Questions and answers about the Washington state Democratic precinct caucuses in Washington state on March 26.

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Q: What is a caucus?

A: Caucuses are neighborhood-level meetings organized by political parties to choose their preferred candidates and discuss other party business. They’re an alternative to primary elections and draw less participation, because voters generally must show up and cast ballots in person.

There is a caucus for each of the state’s roughly 7,000 voting precincts, which have an average of 564 registered voters apiece. Typically, many precincts join together for caucuses, held in local schools, libraries and community centers.

The precinct caucuses are the first step in a process of electing delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer, where the party will formally nominate its choice for president.

Q: What are the stakes for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton?

A: Of Washington’s 118 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, 101 will be allocated to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders based on March 26 caucus results. The remaining 17 are so-called “superdelegates” — top party and elected officials who are automatic delegates to the Democratic National Convention and who are free to back a candidate of their choice.

The process looks like this:

  • March 26 precinct caucuses elect about 27,000 delegates.
  • Those are whittled down at legislative district caucuses and county conventions to 1,400 delegates.
  • The final delegates to the Democratic National Convention are picked at congressional district caucuses and the state convention in May to arrive at the final 118 who go to the national convention this July in Philadelphia.

Q: Are the caucuses winner-take-all?

A: No. Both Sanders and Clinton could capture a share of Washington’s delegates. Of the 101 delegates up for grabs, 67 will be apportioned according to March 26 caucus results in each of the state’s 10 congressional districts. The other 34 will be proportionally allocated based on the totality of the  congressional district results.

The people who actually serve as delegates to the national convention will be elected in May and June at congressional district caucuses and the state Democratic convention. Delegates for a candidate are required to support that candidate on the first ballot at the national convention. They could shift support if a contested convention were to go to more ballots.

The Washington state Democratic Party has a policy of sending an equal number of men and women as delegates to the national convention. It also has goals for ensuring representation of constituencies including racial and ethnic groups, LGBT people and people with disabilities.

Q: Who are the state’s superdelegates, and which candidate are they supporting?

A: Washington has 17 Democratic superdelegates, including U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Gov. Jay Inslee and the six Democratic U.S. House members. Those elected officials all have said they’re backing Hillary Clinton. The eight other superdelegates, who are state Democratic Party leaders, have said they’ll remain unpledged until after the March 26 caucuses.

Q: What about Republicans?

A: Republicans will divide up 44 delegates to the Republican National Convention based on results of the state’s May 24 presidential primary. Sanders and Clinton also will appear on primary ballots, but that vote will have no effect on delegates for the Democratic candidates.

Q: Why are Democrats ignoring the primary?

A: For most of Washington’s history, both Republicans and Democrats relied on caucuses to determine presidential delegates. Voters created the primary with a state initiative in 1989, but Democratic Party officials have stuck with the caucuses, which give more sway to party activists.

Q: Who can participate in the Democratic Party caucuses?

A: Anyone can attend, but voting for presidential delegates is limited to registered voters who publicly attest that they are Democrats. People who are currently 17 years old but will be eligible to vote in the Nov. 8 election also can vote in the caucuses.

Q: How do I find my caucus?

A: Look up your caucus location and other information at the state Democratic Party website.

Q: What should I expect at the caucus?

A: Caucuses start at 10 a.m. The main order of business is choosing delegates and backing a candidate for president. If you have not preregistered, you’ll have to sign in.

After everyone is signed in, precincts will gather and a precinct captain will be selected. A first tally of votes for presidential candidates will be made. After that tally is counted and the result announced, caucus participants can give a quick pitch to try to sway undecided voters.

A second tally will then be counted. Those results will determine how many delegates get allotted to each candidate. Then caucusgoers will choose delegates to represent them at the next round of legislative district caucuses and county conventions.

Finally, there will be a discussion of possible resolutions for the state convention in June.

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