The Iowa Democratic Party announced today that former U.S. Representative Dave Nagle will lead the committee to be formed to review Iowa caucus procedures. I enclose below the full statement. Nagle promised to help the caucuses “advance and grow while maintaining their important role in the presidential and party-building process,” saying the committee will seek input “from Iowans in all corners of our state” and “will welcome all suggestions.” Comments from other insiders suggest that Iowa Democratic Party leaders are mainly interested in improving how the caucuses are administered, rather than dramatically changing the current system for reporting results and allocating delegates.
I continue to collect stories from Democrats about what happened at their neighborhood caucuses. The process ran smoothly in many precincts, although features of caucus math led to disappointing outcomes for some acquaintances. I described some of those examples here.
Today I heard a remarkable story about precinct chair incompetence in Norwalk 3 (Warren County). Whether because of inadequate training or a deliberate choice to disregard rules, the temporary chair never held elections for a permanent chair and secretary. More troubling, he did not allow attendees to divide into preference groups by going to different areas of the room. Instead, he told everyone to stay seated in the bleachers of the school gymnasium, asked supporters of Martin O’Malley to raise their hands, counted them himself, and declared O’Malley not viable.
Ignoring objections from many who wanted to form separate groups and count themselves by sounding out loud, the precinct chair insisted on counting the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters the same way, asking for a show of hands and counting people in the crowded bleachers. My friend thought it likely this method produced an inaccurate count. However, she perceived that the delegates probably were allocated correctly. Roughly equal numbers of caucus-goers in Norwalk 3 supported Clinton and Sanders, and the precinct had an even number of delegates, so each candidate got the same number. In a precinct with an odd number of delegates, it would have been crucial to get the exact numbers for each supporter group, because an advantage of even one person would send an extra county delegate to that candidate.
If Nagle’s committee is open to all kinds of feedback, I suspect its members will hear from many Iowa Democrats who are not satisfied with the current system, especially the way converting large numbers of people into a few delegates can skew the results.
Fun for Iowa political history buffs: Before being elected to Congress, Nagle chaired the state party during an epic scheduling fight with the Democratic National Committee. The Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble interviewed Nagle about that controversy for episode 3 of his “Three Tickets” podcast series, starting around the 38:30 mark. Cliff’s Notes version: Iowa and New Hampshire stuck together to maintain an eight-day gap between the first caucuses and the first state primary. After some brinksmanship and arguments within Iowa Democratic circles, the caucuses went ahead a week before the DNC-sanctioned date. The DNC later backed down on threats not to seat our state’s delegates at the 1984 national convention.
Today’s state party leadership is more inclined to tell Iowans what the DNC or the New Hampshire secretary of state won’t let us do than to fight for something better. Here’s hoping the committee Nagle chairs will not be afraid to consider real change to make the caucuses more inclusive and representative.
Iowa Democratic Party press release, February 19:
Former Congressman & IDP Chair Dave Nagle to Lead Party’s Caucus Review Committee
Committee will continue IDP’s long-standing practice of working to improve the caucus process
DES MOINES—Iowa Democratic Party Chair Dr. Andy McGuire today named former Congressman and IDP chair Dave Nagle as chair of the party’s caucus review committee.
Earlier this month, McGuire announced that, in line with the party’s long tradition of working to improve the caucus process, she would convene a committee to conduct a full evaluation of the caucuses and to listen to the suggestions of Iowans all across the state. It is through a similar process that the party launched its first ever Tele-Caucus and satellite caucuses this year.
“I am thrilled to announce that our 2016 caucus review committee will be led by Dave Nagle, who has spent his career as both a Congressman and party chair working to strengthen the Democratic Party in Iowa,” said IDP Chair Dr. Andy McGuire. “Iowans take being first-in-the nation seriously, and that’s why the IDP has always made it a priority to listen to Iowans, learn from past experiences, and look for ways to improve our caucus process while preserving what makes it special and unique to our state. I am completely confident that our efforts this year on this front are in great hands with Dave Nagle.”
“It is an honor to be asked to lead the party’s caucus review committee and to continue the ongoing process of ensuring the Iowa caucuses advance and grow while maintaining their important role in the presidential and party-building process,” said Dave Nagle. “This committee will be guided by the proposals and ideas from Iowans in all corners of our state, and we will welcome all suggestions. I look forward to continuing the listening process and the work to make our Iowa caucus process even better.”
The caucus review committee will be formed in conjunction with the party’s State Central Committee, our partners and our allies. Additional details on the committee will be released in the coming weeks.