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“Challengers” releases in theaters on April 26.
Review: “Challengers”
Published April 13, 2024

Iowa and Minnesota: participation is key despite differences

I have been to two caucuses this year: Iowa’s on Jan. 19 and Minnesota’s on March 2. They could not have been more different.

At the caucus in Dubuque, Iowa, sign-in started promptly at 6:30 p.m. There was a printed roster (in triplicate) of every registered Democrat in the precinct. People had to sign by their names as they came in. Caucus-goers then had to put on name tags designating them as voters or observers. People could register to vote at the caucus entrance.

At 7 p.m., all observers were asked to leave the floor where caucusing would take place. Anyone arriving after 7 p.m. was permitted to observe, but they were not allowed to participate in the caucus – which happened to a dear friend of mine. The first order of business was electing a precinct chairman or chairwoman. After electing the caucus chairman, a letter was read from the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party chairman and a visiting legislative official from Illinois was acknowledged. Then official campaign letters from the five candidates running in Iowa (John Kerry, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards) were read.

Then people shuffled to the side of the room where their candidates’ signs were hung. If a candidate did not have at least 15 percent of caucus-goers in attendance in his corner, he was declared inactive. After the first tally, Gephardt and Kucinich were declared inactive and the negotiations begun. A representative from each campaign went up to the front to speak.

Kerry, Dean and Edwards’ representatives all offered delegate positions in exchange for people; my parents’ precinct had seven delegate positions to the county convention to award. When part of Kucinich’s group folded into Kerry’s, three delegates would officially be attending the convention for Kerry, but one of the delegates would be from the Kucinich group, guaranteeing that their issues would be discussed as part of the party’s platform even though Kucinich would not be endorsed. All of this took two hours.

Iowa was my first caucus experience. I thought Minnesota’s would be similar. My expectations were sure dashed!

At the caucus in Mayo Auditorium, no one, including the caucus chairman, was sure of what was going on. He did not start signing people in until 7 p.m. There were no preprinted rosters, just blank sheets (in triplicate) to sign. There was no verification that anyone was a registered voter and no voter registration forms for people to fill out. Halfway through the signing-in process, the rumor that Edwards was going to drop out started, but the caucus chairman only half-heartedly mentioned that this was unconfirmed.

A lot of disorganization could have been because more people than expected showed up, but honestly, it is an election year and the Democrats are as mad and motivated as they have ever been – you didn’t have to be a genius to expect a record turnout.

The caucus chairman decided it would be a good idea for everyone to write down the names of the candidates they supported on any scraps of paper they could find and sign their names to them. He failed to mention that people should stick around after doing this, so the vast majority of people left after turning in their slips, giving up their chances to support their second choice candidates if their firsts were declared inactive. The caucus chairman also did not count the slips in a timely fashion, so who knows if delegates from that precinct were proportionally being assigned to represent candidates? The caucus chairman let whoever was left after the mass exodus be a delegate to the state convention.

What was accomplished at the Minnesota caucus that did not happen at the Iowa caucus was the adoption of resolutions. After the Iowa delegates were allotted, people had already been there for two hours and no one wanted to stay to discuss resolutions. The random paper voting and delegate assignment was done in an hour in Minnesota. The few people remaining after that did discuss resolutions, but it is anybody’s guess whether there will be any accountability on bringing those to the county convention.

Despite the disorganization at the Mayo Auditorium caucus, it was wonderful that so many people took part. Hopefully, they will use that experience to make future caucuses go smoother.

R.R.S. Stewart welcomes comments at [email protected]

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