Caucus, Politics, and Politicking

I had an unusual night at the caucus. It’s not my first time at a caucus. My parents instilled in me a duty to the civic process, and they took me with them to caucus when we moved to Iowa. I was 14, and I didn’t do more than observe and hand out door prizes. (I think it was a county caucus, but I may be mistaken. It was a long time ago.

Many people went for the first time, including a group of college students who sat near me and a quiet guy in the corner. Two women (who hid their faces for the picture and cracked me up) may have supported different candidates but they were friendly and simply worried about what all the republicans they knew would say.

I’ll admit I’m a registered democrat. I don’t hold it against people if they are in another party. This is one of the things about democracy and allowing each person to have a vote and a say. (My husband is a registered republican. That might be what keeps both of us involved in the political process. We have to cancel each other out.)

The republican process has been simplified to not allow for discussion and realignment. Whether you call this progress or say they’re no longer allowed to talk it out is up for debate. I only know their process is different.

The democratic side goes as it always has: you arrive and find your group – there were four choices (Clinton, O’Malley, Sanders, Undecided). In the past – and I caucused every year except four years ago because I had a newborn (born Jan 13) and I wasn’t up to it – these proceedings have been quite civil. People come together, they share the letters from candidates and some of their own experiences with those candidates, and everyone woos groups that are not viable (less than the minimum required to get a delegate, and generally this is the undecided group). Then we elect delegates and occasionally there are other petitions that need to be dealt with, and everyone goes home.

Last night, there were over 180 people in the library of my daughter’s school. At first there were 179 in our count, but then one of the people running the caucus as the temporary chair and secretary realized he hadn’t signed himself in when he signed in everyone else. *facepalm* Once that was settled, we still had 6 ‘ghosts’ who had been counted toward one or another group but did not actually exist in the log.

I say there were more than that, because there were representatives for some of the candidates who were not registered to vote in my district, and we also had some observers from an Illinois high school who had to be sent into the hall to be sure they were not counted among the voters. I am not certain how many of them were there, but they were civil, quiet, and did everything they were asked.

To be a viable group, you had to have 27 people (15% of the count). Once the count for each group had been done about three times and we had only one ‘ghost’ – the count was Clinton 99, Sanders 67, O’Malley 8, Undecided 7. (If you’re curious, Sanders and Undecided were the only ones who could count correctly the first time. Yes, I know that equals 181 but it really wouldn’t change the math with one ghost.) With two groups that were not viable, there was a realignment. It was already 8:00 and we had been there an hour and I think everyone was frustrated that no one trying to do an official count could reach the proper number.

Somewhere during this time, someone said something without the mike (which meant most of the room could not hear it, and several people in the area ducked away like someone was going to throw a punch. I was sitting ten feet away and didn’t hear it, but we talked about that – because why would a fight break out over little numbers?

I sat with my four year old son, and he was playing quietly and climbing on bookshelves. (we were in a library!) I encouraged three college boys to go talk to people who might realign with our group. I encouraged the man next to me (his wife was undecided) to go try to get her to realign as well. At that point my son had misstepped off a chair while I stood to be counted a third time, and I needed to soothe him.

The man came back without being able to convince his wife, but she did realign with a party, it seemed. The college students came back after trying to talk to people civilly about why they supported their candidate and mentioned they had been branded slanderously as Trump supporters. (WHAT? That’s not okay!)

During this time, the caucus math was announced that if nothing changed, it would be 4 delegates to the next stage and it sat 2 Sanders and 2 Clinton. And even if all the unviable groups went to either group that would not change. So a knot of Clinton people went to O’Malley to make it viable, changing the delegates to Clinton 2, Sanders 1, and O’Malley 1. This was seen as deliberate politicking to take that candidate from Sanders without actually changing the alignment people who had moved.

More grumbling as delegates were chosen. They (chair and secretary who supported O’Malley) also announced only as the group became viable that once a group was viable it could not be absorbed by another. This increased feelings that the Clinton supporters who switched had only done it to change the candidates.

Each group requires a delegate and an alternate. The county/district caucus will be March 12. It isn’t me – though for a moment I might have been nominated. I do hope it was one of O’Malley’s actual supporters who went as delegate, rather than one of the fake Clinton switchers.

The Sanders leader in the room tried to reabsorb some other people until he figured out he couldn’t make the group unviable. He tried everything he could think of to get the delegates back to 2-2, except, of course, sending enough Sanders supporters to the undecided group to make it viable the way the Clinton people had done with O’Malley.

All in all, my favorite moment is when I drove home and my son said, “more music, more music,” when he heard Hello by Adele come on the radio. And when I upped it, he spread his arms wide and said, “Crescendo!” Maybe I’ll start a political story next. Sure, it’s been done before and it’ll be done again, but it’s worth pursuing to change our minds and our own politics. And there’s no doubt it’ll be some sort of speculative fiction.

Happy Groundhog’s Day to all!