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Author: Subject: Iowa- New Hampshire

Zen Peach





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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 09:33 PM
quote:
Iowa caucuses discourage participation by many voters
By Jodi Kantor

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


DES MOINES, Iowa: Jason Huffman has lived in Iowa his whole life. Lately he has been watching presidential debates on the Internet and discussing what he sees with friends and relatives. But when fellow Iowans choose their presidential nominees Thursday night, he will not be able to vote, because he is serving with the Iowa National Guard in western Afghanistan.

"Shouldn't we at least have as much influence in this as any other citizen?" Huffman wrote in an e-mail message.

He is far from the only Iowan who will be unable to participate.

Because the caucuses, held in the early evening, do not allow absentee voting, they tend to leave out nearly entire categories of voters: the infirm, soldiers on active duty, restaurant employees on the dinner shift, medical personnel who cannot leave their patients, parents who do not have babysitting and many others who work in retail, at gasoline stations and in other jobs that require evening duty.

As in years past, voters must present themselves in person, at a specific hour, and stay for as long as two. And if this caucus is anything like prior ones, only a tiny percentage of Iowans will participate. In 2000, the last year in which both parties held caucuses, 59,000 Democrats and 87,000 Republicans voted, in a state with 2.9 million people. In 2004, 124,000 people turned out for the Democratic caucuses.

The rules are so demanding that even Ray Hoffman, the chairman of the Iowa State Republican Party and a resident of Sioux City, cannot caucus Thursday night, because he has to be in Des Moines on party business.

Iowans begin the presidential nomination process, making choices among the candidates that can heavily influence the way the race unfolds. Now some people are starting to ask why the first, crucial step in the presidential nominating process is also one that discourages so many people from participating.

"It disenfranchises certain voters or makes them make choices between putting food on the table and caucusing," said Tom Lindsey, a high school teacher in Iowa City. He plans to attend this year, but his neighbors include a cook who cannot slip away from his restaurant job Thursday night and a mother who must care for her autistic child.

Caucuses are quirky electoral creations that depart from the usual civics-class ideas about fair elections. They are not run by the government, but by the state Democratic and Republican parties. The 1,781 caucuses that take place around the state are small community meetings, in which citizens gather, not only to choose candidates but also to conduct local party business.

Rather than secret ballots, there are public exchanges of opinions.

While the Republican caucuses are fairly simple - voters can leave them shortly after declaring their preferences - Democratic caucuses can require multiple hours and candidate preferences from voters. They do not adhere to any one-person one-vote rule, because votes are weighted according to a precinct's past level of participation. Ties can be settled by coin toss or by picking names out of a hat.

As states have jostled for early voting positions in the presidential contest, there has been loud debate about whether Iowa, mostly rural and white, should be first in line. But "just as nonrepresentative as Iowa is of the country, Iowa caucusgoers are nonrepresentative of Iowa as a whole," said Samuel Issacharoff, who teaches election law at New York University.

To many Iowans, the caucuses are a civic treasure, passed down from the farmers who introduced it nearly two centuries ago as a way of organizing themselves politically. In presidential elections increasingly dominated by slick ads and sound bites, the caucus promotes in-depth discussion of issues and earnest exchanges between neighbors. Because the caucus rules are more onerous than those of regular elections, the meetings tend to attract passionate, well-informed voters.

"It's magic to see people stand up and declare their support for a candidate, and it's a community activity," said Gordon Fischer, a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic party. But many Iowans have been dutifully watching presidential candidates all summer and autumn only to find themselves unable to participate on caucus night. Take Sally Kreamer, a single mother in Johnston, who says she cannot escape the pull of her children's dinner and homework. "I would love to participate," she said.

Or Carrie Tope, who works at a hospital emergency room in Ames and cannot find anyone to take her shift. She particularly wants to vote this year, she said, because things are so close.

Even some campaign volunteers "have bosses who say, we really need you at work that night," said Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, state director for John Edwards. "Unfortunately, they just aren't going to be able to participate," she said.

