Disrupting political caucuses

Search the Web for “caucus disruptions” and allegations of caucus-vote disruptions lodged against supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton predominate among the first 20 links that come up. I have obtained a copy of a memo written by a Clinton campaign volunteer in Washington state intended only for other Clinton volunteers in subsequent caucus states (specifically for Texas campaign volunteers). It warns them of “caucus disruption strategies” by supporters of Sen. Barack Obama.

The memo was written by a University of North Carolina professor emerita of anthropology who served as a volunteer Clinton precinct committee officer in the Washington state caucuses last month. It warned other volunteer organizers about so-called “strategies” alleged to have been observed by herself and by Clinton volunteers in Iowa and Nevada. The volunteer, in a phone conversation I had with her, asked that her name not be used. Granted, these events were “observed” weeks ago, but are still worth considering. Here are the relevant parts of the memo:

“1. Individuals arriving all at once in large groups can disrupt the caucus by making it difficult to keep track of sign-in sheets, among other things. It created crowding in one caucus site that I am aware of and there weren’t enough chairs for people to use. Other behaviors that can make it difficult for the caucus to run smoothly are deliberate disruptions with things like chanting, sign waving, dancing or singing. The Precinct Chair (or Caucus Chair) will need to insist on order.

“2. Individuals may arrive who are not registered to vote in a particular precinct with the story that ‘they just moved there.’ Some places where this has been observed, the person really didn’t fit the picture of somebody who had ‘just moved into’ the precinct. They were allowed to register to vote and to caucus. (I do not know whether this individual’s vote has been certified or not.) Bottom line: know your precinct demographics and make note of individuals who are registering to vote on site. (If they are so excited about participating, why haven’t they registered before.)

“3. Supporters for a particular candidate, such as Senator Clinton, have arrived at caucus sites early to decorate and organize and been told that ‘the building was locked.’ When they are finally allowed into the building they see that signs for other candidates had already been posted. Bottom line: know who you are dealing with in terms of the caucus coordinator … This will usually be some volunteer for the local Democratic Party.”

This memo is important in that Obama has fared way better than Clinton in caucus states on the whole and such tactics may have figured in those successes. From a balance perspective, it is equally important to keep in mind that similar countercharges are circulating to be sure among Obama volunteers — it is just that none of this nature has crossed my desk in particular. If I receive any from reliable parties, I will be happy to write about them in subsequent columns.

It is further important to note that this professor is a volunteer, not a Clinton campaign official. All that said, since Clinton’s victories in the Ohio and Texas primaries, much has been made of her ability to win primary votes and Obama’s ability to win caucus states. How much of his ability to win caucus votes has been predicated upon these alleged tactics? I have no answer to that question and pose it to you, dear reader, to answer for yourself.

Given the above information and the fact many of the states Obama has won so far have been “reliably Republican … such as Idaho, Utah, Georgia and South Carolina. Democrats have no chance in those states come November. Meanwhile, Clinton will have won at least eight of the 11 largest states, including must-win battleground states such as Florida and Ohio …” (this written by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Jonathan Last this week), the question of “electability” must be revisited.

And although many polls have shown Obama to be the tougher competitor against Republican John McCain in a general-election match-up, one wonders whether that continues to be the case.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)