Democracy survives in Iowa

Jan 032008
Authors: Sean Reed

Now that the dust from the Iowa caucuses is settling and the winners have been selected, the media has already turned to the speculation about the New Hampshire primaries.

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of the getting the scoop on the winners, another, more important, story is often left by the wayside – what actually happens within a given precinct on caucus night.

To get to the bottom of this mysterious system, the Collegian crew set out last night to Hoover high school, which hosted the caucuses for multiple Des Moines electoral districts for both the Democrats and Republicans.

After arriving more than an hour early, we decided to meet with some of the precinct captains to see just how things were scheduled to go down.

To get the scoop on the Democratic side, I eavesdropped a conversation between News Editor Aaron Hedge and Weber One Precinct Captain Angela Connelly as she laid out the process for the Dems.

The doors were to open at 6:30 p.m., at which time all voters needed to check in and then sit with their difference preference groups. And if a caucus-goer has not yet decided, that is perfectly acceptable, too.

At about 7 p.m., the doors would be locked and the number of members needed to meet the 15 percent requirement for a candidate’s viability is announced. At that point, members of the different preference groups, especially those struggling for viability, can travel to other groups and try to convince their members to change their minds.

After 30 minutes, the process ends and delegates are divvied out according to the candidates with the highest number of supporters. In addition, if an undecided group is large enough, they, too can have a delegate.

The twist for Weber One, though, is that they only get two delegates, so all attendees could only pick a maximum of two candidates.

When we rolled over to the Republican precinct for District 12, their captain Lawrence Cooper explained the Republican system, which was almost identical to that of the Democrats, except that under their system, the selections were made by a show of hands or secret ballot, as determined by the respective precincts.

Here, rather than giving delegates proportionally, though, all delegates go toward the candidate with the most supporters, which, for District 12, ended up being Mike Huckabee.

Finding my interest more drawn towards the Democrats and finding that, in general, my presence was far less welcome in the Republican precincts, I returned to Weber One, armed with the knowledge of how the process was supposed to occur in theory, to see how it all played out in practice.

At first, it looked as though the whole process was a joke.

The preference groups – the largest for Obama and Hillary – didn’t move, even though there were two smaller preference groups that needed convincing – the inviable Bill Richardson and barely viable John Edwards group.

After a couple of uncomfortable minutes, though, people left their seats and started communicating peacefully with each other about why they should change their vote. And slowly but surely, people began to move.

Soon, there were no Richardson supporters left.

For a few minutes, it looked as though all supporters were flooding to the Obama and Clinton tables. Then, something unexpected happened.

As Edward’s supporters like CSU Alumnus Robert Johnson began chatting with the Clinton folks, they began to defect.

Before my very eyes, I saw the population of the Clinton table dwindle and then die.

This particularly interested me, as neither Edward’s supporters nor the man himself seemed to particularly active in the state, so I turned to Johnson to find out how this was happening. He pointed me to Edward’s record with helping the middle class.

“I think he has an understanding of poverty and the needs of the middle class,” he said.

A few holdouts for the Hillary campaign, including resident Gary Carr, who supported Hillary because of her more extensive experience as a “great first lady” and senator, held on almost until the end, but by the end of the night, the precinct was divided into two camps – Obama and Edwards.

The delegates were then selected from each camp, each given healthy applause, and the citizens were dismissed.

I was floored by how smoothly the whole process ran.

Not once during the evening were their shouts or heated arguments. Instead, there was civil debate and compromise between people with a common goal – selecting the best presidential candidate to represent the interests of not just themselves, but their neighbors, too.

What happened in Iowa tonight was democracy at its purest. One can only hope the Colorado caucus on Feb. 5 is equally civil and productive.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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