The Iowa Caucus Experience in Madison County: Cameras Not a Factor

Well, after over a year of fervent campaigning by many presidential hopefuls, the Iowa caucuses are over! As I mentioned a couple of days ago I have never declared a party before, but this year I wanted to be part of the caucus experience. I wanted to participate and see first-hand what it was like and not just have some political pundits from the east or west coasts giving their inaccurate opinions of what really goes on.

I’m glad I went! I decided to go to the Democratic caucus for multiple reasons, but I won’t elaborate upon them.
I live in Madison County (yes, where the bridges are), and my caucus location was an old, but well-kept one-room schoolhouse that has been maintained and used for the past few decades for elections and also as a place for holding 4-H meetings.
Yes, literally a one-room building, with an outhouse out in the back yard. No one drank the plentiful coffee and bottled water that was provided (for obvious reasons) even though the building was literally PACKED…standing room only except for the elderly and those with special needs. It was very dark, cold (low 20’s) but not as cold as the past few days, and still a lot of snow and ice on the ground.
It was apparent who the folks were who regularly caucus. They all knew each other by name, and the caucus chair did a very good job of keeping everyone on track; she had been caucus chair several times before and it showed.
Many of those who were regular caucus goers came to me and introduced themselves, very friendly and helpful. I asked them how many typically show up at this caucus location. They indicated that usually 60 or so show up. Last night 124 active caucus participants were in attendence, in addition to around 6 young children in tow, and 4 observers; one a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer (though I could not find anything on their site about this guy, nor any of the photos or video he was taking), 2 from Washington D.C. from the Hillary campaign camp, and one who said he was just “curious” and wanted to observe. The curious observer did not have a camera or video from what I could tell (his hands were in his pockets most of the time), and he left during the second or so counting of the candidate supporters, so it appeared that he really was just there to take in the sights.
We were literally packed in; standing room only except for chairs provided to the oldest and to those with special physical needs. Even though the temp was in the low 20’s, we had every window opened possible to make it bearable and breathable in the building.
When I first blogged about the caucuses on Tuesday I had wondered aloud about whether having people in attendance with digital recorders and cameras would inhibit the people in attendance. Sarah Lai Stirland from Wired magazine saw my post, called and wrote about this possibility.
After I described the possible concerns to Sarah during our call, I also told her that perhaps I was making much ado about nothing, and that perhaps this wouldn’t bother the caucus goers a bit.
Well, it turns out that the folks at my caucus site didn’t seem to mind a bit. The caucus chair told everyone up front at the beginning of the meeting about the reporter and the observers, and some folks even clapped to welcome them. However, it was so crowded that a few folks got a bit annoyed by the reporter constantly pushing through the groups to take his photos and videos.
There were probably around 5 – 6 caucus participants that were very apparently taking photos and videos. With the exception of one person who called one of the photogs by name and said, “Let me look at that…” after he snapped a picture and then exclained, “I look horrible! Delete that!” (which he did, laughing) no one there seemed to mind.
I have not found any of the photos or videos from the caucus site posted yet. However, I haven’t looked that hard, and I don’t think they would be that interesting anyway.
I saw nothing even close to those widely publicized stories of caucus goers bartering for services or items with each other to get people to go with their candidates.
With the exception of 4 undecided, the people who participated immediately went to the locations for their candidates of choice and did not change to go to another candidate. After only around 15 minutes or so the 4 undecided had joined with a candidate group; a couple to the Clinton group and a couple to the Edwards group. And, there was one gentleman with a “Firefighters for Dodd” shirt on, and a sign, but when he saw he was the only one for Dodd he quickly switched to the Richardson group.
In the end at my caucus location, based upon the numbers of people in each group, Hillary Clinton got 2 delegates, John Edwards got 2 delegates, Barack Obama got 1 delegate, and Bill Richardson got 1 delegate. The number of delegates were based upon the percentage of the people in each group out of the total in attendance. Different percentage ranges got a specific number of delegatees. The numbers of delegates for each caucus location were then called in to the central state caucus headquarters and added to the numbers of delegates from the other caucus sites. Those percentages reported by the local and national news did not represent caucus goer “votes”…they represented the delegates chosen at each caucus location.
Keep in mind a caucus is not an election; it is important to understand that a caucus is the forerunner to the November election, not an election in and of itself. It is an event in which each of the two major U.S. political parties try to narrow down the potential representatives for their party to arrive at one to be the party candidate in November, thus the inclusion of the discussion aspect during the caucus event.
The voting process in the actual election itself is much different, and is a very private matter…or is meant to be. Just because someone caucused for a certain candidate does not mean s/he will end up truly voting for that candidate when the election rolls around, even if the chosen candidate ended up being the party representative.
Of course there are more issues there regarding the methods each of the states use for the voting process and how secure they are…a good topic for another time as we approach the actual elections themselves.
Back to the caucus…
At the end of the night the candidates in my caucus location ended up in this order based upon attendees in their groups:
* Most caucus attendees: John Edwards
* Second most: Hillary Clinton
* Third: Barack Obama
* Fourth: Bill Richardson
See, even though John Edwards had a few more attendees in his group than Hillary, they still each got 2 delegates. And even though Barack Obama had several more attendees than Bill Richardson, they still each got 1 delegate (Richardson was at the low end of the percentage range for 1 delegate, and Obama was at the upper end of the percentage range.)
The closest to a dispute that occurred during the event was after the number of delegates were announced. One of those in the Obama camp said, “No! We should have more than that! [name] over there in the Richardson group told me he’d join our group!” The guy from the Richardson group yelled back, “No, [name], I’m staying here!”
That brought more of a laugh than a serious dispute, though.
It was interesting to see that the most diversity was within the Hillary group. The oldest in attendance (there were 4 in their 80’s and several in their 70’s), the youngest (there were two 17-year-olds who will be 18 by November), and the special needs (e.g., in a wheelchair) were in Hillary’s group.
Now my next action will be to see if it will be possible to completely disassociate my personal information from the party and once more become “independent” or undeclared from any certain party! 🙂

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