Voter Suppression, Establishment Politics, and Caucus Night in Salt Lake City, UT

25 03 2016

I was fortunate enough to be asked to fill a volunteer position of Caucus Captain for the grassroots led Bernie Sanders campaign.  “Of course,” I responded in a text to one of the state’s top organizers.  Upon going to a training night put on by the Sanders campaign, it was explained to me that I had to make a few phone calls to introduce myself to the Caucus Host person and recruit a few volunteers to help me oversee that the voting was all done in a democratic, fair fashion.  Easy enough, as I thought on the Friday night before the Tuesday vote.


The day before Tuesday, I called the Democratic party caucus host who was in charge of the site.  The phone call went on for about an hour and included rambled conversation and it became clear to me that this might not be the smoothest volunteer gig I had accepted.  I spoke with my girlfriend about how this was going to be a “shit-show” and we better be prepared for all hell to break loose during the night.  My old man Keating paranoia was kicking in as I was clearly expecting the worst, and knowing how many people were enthusiastic about voting for Bernie, and what had been happening in other states across the country, I was really ready for massive voter turnout.  Luckily, I had organized an event on the Bernie Sanders organization web-site regarding volunteering for caucus night help and had about 20 people sign up ahead of time.


I had a clip board and made notes about the tasks I was responsible for and even created a hat that said “Caucus Captain Ryan” and left for setting up at 4pm for the 6-8:30pm vote.  Standing out as the lead volunteer was a must as it was going to be a circus.  The voting location was set up in an elementary school gym and there was absolutely no way that the space was big enough for the tsunami of voters that were gearing up.  In my district there was about 25 different precincts and each was represented by a table in the gym.  Each table could fit roughly 10 people or so.  At the other end of the gym there were 4 tables assigned for all the letters of the alphabet where people could sign in, show their ID, get a ballot, and vote.  I was not given any directions by the caucus host for what she wanted me and my volunteers to do so it was up to me (a volunteer I’ll remind you) to decide how the democratic process was going to be handled that night.  I had about 30 Bernie volunteers ready to do whatever I asked of them to make this process run smoother.  Interestingly enough, there were only three Hillary Clinton volunteers who were appearing awkwardly huddled in the corner.  That numbers ratio of Bernie to Hillary people was a taste of what was to come over the next five hours.


We opened up our voting location a few minutes late and after about 20 minutes the line wrapped around the whole block and was threatening to come back and hit it itself.  We arranged for it to go down another street where it continued to stretch another 5 blocks after that.  We had to set up people to direct traffic so people didn’t get run over and streets weren’t blocked.  I directed my volunteers to ask people in line if they were registered and to have registration cards and pens ready to go.  We also started to walk elderly and disabled people to the front of the line so that these people didn’t have to wait in line for hours on end, upon which we got yelled at for doing.  The lead organizer of the event was losing her shit.  She had no idea what she was doing and was taking out her aggression on my volunteers and claiming that the Bernie volunteers were the ones who weren’t prepared and all this was somehow our fault.  It was a pouting child like tantrum and a ludicrous display of organization overall.  To be fair as well, this was probably the biggest turn out in history at this caucus location which is the biggest house district in Salt Lake City.  There simply wasn’t enough resources to have people vote and the building wasn’t big enough.  The rest of the night I spent most of my time trying to calm down people who were freaking out about this process whether it was the lead organizer, the volunteers about what was going on, or the voters who saw how awful a display of democracy this actually was.


At about 7pm, the decision was made to remove the whole process of checking ID’s and finding precinct numbers for people.  Ballots were just being handed out to whoever was coming into the building.  People could have voted once, twice, three, ten times.  Caucus tables were filling up to decide local delegates, neighborhood precinct chairs, and people who were coming into the gym later for the caucus were not able to participate due to the process having no time table or having any rules as to who was participating, when it was happening, or whatever was being decided.  It was the luck of the draw of whoever had made it into the building first and was making decisions at their tables.  Who knows who was voting and who knows who was getting elected to be delegates.  People running for governor were speaking, local representatives were speaking, people were yelling to be quiet, babies were crying, adults were fighting, nobody knew were to put the ballots, they ran out of ballots at one point, the government web-site crashed where we were checking on our smart phones to see if people were registered and what precinct they had to report to in order to make the line move faster.  A local neighbor even had to leave to bring her home printer to the site for making new ballots.  It was as chaotic of a situation as I’ve ever been in and I’m sure a million different fire code laws were being broken inside the building as well.  All while there were rumors that the site was going to be shut down at 9pm as that’s when the building closed, there were rumors that the provisional ballots that were being handed out, because the official ballots ran out, were not real and therefore wouldn’t be counted, there were rumors about CNN (yes CNN was there) was going to expose the fact that people were waiting outside in freezing temperatures for hours on end.  Everything was blowing up all around and the Bernie volunteers kept their heads on and kept on handing out ballots and doing remarkable jobs of keeping the process going despite whatever was happening around them.  People would get to vote whether it counted or not.  Not voting and shutting down the building and telling thousands of people that, sorry the building is closed now and no more voting, was not an option.


