JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Annelle Amaral, Oahu Democratic Party chairwoman, standing at top left, spoke to volunteers yesterday at Democratic Party of Hawaii headquarters at Ward Warehouse. The volunteers are being trained in preparation for Tuesday's Democratic caucuses.
Caucus turnout worries isle Dems
Hawaii Democrats are predicting a record caucus turnout of between 8,000 and 17,000 party members voting in Tuesday's presidential preference poll.
But as both the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are urging supporters, many of whom will be first-time caucus-goers, to attend, party officials are also concerned about being overwhelmed on Tuesday night.
Calls to the state Democratic Party go unanswered and a phone message says the unusually large amount of interest has swamped the office staff.
Annelle Amaral, Oahu party chairwoman, worries that the party is going to be a victim of its own success.
"I think we are going to eat it when all those people show up. We are nowhere ready for those kind of numbers," Amaral said yesterday.
She said she is getting calls from both Democrats and from "a substantial number of Republicans who want to vote."
At the Hawaii Democratic Party headquarters at Ward Warehouse last night, Amaral held a training session for about 10 caucus volunteers.
Former state Rep. Ted Mina, of Kalihi, site coordinator of two districts, requested the additional training session because of "all of the excitement" surrounding the presidential preference.
"Hopefully it goes smoothly," he said.
It was the second training session for Kalihi resident Charlotte Lum, 63. For her first time volunteering, she wanted to feel more confident about the rules.
"I feel a lot more comfortable after tonight. I know it's going to be chaotic," she said.
The caucuses are run by the local Democratic Party under rules drafted by the national Democratic party; it is not conducted by the state Office of Elections.
During the meeting, Democratic Party officials instructed the volunteers how to register voters, tally the ballots and ensure enough time for voters to vote, as well as on how the precinct and district officers and delegates will be selected.
Lynne Matusow, rules chairwoman for the party, said she is constantly being stopped and asked for information about how to vote in Tuesday's caucuses.
"I'm expecting a huge turnout," Matusow said.
Part of that interest stems from Sen. Obama, who was born in Hawaii and went to school in Honolulu. Andy Winer, the Obama campaign's Hawaii director, says the Hawaii operation is seeing the same sort of success that Obama's campaign has had across the country.
"When you look at other caucus states, Obama has been turning out numbers that are unheard of," Winer said.
Some of that is because of the Obama national campaign and its ability to use a blueprint for organizing voters to come to caucus meetings, Winer said.
"We have a combination of an incredibly enthusiastic group of supporters and a national field organization," Winer said.
The Obama campaign also had enough money to broadcast radio and television commercials for close to two weeks before the caucus.
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, spokeswoman for the Clinton campaign in Hawaii, said she expects the caucuses to draw from 6,000 to 8,000 Democrats.
The 2004 presidential caucus here attracted 4,000 Democrats by comparison, a dramatic increase from the 1,200 who voted in the 2000 caucus.
Hanabusa predicted that Clinton, who has not advertised in the local media but did send former first daughter Chelsea Clinton for three days of campaigning, will get about half of the 20 delegates up for grabs.
Amaral said the precinct chairpersons will collect the ballots and count them under the scrutiny of the candidates' representatives. The number of ballots cast cannot exceed the number of people who signed in to vote in that caucus.
The counted ballots then will be sealed in an envelope, with the tally written on the outside.
The precinct chairpersons will give the precinct ballot envelopes to the district chairperson, who will add up the votes for all the precincts in the district and then call in to party headquarters with the results.
The party then will figure out the proportional representation of the 20 delegates under complicated party rules. The official results will come after all the ballots are recounted on March 1.
Hawaii has another nine superdelegates who are not pledged and are free to vote for whomever they want.
So far superdelegates U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye and national committeeman Richard Port have said they would vote for Clinton, and U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie is backing Obama.
Star-Bulletin reporter Robert Shikina contributed to this report.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Hawaii Democrats will hold their presidential preference poll tomorrow. This story originally incorrectly said the poll was today.