In a few hours, I’ll go to my Democratic precinct caucus. I’ll bring party platform resolutions to submit, but my main goal for the evening will be to secure an uncommitted delegate to the county convention.
I want to send the message that President Barack Obama hasn’t stood up for core principles of the Democratic Party. He has repeatedly expressed his confidence in Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who never should have been appointed and has mismanaged funds that were supposed to help keep Americans in their homes. He shafted middle-class federal employees in order to craft an image as a deficit hawk, yet he proposed increases in the defense budget and allowed the Bush tax cuts to be extended at all income levels. He signed into law indefinite military detention authority that goes against our basic constitutional principles. He agreed to allow more offshore oil drilling without securing any GOP concessions on energy policy. He validated bogus conservative talking points about “job-killing” regulations by postponing EPA smog rules. Last summer, he treated Americans to the surreal picture of a Democratic president urging the Republican speaker of the House to join him in cutting Social Security and Medicare.
Democrats like me face long odds tonight, especially in Iowa’s most populous counties, Polk and Linn. Iowa Democratic Party caucus rules and the decisions of some county Democratic committees will make it extremely difficult for uncommitted caucus-goers to clear the viability threshold for electing delegates.
The Iowa Democratic Party’s caucus rules and procedures put many obstacles before Democrats who aren’t satisfied with the president’s performance. The lack of a secret ballot creates peer pressure. When I mentioned my goal to one acquaintance who plans to attend our precinct caucus tonight, the response was, “Good for you! He needs to hear that message.” But no, this person won’t stand with me in the uncommitted corner.
Second, the viability threshold means you can’t elect a county convention delegate unless at least 15 percent of the people in the room (and sometimes more, as I explain below) agree with you.
Bleeding Heartland has argued against the viability threshold before. It seems undemocratic to say your views count for nothing unless a certain number of your neighbors agree with you. Iowa Republican caucus-goers won’t have this problem: they know that their vote will be reported for the presidential candidate they name on their paper ballot, no matter how few people in their precincts agree with them. Even “uncommitted” votes will be counted at GOP precinct caucuses.
The Obama re-election campaign has invested heavily in turning out supporters tonight. Along with multiple e-mail blasts and robocalls, the campaign has had hundreds of volunteers making “commit to caucus” phone calls to Democrats who have caucused before. (Campaign officials claim staff and volunteers have called 350,000 Iowa voters during 2011.) The more hard-core Obama supporters show up at precinct caucuses, the more difficult it will be for people like me to form a viable preference group for “uncommitted.”
Soon after the caucuses are called to order, the president will address the gatherings via live video feed. When some Democratic activists for “uncommitted” raised concerns about the Obama video address turning caucus meetings into a campaign rally, IDP Communications Director Sam Roecker promised that there would be “an opportunity for everyone’s voice to be heard” at the caucuses.
I don’t see anything on the schedule that directs precinct chairs to invite attendees to express other viewpoints. On the contrary, a December 31 memo from the Iowa Democratic Party presents the following agenda for January 3:
6:30 PM: Registration Opens
7:00 PM: Caucus Called to Order
Location manager reads agenda for the evening
2012 Campaign Presentation
– Local surrogate discusses the importance of getting involved and electing Democrats
– President Obama will be calling and live streaming via webcast into sites across the state
7:30 PM*: Presentation by the Iowa Democratic Party
Letters from elected officials may be read aloud, any officials present may address the caucus
7:45 PM*: Group splits into individual precincts
Election of Permanent Precinct Chair and Precinct Secretary
Election of Delegates and Alternates
Election of Platform & Committee on Committees Members
Election of Precinct Committee Persons
Resolution Discussion and Adoption
8:30 PM*: Caucus Adjourns
*Times may vary depending upon caucus location
Democrats will only form preference groups if at least 15 percent of the attendees wish to do so. If the caucus agrees to form preference groups, delegates are proportionally awarded to any group that meets the viability threshold (15 percent in most precincts).
If a group is not viable when preference groups are initially formed, those individuals may realign and support a viable candidate. Delegates are then assigned.
