There was a language barrier at the East Grand Forks Democratic Farmer Labor party’s caucus on Tuesday, Feb. 25, and Hanan Bawzer, Ahmed Abdilahi and Saeed Yousif had a foot on either side of it.
Bawzer and Abdilahi translated between English-speaking Rick Van Eck, a director of the Polk County DFL, and a sizable contingent of Somali residents in the East Grand Forks Senior High library.
“Now we need to appoint two tellers,” Eck said, referring to people who’d count and tally caucus-goers’ votes as they considered new or modified planks to the party’s platform.
“Hadda waxaan u baahan nahay laba iibiyayaal,” Bawzer, a 28-year-old interpreter for the Tri Valley Opportunity Council, relayed.
She and Abdilahi, 41, translated and explained resolutions -- all approved by wide margins -- that are now en route to a multi-county caucus next month and, from there, potentially on to a congressional district gathering and then a state-level one. (Yousif, a multi-lingual freshman at the school who was too young to caucus but kept up with the comedy of errors that sometimes sprung from the language gap, chuckled quietly to himself on one side of the room.)
One of the resolutions East Grand Forks Democrats approved on Tuesday called for more community education and translation help for non-English speakers. Another for more -- and more affordable -- daycare in rural areas. And another for the Minnesota version of the federal “Green New Deal.”
One thing caucus-goers didn’t do on Tuesday was vote for a Democratic presidential nominee, which has been the norm in Minnesota since 1996.
That’s because a 2016 law signed by then-Gov. Mark Dayton made the 2016 caucuses the last to include presidential preference tallies. The state is set to use a presidential primary system this year and beyond.
The change means DFLers are set to vote for their party’s next nominee more in the style of a general election -- voting booths, polling places, and so on -- on “Super” Tuesday, March 3.
That change wasn’t a welcome one for at least one East Grand Forks Democrat, who said he preferred the participatory vibe of caucuses.
“It’s a one-way transaction,” Per Wiger, 29, said of a primary-style vote. “You’re sending your power, your opinion on up to the higher level, but you’re not immediately getting anything back. … In the caucus, you’re bringing your voice to the table, you’re bringing your power to the next level of organization. But you’re also getting some of that back. You’re making connections with people who you might not otherwise meet.”
Wiger said his first choice for the party’s nominee is Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and his second is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I think she’s running the sort of campaign that should win,” he said of Warren.
In 2016, Polk County caucus-goers indicated they preferred Sanders over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 230-217, according to the Minnesota secretary of state’s website.
Data that granular isn’t readily available from the 2008 DFL caucuses, but Barack Obama beat Clinton by a hefty margin statewide that year: 142,109 votes to 68,994.
DFL administrators at the party’s St. Paul headquarters did not return a Herald request for East Grand Forks-specific 2016 caucus results before this article’s publication deadline.