My Experience at a Caucus

Guest author fladem lives in another state. He observed a precinct caucus in Urbandale (Polk County) in 2008 and saw some troubling things while volunteering for Bernie Sanders in three West Des Moines (Dallas County) precincts on Monday night. Note: people who are not eligible to participate in the Iowa caucuses are allowed to attend and help at a caucus, as long as they are not counted as part of any preference group. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I was a precinct captain for Bernie working in West Des Moines precincts 224 through 226.

In every caucus I have been to there is a table. You do the count, and then do the math, usually in front of the captains from each of the campaigns.

Then you find out the delegate split. And the raw vote is left on some sheet of paper thrown away minutes later.

Seriously. That is the way it works.

One person made a record of the actual raw vote. I am reasonably no one else did.

That person was me. I tweeted the numbers on my twitter feed.

I seriously doubt my precincts were the only ones like that. Bernie had a number you were supposed to call with your numbers — but I doubt very seriously everyone did. More than a few raw vote totals were discarded the moment that the delegate calculation was completed.

So that is how completely messed up this all is.

But here is a picture that should tell you something. This is the Gym where these three precincts were held. This was taken at 6:30 PM. See a lot of people? At the time this I thought Bernie was completely going to lose. Those empty chairs — those were for Bernie supporters. There were stands on the opposite side — they had Clinton people in them.

A couple of other things to note about this picture:

1. See one guy sitting at the table. Well he was the guy who checked people in for precinct 225 where would be 230 people who would caucus there. At this point about 40 had checked in as of 6:30. BUT THE CAUCUS WAS SUPPOSED TO START AT 7. WHERE WAS EVERYBODY!

2. Well I can answer that question. About 10 minutes after I took this picture someone mentioned that there was a very long line outside of the school. We opened the door, and it went front of the school door, back to the parking lot, and then snaked along the parking lot.

So here is what happened. When you got to the door you checked in at one table, and they directed you to your caucus location. Except to do that they had to look you up — and there were 2 or 3 people who were doing that: for a location with SIX precincts. So they were completely understaffed.

There were 10 delegates at stake in 224 — 226. At 6:30 I had no doubt we would lose all of them.

This is 30 minutes later. Remember — the caucus was supposed to START at 7. See the line — those are people waiting to be checked in at their precinct. It would take another 50 minutes to complete this.

Now here is something that will get you mad. One of the Party people complained that the people standing in line should have gone home — that they were delaying the caucus. See the woman in the glasses — she was a Clinton precinct captain — and as appalled as I was.

Notice the age of the people standing in line? Remember Sanders carried the under 30 vote by 84-11. He also carried the under 40 vote. See many old people in that line?

I do KNOW some people saw the line and left. I can’t tell you how many.

But here is the thing: what you see in this picture is the result of a ground war. There were 10 state delegates at stake in this room, and they split 5-5 between the three precincts. In fact, the total raw vote between the two biggest precincts in the room would split by a combined 171 to 170.

Thousands were spent for those 10 delegates. Hundreds of man hours were spend knocking on doors. Millions on ads to influence the people in that room.

And this was the process there were greeted with.

It is absolutely outrageous.

But the story gets worse. When I left at 9:00, precincts 221-223 HADN’T STARTED YET. THEY WERE STILL CHECKING IN PEOPLE.

About the Author(s)

Dan Guild

  • Your fault, too.

    The caucus is run by grassroots volunteers. If your candidate is so popular, some of your supporters should be capable of helping run the caucus. Why didn’t you organize for that?

    Out of state observers think this is like a primary. Just show up and vote. They are wrong. This is an organizing event. It’s very first agenda item is to elect a chair. Where was your candidate for that roll? Bitching about a caucus where you did not attempt to help is pathetic. You must be some sort of campaign professional to have been here from Florida, but you blame volunteers for how they proceeded.

    It matters not who threw away what scrap of paper. It matters that the delegates were properly awarded based on the turnout. Apparently they were in your case.

    • it's hard enough to get people to show up

      It’s indefensible for it to take so long to check people in for the caucuses. The system is broken.

    • It does matter if the supporter numbers are not written down

      and recorded somewhere in case later anyone disputes how the county delegates were allocated from that precinct.

  • I give your paper a C-

    Guy writes like an eighth grader. OBVIOUSLY from out of state!

  • High turnout should have been anticipated

    I caucused in West Des Moines in 2004 (Edwards) and 2008 (Obama). There was high turnout, long lines, and delays both years. High turnout this year should’ve been foreseen and planned for by organizers. FWIW, I crossed over this year to vote “not Trump/Cruz” on the Republican side. They also had series staffing problems. My account of the evening:

    It’s possible that caucuses are simply unworkable in modern politics.