“The strength of the caucus process,” according to Jani Cummings, convener of the Raymond Democratic caucus, “is you gather with people you know, and then you vote with your feet.”
Along with voters across the state next weekend, residents of the Lakes Region are getting involved to help ensure their local presidential caucus goes off without a hitch.
While this is Cummings’ first year as a convener for the caucus, she has attended every caucus for “about the last 40 years,” since she was 18.
The first caucus Cummings remembers vividly is the year Jimmy Carter was elected, in 1976, but “the most striking caucus I was ever in was the one in ’08,” she said. The Raymond caucus usually has 20 people or less, she said, but in 2008, close to 140 people attended.
“It was really exciting,” Cummings said. “It was unexpected. My mom went with me to the caucus. I think that was the first time she had been to one (Cumming’s mother was 86 at the time). She went to support Hillary and I went to support Barack Obama, so we listened to (the discussions of the candidates) and then went our separate ways.”
Traditionally, those at the caucus cast their vote by moving to the side of the room that has been designated to show support for a particular candidate. After the shuffle, voters on either side have the chance to try to convince the other side to join them.
The political discussions at the caucus are exciting, Cummings said, because “you can’t do that in the polling place. You can’t do it with a sign on your lawn, but this is a way to talk to people and say, ‘Come to this side, because this is what I believe.’ And sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
This year, Cummings said, the committee expects another large turnout for the March 6 Democratic caucus, so they’ve moved the venue from the fire station to Raymond Elementary School.
Republicans will caucus on March 5. The caucuses, which are similar to a town meeting, determine the number of delegates sent to the state convention, and ultimately play a role in determining the party’s nomination for the presidential election.
While the Democrats will continue to use their traditional caucus format, the Republican Party statewide has decided to shake things up a bit this year.
Rather than casting their vote by standing on one side of the room, Windham resident Gary Plummer, a caucus organizer for Cumberland County and former state senator, said residents will cast their vote by secret ballot. Republicans in the Lakes Region can go to Windham High School and cast their vote between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Plummer, a self-described “traditionalist,” said he was “a little unsure” when organizers first started discussing a secret ballot, “but they won me over.” Plummer said he changed his mind in part because Kate Norfleet, a mother of two, said at a recent Cumberland County Republican Committee meeting she thought the ballot would make the process more accessible.
“I have a lot of friends who actively vote but don’t want to sit through three hours of speeches just to exercise their civic duty. I think (the ballot) will absolutely make the process more accessible and I think it will increase voter turnout,” said Norfleet, a former county Republican board member.
What the Republicans may lose through a secret ballot, Plummer said, are some of the social aspects of the caucus that are maintained in the open-style caucus.
Plummer said he hopes voters at the Republican caucus will stay to participate in the election of committee members and to hear representatives of the candidates give speeches, which will still happen in a separate area of the high school, but “we’re better off to get people here to vote, even if they can’t stay, than we are to shut them out.”
While the attention may be focused on nominating a presidential candidate, there’s more that goes on at the caucus, which also serves as an annual meeting. Republicans and Democrats will elect volunteers to work at the polls on Election Day and to work on the party’s town committee. At the Democratic caucus, this will take place in the first half-hour of the caucus, before presidential voting begins. At the Republican caucus, this will happen in a separate room, during the time people are casting their vote by ballot.
Until the caucus, organizers are staying busy by making calls to voters in their area and encouraging them to show up to cast their vote.
Elizabeth Perry, an organizer for the Standish Democratic caucus, said she’s been working on the caucus for eight months.
“We put a lot of energy into it,” Perry said. “It’s your opportunity as a citizen to be able to say how many delegates will go to the state convention. It’s the most important involvement you’re going to have.”
A CLOSER LOOK
The Democratic caucuses will be held in each town, and the Republican caucuses will be countywide.
Only people who are registered as a Democrat or a Republican can attend their respective caucus, but those not yet registered can pre-register at town offices during business hours. Alternatively, registration is taking place during the hour before the caucus begins.
The Republican caucuses will be held on Saturday, March 5.
Residents of Baldwin, Bridgton, Casco, Frye Island, Gray, Harrison, Naples, Raymond, Sebago, Standish and Windham attend the caucus at Windham Middle School.
Residents of New Gloucester attend the caucus at Greely Middle School at 351 Tuttle Road in Cumberland.
At all of the Republican caucuses, doors open at 8 a.m., voting takes place from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
The Democratic caucuses will be held on Sunday, March 6.
Bridgton: Town Office, doors open at 1 p.m., caucus starts at 2 p.m.
Casco: Casco Community Center, doors open at noon, caucus starts at 1 p.m.
Gray: Henry Pennell Municipal Complex, doors open at noon, caucus starts at 1 p.m.
Naples: Town Office, doors open at noon, caucus starts at 1 p.m.
New Gloucester: Memorial School Gymnasium, doors open at 2 p.m., caucus starts at 3 p.m.
Raymond: Raymond Elementary School, doors open at 1 p.m., caucus starts at 2 p.m.
Sebago: Town Hall, doors open at 5:30 p.m., caucus starts at 6 p.m.
Standish: Town Hall, doors open at noon, caucus starts at 1 p.m.
Windham: Windham High School, doors open at 1 p.m., caucus starts at 2 p.m.