Local Republican precinct officers are hoping people who were shut out of Saturday's GOP caucuses in Kennewick will contact them.
Leanne Minter, a volunteer in her local Kennewick precinct, said the precinct officers -- basically neighborhood leaders -- are trying to find out who couldn't get into the caucuses so that they can extend personal apologies.
Hundreds of people were turned away from the Benton County pooled caucuses at the Three Rivers Convention Center on Saturday when it became apparent to organizers they lacked the volunteers, computers and space to get everyone in.
Initial reports from the Benton County Republican Party were that about 1,500 people were turned away and 1,500 allowed in, but on Monday, party leaders revised those estimates to about 1,800 allowed in and 800 to 1,000 turned away.
"It's really difficult to say," Benton County GOP Chairman Patrick McBurney told the Herald on Monday. "I believe we had closer to 2,000 people than 1,500 people. I know after counting up the straw poll we had 1,677 votes. It's fair to say we had 1,700 to 1,800 people who actually got in."
Benton County Republican caucuses in 2008 drew just 900 people, compared to the roughly 3,000 estimated to have shown up Saturday.
Tony Benegas, who ran the Kennewick caucuses, told the Herald on Saturday that the high turnout was because of the volatile primary in which the apparent front-runner has changed several times. There's also been visits by all four campaigns -- including personal appearances by candidates Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. And the state's presidential primary was canceled this year.
McBurney said the collective capacity of the two convention center rooms that the party used for caucusing was 2,200, but rules distributed by the Washington State Republican Party required that no one be allowed to check-in past 10:30 a.m., when attendees would start voting for delegates to send to the April 7 county convention.
He said local officials were just following the rules by turning people away when they did, and noted that caucus locations that continued allowing people in past the state party deadline may be putting their caucus results in jeopardy.
"We were advised in Thurston County (that) results may be invalid," he said. "That is an internal party process that will get worked out."
The decision resulted in hundreds -- if not more -- people being frustrated they couldn't cast their votes in a straw poll stating a preference for a presidential candidate.
The Herald's reporting Saturday and Sunday collectively drew about 200 comments on tricityherald.com -- with many people claiming the Benton County GOP should have planned better. Some claimed the party intentionally locked out people there to support candidates other than apparent front-runner Mitt Romney.
But others admonished those complaining and said they should have arrived earlier.
Minter, who attended a planning meeting for the caucuses on Thursday, said it looked to her like the party leaders just weren't well-prepared.
"They should have had 15-20 computers," she said. "They had six or seven. Their venue -- they didn't even use the whole room. They could have opened (partitions), or had two or three venues in Kennewick."
Heather Duncan of Benton City told the Herald on Saturday that in past years, each town had its own caucuses rather than one central location. She attributed some of the confusion to the decision to pool most of the county caucuses in Kennewick.
Another piece of confusion arose from the many people who didn't know to bring a copy of their voter registration card for quicker check-in.
Benegas told the Herald at the time that the majority of people who came didn't bring their voter registration cards, which meant they had to be looked up on a voter registration list provided by the county Auditor's Office.
That slowed down check-in and meant the hallways were still packed with people waiting to get in when the doors were closed, he told the Herald on Saturday.
McBurney said there was no intent to bar supporters of particular candidates, or to disenfranchise any local Republicans.
"There have been some people concerned about being disenfranchised," he said. "They have not been able to make their preference for a presidential candidate known. I feel that's terrible. I would also point out it was our governor and the Democratic Legislature who got rid of the presidential primary and as a result tens of thousands of people who would have voted in that primary -- members of the military, the disabled -- they were disenfranchised. I think that is a gross disenfranchisement."
The Legislature in April 2011 voted to cancel the 2012 primary to save $10 million as the state wrestled with a multibillion budget deficit.
Democrats traditionally have selected all of their delegates using caucuses, and Republicans have selected half of their delegates through caucuses, rendering the primary mostly an informal vote for a nominee.
Canceling the primary was a joint request of Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed.
Mid-Columbia lawmakers Sens. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, and Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Reps. Larry Haler, R-Richland, Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla,Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, and Bruce Chandler,R-Granger, voted to cancel the primary.
Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, and Reps. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, and David Taylor, R-Moxee, voted no.
Minter said she hopes the confusion at Saturday's primary won't discourage people from getting involved with the local party.
"Everyone should be encouraged to go to the monthly meetings," she said. "There are some great people in the leadership. I don't know what happened. Something fell apart in the planning."
-- To find your precinct officer, there is an interactive map on the Benton County GOP website at bit.ly/bentonpco.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; email@example.com