Attending my first caucus ever in 2016 for the Iowa Democratic Party was very eye opening. Official sources describe a caucus as “a process that can take hours, as voters hear out supporters of various candidates, debate issues, and ultimately come to a conclusion.” Another source states “activists will plead their case to everyone about why their preferred candidate is the best choice.”
Expecting this type of a “caucus,” I went with great zeal and numerous handouts describing the wonderful qualities of my preferred candidate. I was prepared to have the opportunity to debate and persuade, but wow, this was not the case.
The caucus I attended was chaotic and disorganized with no official Democratic Party person to officiate. Eventually one person stepped forward after much confusion to “run” the meeting. He later revealed to me he wasn’t even a registered Democrat.
People who supported Bernie Sanders were asked to sit on one side of the room and people for Hillary Clinton on the other side which, at that time turned out almost equal. Fifteen minutes before doors were to close I took a restroom break where I noticed a surprise burst of Bernie supporters were let into the caucus room. They had all arrived on unmarked buses and many told the people at the door they had forgotten their IDs. Most were signing affidavits insuring their identities. None of them apparently had appeared as registered Democrats on our precinct’s list.
I tried to distribute my handouts but was shut down. We eventually separated into our own “camps,” voted and left. Our caucus tried three times to get an accurate count for each candidate. We never came up with the same amount on any count, so we finally just all agreed on a number to certify and voted on that. The process took hours and nobody debated or persuaded anyone about their candidate. The persuasion came when trying to beg people to attend the convention as delegates.
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The caucus process is a disorganized, chaotic, and archaic system that Iowa is using to nominate a political candidate. This process also denies each citizen a private vote, which leads to more divisiveness within the party and between our neighbors and friends.
That night I also remember hearing about other caucus precincts with problems. The final vote of the 2016 Iowa Caucus was the closest margin in the history of the contest with a difference of one quarter of a percentage point.
I have talked to other Cedar Falls and Iowa Democratic voters who went to caucuses and were as disappointed as I was. I feel the original purpose of a caucus no longer exists in our modern society. We are now bombarded with information and access to each individual candidate through extensive media outlets. Candidates visit our state numerous times to personally interact with us and inform us of their policies. People are telephoned constantly about specific candidates. At the caucus I attended, it appeared everybody had already made a firm choice. Very much like the Electoral College, we have outgrown the need for the caucus.
If we hold caucuses to just gather and basically vote, a more effective method would be to hold a primary vote at our normal voting precincts. Then we could possibly include early voting and absentee voting. It would also make it more accessible to the voting public, which is presently a goal of Iowa and national Democrats. If the only reason we still hold caucuses in Iowa is because they are perceived by the rest of the world as a quaint tradition and we’re the “first in the nation,” then we need to eliminate this outdated method of selecting Democratic candidates. The Democratic National Committee may have to allow Iowa and New Hampshire to share the title and date of being the two “first primaries in the nation.”