MOUNT VERNON — Just as Mike Newman, Chairman of the Skagit County Republican Party, was about to set everyone loose to start the caucus process, a hand shot up.
It was Sam Irwin, a Mount Vernon resident since 2006, requesting a public count of votes for the presidential straw poll, which was to be held in smaller precinct groups moments later.
“I think that it’s something important to the community,” Irwin said later of his request for a public count, “that they should know who is supporting who, and who their area is supporting.”
Irwin, a supporter of Ron Paul, was advocating for this vote on advice from officials in the Paul campaign. They told him to get a public count if he could because there have been reports about caucus locations in other states where the vote counts remained unknown – leading some Paul voters to question the accuracy of the final results.
“You hear about the other [candidates] on the news all the time and nothing is said about Ron Paul… then all of a sudden he’s actually the second in delegates,” said Irwin. “I wanted the vote count because I wanted to see where we were at, I didn’t want somebody saying we lost because we didn’t get enough votes for Ron Paul.”
The idea of voter fraud that is perceived to particularly affect Paul’s campaign has become a full force conspiracy theory this Republican presidential contest. There have been alleged discrepancies in Nevada when only half the vote count was official, and claims of full-on fraud in Maine. Such instances prompted MSNBC pundit and show host Rachel Maddow to do a segment on Maine.
The Paul campaign even threatened to challenge the seating of some Washington delegates at the Republican National Convention due to a lack of transparency in how party officials are chosen.
“The GOP to me wants certain people in office,” Irwin said. “They’re not going to be behind anyone but that person, and Ron Paul is not a GOP person.”
Newman said he isn’t sure what to make of it; he said that Paul supporters feel ostracized and persecuted from the Republican Party as a whole, like they’re on the outside looking in.
“Unfortunately, they only show up with the Republican Party in a presidential election year and then once the nomination process is over, they leave, at least historically,” said Newman. “I’ve encouraged them to stay in the party, stay involved all the time since all the major changes in the Republican Party happen after the election.”
When Irwin raised his request, Newman said caucus attendees needed to be out of the room by 1:00 pm and that he would be counting the votes at the county office later in the afternoon. Results from this tabulation would be publicly announced at the county level when all the votes in the county were counted.
Irwin requested his motion be put to a vote, which was seconded by a friend of his in the crowd. Murmurs of support, confusion and frustration momentarily took over the room. Newman put the motion to a vote, after once again highlighting that a public count would take some time and he would be compiling the votes later at his office.
“He was basically trying to talk me out of it. I believe it’s because he didn’t want to do it,” Irwin said of Newman’s reaction to his request. “If you’re running a deal like this you have to go by the caucus rules and those say when someone makes a motion to do something they have to put it up for vote and he wasn’t going to. He was arguing me on it, now that’s not fair.”
The motion failed by about two-thirds, debate ended, and the caucusing process went forward.
Irwin wasn’t satisfied. “I would stand here all day and count them if that’s what it meant,” he said. “But I won’t get that option.”
But by 12:30 pm, a half hour after the caucus officially ended, the straw poll results had already been informally tallied by caucus location volunteers, revealing essentially the same information as the vote count that Irwin had requested at the beginning of the day.
The results had Mitt Romney winning with 50 votes, Rick Santorum in second with 33 votes, Newt Gingrich with 33 votes and Paul coming in last with 28 votes.
But like most of the other caucus-goers, by this time Irwin had already gone home.