Democrats make their presidential pick Saturday

At the start of the month, Alaskans picked Ted Cruz over Donald Trump. Now, they’ll get to decide whether they like Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders more.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Alaska Democrats will hold statewide caucuses to make their presidential primary pick. In Juneau, Centennial Hall will be election central, and Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, will be chairman of the process.

“I am hoping for a large turnout, but I think it will be difficult to top 2008,” he said.

Eight years ago, when Juneau Democrats picked Barack Obama for president, more than 1,300 people filled a Centennial Hall ballroom and spilled into the building’s lobby.

By email, Tongass Democrats chairwoman Nancy Courtney said 337 Juneauites had preregistered for the caucus by Wednesday. She estimated, based on other states’ experience, that day-of turnout will be about 70 percent of what it was in 2008, but said, “I am uncomfortable saying a specific number or percent because we really don’t know.”

Turnout matters because it can radically change the experience for a caucus voter. A caucus, unlike a preference poll as Alaska’s Republicans hosted March 1, involves publicly stating which candidate you support.

“It’s very much a community event where you get to talk to your neighbors about why you support the candidate,” said Jill Yordy, the state coordinator for Sanders.

Activity starts at 9 a.m., when registration opens at Centennial Hall. Brenda Knapp, of the Tongass Democrats, says early arrivers shouldn’t be surprised if the line stretches into the building’s parking lot.

Registration cutoff is at 10 a.m.; anyone arriving after that might be turned away. If people are in line before 10 a.m., they’ll be permitted to register and enter the caucus hall. That might mean the last person won’t enter the hall until 10:30 or 10:40, Knapp said.

When that last person does enter the hall, participants will split into two groups: One group will consist of voters from House District 33 (downtown Juneau, Douglas and Thane) and the other group will come from House District 34 (Mendenhall Valley).

Each House group will then fan out into different corners, based on the candidate they support. Each voter will try to sway others to their side of the room.

It can be a lengthy process. Kito said he expects the final tally to take place just short of noon.

“I think we’re hoping to not have to have people spend four hours in the room,” he said.

Any candidate receiving less than 15 percent support will be eliminated after this first “fan out.” The voters backing any candidate with less than 15 percent support will be allowed to support a different candidate in a second round of fan outs.

This continues until every remaining candidate has at least 15 percent support, and then organizers count participants to see who has what level of support.

Knapp said the presidential picking process should take until about noon. Afterward, participants can stick around to participate in local Democratic Party business, or they can go home.

Nationally, Alaska has 20 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, which will be held this year in late July. Of Alaska’s delegates, 16 will be bound to the results of Saturday’s caucuses. The remaining four are superdelegates not bound to the democratic process. At the national convention, the votes of 2,383 delegates will be needed to secure the Democratic nomination.

The formal selection of who represents Alaska will not be made until the May state Democratic convention, which will follow the results of Saturday’s vote.

For first-time caucus attendees, Knapp advises wearing comfortable clothes and bringing a snack. It might be a long morning.

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