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Alaskans Band Together For Remote Caucuses


There are three more contests in the presidential primary race today, all on the Democratic side and all caucuses - Hawaii, Washington state and Alaska. As you may imagine, caucusing in the largest state in the union has its own special challenges. Janelle Olson is a caucus leader in Fairbanks, Alaska. Thanks much for joining us.

JANELLE OLSON: Absolutely, it's a pleasure to be here.

SIMON: Fairbanks is a cosmopolitan metropolis - just about 32,000 people. How many folks do you expect to show up at your caucus?

OLSON: Sure, well, 32,000 is the size of our city. We actually - within the borough of Fairbanks North Star Borough, we have about 100,000 people. The borough is about the size of New Jersey, so we are expecting, based on our 2008 turnout numbers, anywhere from 700 to 1,000 people to show up.

SIMON: How will they get there?

OLSON: Well, most folks live within 20 miles of the center of Fairbanks here, so most folks will be driving in. However, we do have one district which lies outside of the Fairbanks North Star Borough. It's actually the largest statehouse district in the nation, sparsely populated. It encompasses several different mountain ranges all the way from the Canada border to the Interior of Alaska where Denali National Park lies.

We do have three remote locations within that district, and so folks who are in district number six they will be able to go to one of those remote locations. And then they can call in to Fairbanks to participate with us and have their votes counted.

SIMON: Call in?


SIMON: The whole idea of caucuses, I think, is that citizens come together and talk to each other and exchange ideas.

OLSON: Absolutely.

SIMON: Is that kind of undercut when you have to - when some people have to do that over the phone?

OLSON: Yes, they'll only be able to really communicate easily with those who are within the same room as them, but we are trying to find every way possible to make sure that, you know, over the telephone that they can participate with those in Fairbanks as well.

SIMON: Now, Republicans caucused on the first of this month and Ted Cruz defeated Donald Trump by just under 3 percentage points, although they came out with the same number of delegates I understand.

OLSON: Right, the Republicans in Alaska actually do a presidential preference poll, and so it's more like a primary where you show up and cast a ballot. They don't actually do a caucus system.

SIMON: Now, I've been to Alaska and like it very much indeed, but as somebody said to me once, you got to be careful with your neighbors 'cause the guy you have an argument with one day might be the fellow you rely to come over and put out the fire in your home the next day.

OLSON: (Laughter) Absolutely.

SIMON: So does that make politics particularly difficult?

OLSON: You know, we have a big range of opinions here in the Interior, and most of us are pretty forceful with those opinions. But at the end of the day, we all know that we're Alaskans and we can set that aside and go out for a beer with one another, and that's just how it is here in the Interior.

SIMON: Janelle Olson, Democratic caucus leader in Fairbanks, thanks so much for being with us.

OLSON: Absolutely, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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