Here’s how I expect that to play out in the majority of caucus locations. Obama’s speech will end with applause and cheers from “fired up and ready to go” activists. A Democratic Party representative will then speak. After caucus-goers head to their own precinct meeting room, the person elected precinct chair will move directly to delegate selection, without offering anyone the chance to speak on behalf of uncommitted or some other presidential preference.
When I sought comment from the IDP on why no time has been built into the agenda for division into preference groups, Roecker responded, “Uncommitted or other preference groups will have an opportunity to address the caucus when they break into their precincts.”
I would feel more respected, empowered, and included if the Iowa Democratic Party’s memo listed preference groups as an expected part of tonight’s business. I infer that Democrats like me will have to ask for a formal division, which will happen only if at least 15 percent of caucus attendees agree to add that to the agenda. It’s potentially embarrassing to have a room full of people reject your request. Plus, who wants to seem like a pain in the neck trying to keep neighbors out longer on a cold winter evening?
Even in caucuses where attendees formally divide into preference groups, it will be a challenge to gather enough uncommitted Democrats to be viable.
Two weeks ago, Bleeding Heartland user albert pointed out that the Iowa Democratic Party had not published any information about how many county convention delegates or state delegate equivalents would be elected in the 1,774 precincts across Iowa. Nor were county Democratic committees posting delegate allocations by precinct on their own websites. I agree with albert’s assessment:
The precinct-level apportionment was released months in advance in 2008. Where is it now? Why is it so difficult to find?
I have to assume it’s a lack of transparency to make it difficult for preference groups not named Obama to assess precincts where conditions may be favorable to electing their slate.
When I asked for the precinct-level apportionment, the Iowa Democratic Party provided a 41-page pdf file. I can’t think of a good reason why that document hasn’t been linked on the IDP or county Democrat websites. A total of 8,207 county convention delegates will be elected across the state. Later, the 99 county conventions will elect delegates to four Congressional district conventions. The district convention delegates will elect 1,200 delegates to the state convention this summer.
State convention delegates are allocated to each county based on a formula using the number of votes cast in that county for Barack Obama in November 2008 and Governor Chet Culver in November 2010. The larger-population counties generally are assigned more state convention delegates than smaller counties, but the key metric is how many Democratic votes came from each county. So, even though Dubuque and Pottawattamie Counties have almost the same total populations, Dubuque will elect 42 delegates to the Democratic state convention, while Pottawattamie will elect only 28 because it produced fewer votes for the top of the Democratic ticket in 2008 and 2010.
Similarly, Story County was assigned 39 Democratic state convention delegates, more than the 31 state convention delegates assigned for Woodbury County. That’s because even though Woodbury has a larger total population, the Ames area produced more votes for Obama and Culver than the Sioux City area did.
The number of county convention delegates elected has no such relationship to population or Democratic vote performance. County Democratic committees have complete discretion over the size of their county conventions.
I’ve enclosed the number of county convention and state convention delegates for each county toward the end of this post. You’ll see tremendous variation in the number of county convention delegates. For example, 16 of Iowa’s 99 counties have been allocated three Democratic state convention delegates apiece. Democratic committees in those counties have agreed on the following totals for county convention delegates:
25 (Fremont County)
30 (Pocahontas, Keokuk and Humboldt Counties)
35 (Adair County)
45 (Audubon and Lucas Counties)
50 (Montgomery, Louisa, Clarke and Davis Counties)
60 (Sac County)
65 (Monroe County)
70 (Decatur County)
80 (Monona County)
85 (Calhoun County)
There is no ideal size for a county convention, so my point is not to criticize any of the above choices. My point is that county Democrats have broad discretion in this area.
Some county committees like a big crowd for their conventions. Precincts across Webster County (including the Fort Dodge area) will elect 240 delegates to the Democratic county convention, even though Webster was allocated only 14 state convention delegates. Lots of counties with larger populations will elect fewer county convention delegates tonight.
Most Democratic county committees have assigned four or more delegates to the majority of precincts, especially in the county’s largest cities or towns. In some counties, every Democratic precinct caucus will elect four or more county convention delegates. That’s important because Iowa Democratic Party rules set a 15 percent viability threshold for all precincts electing at least four delegates.
The viability threshold moves up for precincts electing fewer county convention delegates. In precincts electing three county delegates, a preference group needs one-sixth of caucus attendees in order to be viable. In precincts electing two county delegates, a preference group needs 25 percent of caucus attendees in order to be viable. Precincts electing only one county delegate choose that delegate by majority vote.