Scott Brennan, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said the party had no responsibility to ensure that voters can participate. "The campaigns are in charge of generating the turnout," he said. The voters who truly care, he said, will find their way to their precincts. As for Tope, the emergency room worker, "There's always next cycle," Brennan said.

Hoffman, his Republican counterpart, said he was resigned to the inequalities. "That's just the way it works," he said. (His own lack of participation is fine, he said, because he is neutral in the race).

In constitutional terms, the issue falls into a murky area. The Constitution promises no affirmative right to vote, just assurances that specific categories of people cannot be excluded. But because the parties do not collect demographic data, no one really knows who does and does not participate.

Besides, the caucuses are privately run by state parties, meaning that courts are reluctant to intervene in all but the most egregious cases.

Changing the rules might mean giving up Iowa's treasured status as first in the nation and also the attention that candidates lavish on it. "There is no incentive for Iowa to change this at all," Issacharoff said. "It corresponds to what Iowa wants, which is candidates spending time and resources in Iowa," to win supporters dedicated enough to conquer the obstacles to voting. If Iowa ever switched to a more formal system, it could run into a conflict with New Hampshire, which has a mandate to hold the first official primary.

So to preserve their early voting opportunities, Iowa party leaders must defend a system that does not allow many of its citizens to vote.

Occasionally there is a voice of dissent. Just before the 2004 caucus, a video surfaced in which Howard Dean of Vermont, then one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination, raised questions about whether the caucuses allowed sufficient participation.

"Say I'm a guy who's got to work for a living, and I've got kids," he said in the interview, which took place in 2000. "Do I have to sit in a caucus for eight hours?" Dean's opponents accused him of insulting the caucus process. He finished third.

Now, caucus mania is sweeping the state again, leaving some voters to observe closely a process that they say is closed to them. In recent weeks, Nick Okland has taken orders from Senators Joseph Biden and Christopher Dodd at Centro, a sleek Italian restaurant in Des Moines. He would like to vote for Ron Paul, he said, but he is putting himself through college and needs the tips the busy night will generate.

"We wait on all of them and then we can't go caucus," he said.




[Edited on 1/8/2008 by DerekFromCincinnati]

 

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Zen Peach



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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 10:17 PM
I have to agree...seems like an antiquated way of doing things.

It's cool that Iowa gets all the attention for being first, and I can see the argument of a small state having a large say in the matter, but I just wish it wasn't via a truly goofy method of doing it....

For the record, I'll be caucusing [is that a word?] tomorrow night, but I wouldn't shed a tear if the caucus went the way of the dodo....



[Edited on 1/3/2008 by Sandman]

 

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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 10:21 PM
I think I'll be watching CSpan's live caucus coverage tomorrow night.

The way I understand the Democratic Iowa caucus - the people go to their precinct and they choose their candidate. But if their candidate doesn't receive 15% of the "vote" at that precinct then those people get to go and "vote" for somebody else - which is kind of weird.

I really wish there could be more of a national primary. With so many early primaries/caucuses, the people who vote in March and later not only are going to have their choices limited as candidates drop out of the race, but it could be the late voting states won't even influence who the party nominees are going to be. Does this country really need Iowa and New Hampshire to carry such influence in picking our Presidential candidates?

 

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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 10:25 PM
quote:
I think I'll be watching CSpan's live caucus coverage tomorrow night.


Man, that'll be exciting

 

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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 10:28 PM
quote:
The way I understand the Democratic Iowa caucus - the people go to their precinct and they choose their candidate. But if their candidate doesn't receive 15% of the "vote" at that precinct then those people get to go and "vote" for somebody else


That is correct...you get to stand in your candidate's corner and for those that don't have the 15%, you get to try and bring them to your candidate's side...it's an interesting evening, that's for sure....

 

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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 10:33 PM
Who's the commie candidate you're pulling for?

 

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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 11:02 PM
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I have to agree...seems like an antiquated way of doing things.




It is Iowa......

 

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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 11:04 PM
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quote:
I have to agree...seems like an antiquated way of doing things.




It is Iowa......


And, apparently, Nevada

 

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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 11:06 PM
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I'll probably go, more out of curiosity than anything as I don't really have a candidate that I support yet.


