Democracy in odd action at my Iowa caucus

Feb 5, 2016 By Robert H. Peck, Staff Writer

On Monday, Feb. 1, I participated in a presidential caucus in Iowa City, Iowa. My caucus was attended by 646 voters, a record-setting number for the precinct according to the mousey, bespectacled young precinct director, who insisted on being called the acting precinct director until we voted him in officially five minutes after the start.

That's one thing about the caucus: It's quite officious about its rules, for some things. The process feels almost like a relic of a bygone age--but for the fact that I just got done doing it myself, I wouldn't have thought it out of place as some vestige of the Articles of Confederation.

Along with formally electing offers and slowly working through old and new business in a public library crammed to bursting with exhausted, smelly people, the acting director insisted on formally reading bylaws to the assembly, up to and including fielding questions from several ladies in the back who were far too interested in Section 6.2. In some ways, the caucus made me miss my in-and-out Wyoming voting booth.

I entered the building that evening with three friends, all of whom claimed to be undecided at that time. Once we got in and relatively settled, it quickly became clear that most people in the building were there to support one candidate in particular, with just a small fraction of caleft for the rest.

As a result, the acting director decided everything would run more smoothly if the main candidate's supporters all stayed in the room while the rest of us dispersed into the halls to mill about, so that heads could be counted more efficiently (in Iowa, caucuses work by physically counting bodies).

At this point, faced with the prospect of abandoning their seats to go stand outside, my friends quickly ceased to be undecided. Democracy in action!

However, there is nothing quite like knowing one's vote really does count, and my caucus certainly made me feel it. To be considered "viable" in a caucus, a candidate must poll 15 percent of the assembled voters, and the candidate I stood for was just a hair's breath away from being under 15.

If, say, I and two other people had walked out early, our candidate wouldn't even have been eligible to stand for election.

As it was, we stayed, and the candidate got an extra delegate out of our patient presence for a few hours.

Bylaws or no bylaws, the democratic process is powerfully alive in Iowa.

Editor's note: Riverton native Robert H. Peck is a graduate student at the Iowa Writers Workshop.