Was the Causus a Cauc-up?

Caucusing is a well known and well loved tradition in Iowa. You get hundreds of politically opposed Iowans, stuff them in a room meant for no more than fifty people, take a vote, wait about an hour, take another vote, and eventually one candidate will rise from the ashes as all the other candidates claim victory regardless. It’s a tale as old as time. However you may have heard, or seen for that matter, that somehow, this almost flawless process seems to have a whole lot of problems. The turn out for the Caucus, especially among younger voters, is extraordinarily low. With just 16% of Iowa’s eligible voting population participating in the Caucus. This isn’t a problem that started just recently. The turnout for the Caucus has always hovered around 16%. This is more than a little concerning.

The Caucus has been a powerful force in our democracy since its inception in 1796. Through the years it has experienced many changes. However, overall it has remained the same: a bunch of people go in a room and vote in whatever bizarre way the party wants them to. This already sparks quite a problem. The caucus only occurs for a few hours of one given day. What if you can’t afford to get out of work? What if you are a single parent and can’t get a babysitter? What if you have a disability? These questions all have a simple answer. You don’t go. You don’t have your voice heard.

But let’s say you can make it to the Caucus itself. You get pointed into a dull grey room with a good 150 chairs loosely divided into sections. Each section has a few campaign signs for a given candidate strewn about. Some of these sections have 20 people dotted about an ocean of seats, while others are so packed people have given up on the seats and are now just sitting on the floor. You join them and wait, the caucus starts around 7:00 and they start counting ballot cards at around 7:30. The results are counted up and all but three candidates are deemed nonviable.

Past this point is where things start to go down hill. Most of the people voting for nonviable candidates refuse to move, instead choosing to vainly hope for enough other people to join their group instead. An old lady in the back right corner of the room starts chanting, “Joe! Joe! Joe!” No one joins her. Eventually she’s forced into silence by the sheer weight of all the stares she’s getting. After another 30 minutes pass the new vote has been counted and the kingpin of the room takes over.

After a few minutes of fiddling with his phone, he announces the numbers:

“Three for Pete, Three for Bernie,” He pauses and looks at his phone again “And I guess it has to be two for Warren.”

Now, there are a few red flags right off the bat. He guesses? It has to be? Why doesn’t he know the results for certain? Well, this has to do with an app that was given to the caucus managers with little to no instruction just hours before the caucus itself. It was supposed to make the process easier, however no one in the room knew how to use it, and the app itself simply didn’t seem to work. This mismanaged attempt at bringing the caucus into the new age went from a good idea on paper to a disaster in practice. This mistake in particular became the centerpiece of many news articles criticizing the Iowa caucus and calling for a new state to take the reigns as the first voice in the country. The stats took around four days to officially make it to the public when in almost every other caucus it took almost no time at all. While a three day difference may not seem like much to the average person, the cruel world of news and politics can twist this small period of time into ammo for whatever bizarre argument they wish. In fact, after the mishap with the app caused a delay, Donald Trump himself claimed he’s the real winner of the democratic caucus because of the delay in information. How he can claim this, I don’t know. Overall with all the mistakes and mishaps in this caucus season I can only truly summarize my experience in three words. “It was Alright.” The people were nice, the discussions were civil, and the general mood was cordial. In four years I’ll drag my feet back to the gym of the nearest public school to do the entire thing all over again. However, if the problems in the most recent Iowa caucuses aren’t fixed or at least brought to the public eye, the caucus system itself will probably have to be replaced with a cold, unfeeling version of itself. Either for better or for worse.