Sunday | August 20, 2017
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Understanding Hawaii’s caucus system

If you are a Hawaii Republican, who are you for? Trump? Cruz? Bush? Rubio? Kasich? Or someone else? If you are a Hawaii Democrat, who are you for? Clinton? Sanders? O’Malley?

Either way, how do you make your preference known to the political party you favor? It all comes down to those caucuses and primaries that you’ve been hearing so much about lately.

Presidential politics is heating up as the caucus and primary season has begun. Democrats and Republicans in Iowa started the process by going to their precinct caucuses on Feb. 1. They were the first in the nation to express which candidates they like most.

Hawaii is also a caucus state, and the Republican and Democratic parties will hold caucus meetings in state representative districts throughout the state in March — March 8 for Republicans and March 26 for Democrats. (We do have a primary in Hawaii, but it occurs in August and does not involve presidential candidates.)

The word caucus has several meanings, but when referring to American presidential politics it means one of the two ways by which members of each of the political parties indicate their choice for a presidential candidate. The other way is through a primary as in New Hampshire.

Nationwide, these caucuses and primaries take place in the first half of the presidential election year and before the national conventions of each party are held. They determine which candidate or candidates a state’s delegation to the national convention will support. Each party’s candidate is ultimately selected and nominated at the party’s national convention. This year, both conventions will take place in July — the Republicans meeting in Cleveland and the Democrats in Philadelphia.

Each state political party has its own rules for determining how its delegates to the national convention are selected and which presidential candidate or candidates they support. Each state party’s rules also conform to their respective national party rules and the rules for each of the party’s national conventions.

All of this is quite confusing because each state has its own election laws and political party rules in this matter. Since the process of nominating a presidential candidate for each party is actually an intraparty process, the parties themselves, whether Democratic, Republican, Green or other, are empowered to establish rules for who can participate.

So, in Hawaii, the Democratic Party, for example, will caucus by doing presidential preference polling along with precinct meetings at district locations throughout the state at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 26. Only members of the Democratic Party of Hawaii can participate.

To be a member of the Democratic Party of Hawaii you have to join it by filling out a membership application. The Democratic Party of Hawaii membership also requires you to be registered to vote in the state of Hawaii. Registering to vote and becoming a member of the Democratic Party of Hawaii are two different processes. The Hawaii Republican Party has similar rules for participation. For more information about joining any of Hawaii’s political parties, go to their websites or call their headquarters on Oahu.

In Hawaii, participating in the caucuses is a citizen’s only opportunity to indicate a preference among all the candidates who are running in each party. You must be willing to be identified as a member of a political party to engage in this part of the presidential process, however.

When it comes to November, and the presidential election, the candidates — only one for each of the parties — are set and your choice is obviously limited. So, to get in on the action, make sure you are registered to vote and then join the party of your choice and put March 8 or March 26 on your calendar.

Dolly Strazar is a former Democratic national committeewoman for Hawaii and has her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was chair of the Oahu County Committee of the Democratic Party of Hawaii in the 1990s and now serves as Hawaii County’s at-large representative on the State Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

 

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