In some counties, notably Polk (Des Moines area), Linn (Cedar Rapids area), Benton, Jasper, Keokuk, Marion, and Warren, Democratic committees have assigned three or fewer delegates to the majority of precincts. That will raise the bar for caucus-goers seeking to gain a delegate for “uncommitted.” For example, my Polk County precinct would normally elect six county convention delegates in a presidential year, but we will elect only three this year, meaning we won’t be viable unless one-sixth of attendees go uncommitted. The precinct next door, which would normally elect five or six county delegates at a presidential-year caucus, will elect only two delegates this year, meaning uncommitted needs 25 percent to be viable. At the end of this post, I’ve listed the county delegate numbers for Linn and Polk precincts.
These county Democratic committees could have increased the size of the county convention in order to assign more delegates to various precincts. I sought comment on the unusually low county delegate numbers in my area. Polk County Democrats Executive Director Tamyra Harrison told me they opted for a smaller county convention, as normally done in non-presidential election years, because there’s no competition for the presidential nomination this year.
Under these conditions, I will be impressed with any Iowa Democrats who manage to elect an uncommitted delegate to their county convention. I wish the Democrats planning to vote for Ron Paul at their GOP caucuses were standing for “uncommitted” instead. Paul is against just about all the health, labor, environment, safety and civil rights protections the U.S. has ever adopted.
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.
UPDATE: Our precinct chair did try to move directly to delegate selection and didn’t seem pleased when I requested the opportunity to speak on behalf of uncommitted. However, I am surprised and happy to report that my precinct did elect an uncommitted delegate. We only needed six of the 33 attendees to reach the viability threshold.
WEDNESDAY MORNING UPDATE: The Iowa Democratic Party posted delegate numbers here. With 93 percent of Democratic precincts reporting, Obama had 7,666 county delegates, while 81 county delegates were for “other.” In terms of state delegate equivalents, Obama had just under 1,095 and “other” had 17. The second Congressional district produced the largest number of delegates for “other,” mostly because of Johnson County (Iowa City) and Jefferson County (Fairfield). Uncommitted appears not to have been viable in any precincts in quite a few major counties: Linn (Cedar Rapids), Pottawattamie (Council Bluffs), Scott (Quad Cities), Woodbury (Sioux City), and Dubuque. I will post a more comprehensive report on the uncommitted results once the IDP chart reflects 100 percent of the precincts statewide.
For some reason, Polk, Jefferson and Johnson counties still have lots of unreported precincts. I am seeking comment from the IDP about when full results will be in.
At least one uncommitted county convention delegate was elected in the following 17 counties:
Adair (3 out of 35)
Black Hawk (10 out of 300, not all precincts in yet)
Cedar (1 out of 40, not all precincts in yet)
Dallas (2 out of 100)
Des Moines (1 out of 75)
Floyd (1 out of 90)
Jackson (2 out of 50)
Jefferson (9 out of 60, not all precincts in yet)
Johnson (19 out of 225, not all precincts in yet)
Lee (2 out of 150)
Louisa (2 out of 50)
Muscatine (5 out of 80)
Pocahontas (1 out of 30)
Polk (11 out of 600, not all precincts in yet; I have heard directly from people in precincts where a total of 8 uncommitted delegates were elected)
Story (4 out of 200)
Wayne (2 out of 40)
Winneshiek (6 out of 100)
WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Talked to a friend who caucused in a different Polk County precinct. Her experience was exactly what I worried about as soon as I saw the agenda. She showed up with her husband and son, intending to caucus uncommitted. They didn’t understand the process, so didn’t speak up when the precinct chair moved directly to election of county convention delegates and other business. Then, the precinct chair asked if the caucus would ratify what they’d done by acclamation, since “we’re all going to vote for Obama.” Cheers and claps around the room. At that point my friend felt inhibited, like she would be a jerk for objecting to the motion. Now, there’s no guarantee she could have secured a delegate for uncommitted even if she’d been able to speak; she would have needed two or three more people to join her family. But the precinct chair made sure no one had the opportunity to try.
