD24 vote on June 7 gives her that percentage of delegates. In this case, she and Bernie Sanders split the six delegates, with Sanders receiving the alternate. Since the CDP mandates gender equity among delegates, even if you come in number two, you may lose your seat to a member of the opposite sex.

Who Do the Party Caucuses Report To? Election results are counted by party conveners and then reported to the California Democratic Party. The Democratic Party finally reported the district election results on May 17.

It pays to be a party insider and an activist. These individuals know how to make the system work. I submitted my application, read the instructions, and then campaigned for 10 days before the election. I came in first in Santa Barbara County for Hillary.

The delegate selection wasn’t confirmed until 12 days after the June 7 primary. California’s delegation to the national convention will total 546 delegates, 40 alternates, and 51 committee members. This includes party leaders, elected officials, and at-large representatives.

On June 19, the Democratic Party certified all delegates at a meeting in Long Beach. That’s when I booked my ticket to Philadelphia.

Susan Rose, a former Santa Barbara County supervisor, attended her first Democratic National Convention in 1960 as a college student. She’ll be writing about the 2016 convention and sending her reports to The Santa Barbara Independent.

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