Pitkin Co. caucus: ‘Barely organized chaos’ | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin Co. caucus: ‘Barely organized chaos’

Joel Stonington
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Organizers and some local activists saw Tuesday night’s overcrowded Pitkin County Democratic caucuses as a ray of hope. Many voters viewed it as a total mess.

Organizers expected a maximum of 250 people to show up, only to find a gathering of between 500 and 600 people crammed inside the Rio Grande meeting room in Aspen.

In the end, 498 people voted at the Rio Grande room and another 57 voted in the Woody Creek precinct. Some observers said people turned away after seeing the crowd and line out the door of the Aspen venue.

“It was a travesty of the election system to have to go through that,” said Aspen resident Randy Geren. “It was not a civil engagement at all. It was barely organized chaos.”

Organizers did not see it that way, explaining that no one could have anticipated such a large number of people wanting to vote in the Democratic caucus. The number of people was really, organizers said, a cause for celebration.

“We planned for months,” said Camilla Auger, chair of the Pitkin County Democratic Party. “The most people we ever had was 80 to 100. We planned every last detail for 250. Other states had experienced a 100 percent increase. We thought we would be conservative and do a 150 percent increase. A lot of the longtime Democrats were just thrilled. It was the biggest room we have ever used.”

Auger and Blanca O’Leary, the party’s vice-chair, pay for the caucus out of their own pockets. In other counties, Auger said, the caucuses often take place in homes and without food.

In a sense, the caucus has that feel of grassroots democracy. Or, as Auger put it, “It’s one of the pleasures and joys of direct democracy.”

Even so, some of the main goals of a caucus ” such as discussions about candidates ” were nearly impossible to achieve with such a large crowd.

“People are supposed to talk about the candidates but people had to be quiet,” said Ed Foran, a local real estate broker. “It was counter-productive for the purpose. I don’t think they acknowledged what a mess it was. It was so bad that they need to make sure it won’t happen again.”

Folks had a hard time registering at individual precincts though things seemed to clear up a tiny bit when two precincts were moved to the downstairs area.

“Oh, no, people discussed candidates,” Auger said. “It was very difficult to get people to quiet down and stop chatting with each other. You could certainly say it was raucous. But there was no lack of discussion of the candidates.”

For some of the longtime Democrats in the crowd, such as County Commissioner Dorothea Farris, the high turnout was something to cherish. Though she acknowledged that organizers could have planned for more people, she saw the crowd as symbol of how much people care about the election.

“I went there, it was hot, it was crowded, I stumbled, someone helped me,” Farris said. “Not a big deal. We all survived. We all said what we went there to say and that’s the important part. I don’t mind being crowded in with people who have that much energy and enthusiasm for a presidential candidate.”


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