Name of county, number of Democratic county convention delegates, number of Democratic state convention delegates
Adair 35 3
Adams 40 2
Allamakee 42 6
Appanoose 75 4
Audubon 45 3
Benton 30 10
Black Hawk 300 57
Boone 140 11
Bremer 50 10
Buchanan 60 9
Buena Vista 75 5
Butler 60 5
Calhoun 85 3
Carroll 50 8
Cass 50 4
Cedar 40 7
Cerro Gordo 200 21
Cherokee 35 4
Chickasaw 60 6
Clarke 50 3
Clay 50 5
Clayton 75 8
Clinton 150 21
Crawford 70 5
Dallas 100 22
Davis 50 3
Decatur 70 3
Delaware 60 7
Des Moines 75 18
Dickinson 55 6
Dubuque 200 42
Emmet 50 4
Fayette 60 9
Floyd 90 7
Franklin 75 4
Fremont 25 3
Greene 60 4
Grundy 60 4
Guthrie 40 4
Hamilton 45 6
Hancock 60 4
Hardin 100 6
Harrison 35 5
Henry 100 6
Howard 55 4
Humboldt 30 3
Ida 25 2
Iowa 50 6
Jackson 50 9
Jasper 50 15
Jefferson 60 8
Johnson 225 76
Jones 75 8
Keokuk 30 3
Kossuth 75 6
Lee 150 14
Linn 200 99
Louisa 50 3
Lucas 45 3
Lyon 30 2
Madison 60 6
Mahaska 50 6
Marion 55 11
Marshall 125 15
Mills 40 4
Mitchell 40 5
Monona 80 3
Monroe 65 3
Montgomery 50 3
Muscatine 150 15
O’Brien 55 3
Osceola 50 1
Page 40 4
Palo Alto 60 4
Plymouth 35 6
Pocahontas 30 3
Polk 600 180
Pottawattamie 200 28
Poweshiek 100 8
Ringgold 25 2
Sac 60 3
Scott 350 68
Shelby 50 4
Sioux 75 4
Story 200 39
Tama 60 7
Taylor 20 2
Union 40 4
Van Buren 30 2
Wapello 125 13
Warren 45 19
Washington 50 8
Wayne 40 2
Webster 240 14
Winnebago 40 4
Winneshiek 100 10
Woodbury 200 31
Worth 50 4
Wright 50 4
Linn County precinct delegate allocations
The following 18 precincts will elect only one county convention delegate: Cedar Rapids 5, Cedar Rapids 6, Cedar Rapids 19, Cedar Rapids 36, Cedar Rapids 47, Boulder, Buffalo Camp, Central City, Clinton, College, Fayette, Grant, Jackson, Linn Community, Maine, Squaw Creek, Otter Creek, Spring Grove
The following 29 precincts will elect two county convention delegates: Cedar Rapids 1, Cedar Rapids 4, Cedar Rapids 7, Cedar Rapids 20, Cedar Rapids 22, Cedar Rapids 28, Cedar Rapids 30, Cedar Rapids 32, Cedar Rapids 33, Cedar Rapids 34, Cedar Rapids 35, Cedar Rapids 37, Cedar Rapids 38, Cedar Rapids 40, Cedar Rapids 46, Marion 1-1, Marion 1-2, Marion 1-3, Marion 2-1, Marion 3-1, Marion 3-3, Bertram, Brown, Monroe 1, Monroe 2, Robins, Linn-Mar, Mount Vernon, Putnam
The following 32 precincts will elect three county convention delegates: Cedar Rapids 3, Cedar Rapids 8, Cedar Rapids 11, Cedar Rapids 13, Cedar Rapids 14, Cedar Rapids 15, Cedar Rapids 16, Cedar Rapids 17, Cedar Rapids 18, Cedar Rapids 21, Cedar Rapids 24, Cedar Rapids 25, Cedar Rapids 26, Cedar Rapids 27, Cedar Rapids 29, Cedar Rapids 31, Cedar Rapids 39, Cedar Rapids 41, Cedar Rapids 42, Cedar Rapids 43, Cedar Rapids 44, Cedar Rapids 45, Marion 2-2, Marion 3-2, Marion 4-1, Marion 4-2, Marion 4-3, Fairfax, Lisbon, Hiawatha 1, Mount Vernon 2, Washington
The following seven precincts will elect four or more county convention delegates: Cedar Rapids 2, Cedar Rapids 9, Cedar Rapids 10, Cedar Rapids 12, Cedar Rapids 23, Hiawatha 2, Marion 2-3
