Sunday, March 4, 2012

Local GOP apologizes for turning 1,500 away from caucuses in Kennewick

Michelle Dupier

About 1,500 people were turned away from pooled Benton County caucuses in Kennewick by event organizers after rooms at the Three Rivers Convention Center reached capacity this morning.

Some potential caucus voters said they arrived at 9 a.m. to find the large hallways at the convention center packed to the rafters and were told no more people could enter the caucus rooms.

Ray Swenson, a Richland lawyer, criticized local GOP officials for poor organization and said the results today should be invalidated.

"I think it's illegal," Swenson shouted to a gathered crowd, many of whom were filming him with cell phone cameras. "The Republican party leadership is taking away our freedom."
Swenson told the Herald he may file a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the caucus results.

"I think it's unconstitutional," he said. "Our right to vote is the most fundamental right in the Constitution. ... This is exactly equal to walking into a polling place and being told, 'We've run out of ballots. We didn't expect this many people. Go home.'"

Benton County Republican Party members who organized the caucuses said they estimated 2,000 people would show up at the convention center, where most of the county's precincts caucused today.

But their jaws dropped when they saw an estimated 3,000 people packed into the convention center's hallways and spilling outside.

"We where overwhelmed," said Tony Benegas of West Richland, chairman of the Kennewick caucuses. "It's tough because it's all volunteers — nobody gets paid to do this."

Benegas said it quickly became apparent there weren't enough volunteers to check everyone in — which in most cases involved looking up their voter registration on a list provided by the county Auditor and helping them find their precinct number, and that the rooms they booked were filled to capacity.

And the party was under pressure to finish by 11:30 so that results could be tabulated and turned over to the state party.

"We did pull the leadership aside and said, 'What are we going to do?'" Benegas said.
The only choice apparent was to close the doors and turn an estimated 1,500 people away, he said.

"I am extremely sorry we could not accommodate everyone," he said. "I apologize to those folks who we had to turn away. We fit in as many as we could, but we had more than we could physically fit in the rooms."

For the full story, read Sunday's Herald and

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