I attended my first Iowa Caucus last night, excited to vote with my feet and join in the nation’s first primary election. Say what you will about the Iowa (“You live in Ohio? Idaho?”), but it’s a pretty exciting place to live during election time. I’ve seen President Obama and Bernie Sanders twice each during my 8 years in corn country and people here are serious voters. The Democratic Caucus is not for the casual voter and most attendees are committed party members. Here’s what I learned at the Iowa Caucus:
- Caucusing is for the Committed. With hot, crowded, rooms, dull procedures, and passionate debates, the Caucus will only appeal to the committed. I’ve been married for 11 years and this is the first time I’ve seen my husband generate genuine enthusiasm for a candidate. In years past, he barely bothered with a traditional primary and this year he planned to stay home with our four children despite his excitement over Bernie Sanders. Luckily, our neighbors watched the kids and we stood for our candidate together.
- Caucusing is Chaotic. We needed a gym for our one precinct and we had a library conference room for two. The lines to sign up were slow and unorganized, paperwork proved plentiful, and we had to overflow into closets. I can’t tell you the number of texts, calls, and mailings I received from the Bernie campaign – perhaps one of them should have included the form I needed to transfer my voting records to a new district. Volunteer officials appeared overwhelmed and unprepared for the turnout.
- Caucusing Excludes Voters. In order to participate in the Iowa Caucus, we had to be in line before 7 pm on a Monday night. We managed to crowd into the library doorways in our tiny precinct, but my Iowa City friends lined up in the cold. We found a babysitter, but the nature of the crowded event would have made it nearly impossible for us to both attend with our four children. Unlike paper primaries, if you are working and can’t be in line by 7 pm and commit to 2 hours that night, you can’t caucus. These are serious, concerning barriers to voting.
- Caucusing is Not Winner Takes All. While our single O’Malley supporter had to choose a new side (she eventually felt the Bern), the rest of us split the delegates. Pay close attention to those Iowa numbers – the virtual tie you see is what I also witnessed in my precinct. It’s a close call and neither Bernie or Hillary should throw in the towel just yet. It’s also important to note that you can change parties on Caucus night, so you can vote against someone if you prefer.
- Caucusing is Exhilarating. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where it felt like my vote didn’t matter because our primary lagged behind the rest and elections were called long before our polls closed. While everyone was hot and a bit irritated by the planning deficiencies, the air practically crackled with excitement. The Iowa Caucus reminded me that people are still passionate about this country, the issues, and candidates. It even showed me that we can stand up for one candidate without tearing the other down.The Caucus showed me that people dill still vote with their hearts, minds, and feet.
Have you ever experienced a Caucus? What did you think?