Polk County precinct delegate allocations
The following nine precincts will elect only one county convention delegate: Des Moines 34, Des Moines 38, Des Moines 62, Des Moines 72, Alleman 1, Allen 1, Sheldahl-Union 1, Washington 1, Webster 1
The following 47 precincts will elect two county convention delegates: Des Moines 4, Des Moines 7, Des Moines 9, Des Moines 10, Des Moines 21, Des Moines 22, Des Moines 23, Des Moines 25, Des Moines 27, Des Moines 32, Des Moines 33, Des Moines 35, Des Moines 37, Des Moines 39, Des Moines 40, Des Moines 41, Des Moines 42, Des Moines 43, Des Moines 44, Des Moines 52, Des Moines 56, Des Moines 58, Des Moines 60, Des Moines 61, Des Moines 65, Des Moines 66, Des Moines 77, Des Moines 78, Des Moines 81, Des Moines 82, Des Moines 83, Des Moines 85, Des Moines 88, Des Moines 95, Des Moines 98, Des Moines 101, Clay 1, Delaware 1, Delaware 2, Delaware 3, Douglas 1, Elkhart 1, Franklin 1, Saylor 1, West Des Moines 213, West Des Moines 214, Windsor Heights 1
The following 53 precincts will elect three county convention delegates: Des Moines 2, Des Moines 3, Des Moines 5, Des Moines 6, Des Moines 8, Des Moines 11, Des Moines 13, Des Moines 14, Des Moines 15, Des Moines 16, Des Moines 18, Des Moines 20, Des Moines 24, Des Moines 26, Des Moines 28, Des Moines 30, Des Moines 31, Des Moines 36, Des Moines 45, Des Moines 50, Des Moines 51, Des Moines 53, Des Moines 55, Des Moines 57, Des Moines 59, Des Moines 63, Des Moines 73, Des Moines 79, Des Moines 80, Des Moines 84, Des Moines 86, Des Moines 92, Des Moines 93, Des Moines 94, Des Moines 96, Des Moines 99, Altoona 1, Ankeny 2, Ankeny 10, Ankeny 6, Ankeny 7, Clive 1, Saylor 2, Saylor 3, Runnells 1, Mitchellville 1, Jefferson 1, Grimes 1, Four Mile 1, West Des Moines 112, West Des Moines 215, West Des Moines 315, Windsor Heights 2
The following 74 precincts will elect four or more county convention delegates: Des Moines 1, Des Moines 12, Des Moines 17, Des Moines 19, Des Moines 29, Des Moines 46, Des Moines 47, Des Moines 48, Des Moines 49, Des Moines 54, Des Moines 64, Des Moines 67, Des Moines 68, Des Moines 69, Des Moines 70, Des Moines 71, Des Moines 74, Des Moines 75, Des Moines 76, Des Moines 87, Des Moines 89, Des Moines 90, Des Moines 91, Des Moines 97, Des Moines 100, Des Moines 102, Altoona 2, Altoona 3, Altoona 4, Ankeny 1, Ankeny 3, Ankeny 4, Ankeny 5, Ankeny 8, Ankeny 9, Ankeny 11, Ankeny 12, Bondurant 1, Clive 2, Clive 3, Clive 4, Crocker 1, Grimes 2, Johnston 1, Johnston 2, Johnston 3, Pleasant Hill 1, Pleasant Hill 2, Pleasant Hill 3, Polk City 1, Urbandale 1, Urbandale 2, Urbandale 3, Urbandale 4, Urbandale 5, Urbandale 6, Urbandale 7, Urbandale 8, Urbandale 9, Urbandale 10, Urbandale 11, West Des Moines 111, West Des Moines 113, West Des Moines 114, West Des Moines 115, West Des Moines 116, West Des Moines 211, West Des Moines 212, West Des Moines 311, West Des Moines 312, West Des Moines 313, West Des Moines 314, West Des Moines 316, Windsor Heights 3