As the voting night came to an end, some of our volunteers came in exhausted and crying about the stress of the night.  But it was not tears of sadness or hate it was tears of helping in such an outrageous, absolutely needed and meaningful way.  If those Bernie volunteers weren’t there I really do think that the gym would have crashed in on itself, the building might have been closed, and the unorganized leadership heads would have made even worse decisions.  We kept things open at least and it was beautiful to see people marching forth and being part of the Bernie Sanders movement and exposing the fraud of a system we have set up for people to voice their right to vote.  It was the most memorable display of democracy and protest I’ve ever been witness to in my life.  I will always cherish this memory and now have a much clearer picture of what I will be fighting for to improve in my life.  The system is not set up for the people to really participate and that is number one priority from this point forward.  No wonder people haven’t participated much in politics and voting in the past.  I hope each election produces this type of turn out.  We would expose the systemic frauds that are in charge of this system and could very easily live in a drastically different progressive minded society.


After all the ballots had been cast even more corrupt fun was right around the corner.  I was the Bernie volunteer who was in charge of watching to make sure the ballots were counted correctly.  There were also two of the three Hillary people with me as well.  Indeed was interesting to note that even though they didn’t offer many volunteers to help the democratic process, two out of their three volunteers would stick around for ballot counting.  When I arrived at Democratic headquarters, it was like, “oh here are all the Hillary supporters” as all of sudden Hillary shirts outnumbers Bernie shirts.  So Bernie volunteers help run the democratic process and Bernie voters vote in outrageously large numbers but then Hillary people are trusted with all the ballots and in charge of counting and reporting final numbers?  No, nothing wrong or weird about that!?  There were very strict rules for how the ballots could be counted where no one but certain impartial staffers could count the ballots but when we entered the rooms where the counting was being done, we were instantly told that all rules had been suspended and it was basically up for grabs for whoever wanted to count ballots.


The ballots in our boxes disappeared into the hands of whoever wanted to grab them and were taken into any number of rooms.  There were people counting ballots in the kitchen area, in the bathroom, sitting on top of cabinets, under tables, wherever anyone could find a spot.  I even took to counting ballots for hours on end and didn’t leave until 3am where it seemed like nobody was anywhere near done.  At about 11pm all the Hillary volunteers dropped whatever ballots or piles they had been working on and said they were done for the night.  There was low talking amongst them and I asked what was up.  They were told by the Hillary camp to leave at once as their efforts were no longer needed as it had been found out that they had officially lost the state.  I was outraged by this because, although I can understand on some levels, on more levels this is about the democratic party, the democratic process, and helping out fellow people who are working in tandem right next to you on common goals.  To have them get up, drop everything, and leave instantly was a slap in the face.  Especially coming from people who try to lecture Bernie supporters on the fact that we still are all liberals and in this together.  Well, way to show your true colors Hillary Clinton and supporters.  And you wonder why people hate what you stand for?  After declaring she lost, there were even people who had previously been wearing Hillary shirts who I saw change and come out in different democrat supporting shirts.  Really!?  I mean really!?


My eyes gave out at 3am and my job at the Democratic Headquarters was impossible to verify as there was no way that I could prove that anything that had been counted happened with any level of integrity or within the system of rules that it was supposed to have happened.  Ballots were everywhere, scattered all about and many had been throw out due to some technical glitch, like no birthday was filled out, etc.  Being recently new in my political involvement I was curious as to how this night would go.  I was given a crash course at how our democracy ACTUALLY works if in fact you want to even call this a democracy.  I don’t know what it is but it certainly isn’t democracy.  Maybe a lame duck corporate, establishment democracy trying so desperately to appear legit but actually is anything but.  I am still trying to process it all.  We live in a country that is breaking at the seams.  Corporate rule and moneyed interests are taking over our way of life.  Establishment politics is accusing anyone who runs against them, or those that criticize the system, as instigators and part of the problem and that they have no business in politics.  People are standing up and starting to do their part by being involved and simply voting and trying to challenge the powers that be.  People will win if they keep doing the simple things.  There is no way to stop the people even if the system is rigged as the people simply walking and exercising their rights will casually just walk over whatever is in their way.  I am aghast and disgusted at the state of affairs with our voting process.  I am terrified of the shitty system we have in place.  I am horrified of establishment politics who perpetuate this system much in the same way that before I was scared of say Trump.  What are our most front runner choices?  A bully, racist asshole who is perpetuated by the media and wants to build a giant wall to keep America safe or a corrupt Democratic establishment politician that is supported by fake news, massive corporate financing, and the fake sense that we can vote?  The system is broken and a new age is dawning.  We ALL lose in dramatic fashion either way with establishment politics (Democrat or Republican) and with fascist rule in Trump.  Now more than ever we have to stand with the values of Bernie Sanders and demand nothing less as he is the only candidate that truly stands for the interests of empowering common people. Our country and democracy is depending on us.





One response

29 03 2016
DiAnne Bradsher

Thanks so much for your volunteering spirit and a big thank you for reporting what happened. We need Bernie so badly. #enoughisenough

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