You should definitely go, if only to say you (((((caucused))))

 

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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 11:09 PM
2,000,000 + folks live in IOWA??? WTF do they do there??? Watch the corn grow???

 

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  posted on 1/2/2008 at 11:11 PM
That, and tend to the pigs....the endless parade of pigs...the horror, the horror....

 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 02:34 PM
I see it both ways. On the one hand, I like the idea of midwestern folks who give a damn enough to go to a caucaus and deliberate and debate to see who they want to support, and forces politicians to get out and actually spend a lot of time meeting folks one on one in real America as opposed to LA and NYC and talk to folks on a down to Earth level that can't logistically happen in the bigger states. And, some Iowans do take the process seriously at a level higher than in other states.

On the other hand, the caucus process, as described in the article, is way too exclusionary, and Iowa, God Bless 'em, isn't exactly the most diverse state in the union. Sometimes it seems like the whole thing is one step away from a Stephen King novel. The infamous and legendary short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson comes to mind - http://jackson.classicauthors.net/lottery/


I still enjoy watching the process, however. Heck, you never know, as if Obama is close to upsetting Hillary by the time the West Virginia and Ohio primaries come around, I may grab a democratic ballot and vote accordingly to help tweak the upcoming national election. We'll see.

DH

 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 08:27 PM
CSpan caucus coverage on now, Republicans one channel and Democrats the other. Democratic one is pretty funny with people trying to get others to join their candidate's voting group. Republican caucus is pretty orderly and boring. Democrat caucus is like a swap meet.
 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 08:41 PM
I heard caucusing makes your palms hairy and may lead to blindness. It also may result in beer nuts, which is nothing more than the advanced stages of cotton balls.
 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 09:01 PM
Breaking news...

My caucus just finished:

Obama 132
Edwards 70
Clinton 67

No other candidate had enough suppport...

 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 09:04 PM
Huckabee wins Iowa for the Republican's.

 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 09:08 PM
It was a huge turnout for my precinct...easily twice as many people as 2004.

 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 09:15 PM
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No other candidate had enough suppport...



Is there a re-caucus for the votes that didn't get enough support, in other words all the other people that caucused for another candidate?

 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 09:22 PM
quote:
quote:
No other candidate had enough suppport...



Is there a re-caucus for the votes that didn't get enough support, in other words all the other people that caucused for another candidate?


That happened already during the caucus. First off, everyone went to their candidate's corner. Kucinich and Gravel each had one guy. I think Dodd had three people. Richardson had about 15 and Biden had 19. Plus there were about 20 undecided people as well. Then, they spent about 10 minutes trying to get those folks into the three candidates that had above the required 15%. Most of them went to Obama and a few went to Edwards.

It was an great turnout for Obama. Most of my neighbors were there supporting him as well. A great night for sure...


 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 09:24 PM
I can't believe I watched the caucuses instead of the VT-KU game, but really KU is whipping them anyway.

The way it went down on TV was like Joe Biden supporters got together and counted their people. They needed 15% which turned out to be some number like 50 or 60 at this particular precint. So then those people started to splinter and some made cases for their 2nd choice candidates. There were other people that I would call recruiters that went to the smaller candidate groups like Dodd and tried to get them to join another group.

So basically any Democratic candidate that didn't get 15% wasn't viable and nobody ended up sticking with them.

The caucus leaders then calculate how many people the viable candidates had and then they figure the delegates for those candidates. Like Clinton with 70 votes got 1 delegate from the precint CSpan was at. Then on March 15th those Delegates go and vote for the candidate they caucused for.

Republicans was had candidate spokespersons speak to the precint group and then people wrote their candidates name on a piece of paper given to them when they entered and they put that paper in an envelope. Everyone left except for a handful of workers that then counted all the pieces of paper. They showed all the counting on TV. I saw one slip for Alan Keys. Huckabee had a stackfull.

 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 09:25 PM
They just projected Obama as the winner...

Delegates from my precinct

Obama 5
Edwards 3
Clinton 2





[Edited on 1/4/2008 by Sandman]

 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 09:27 PM
Someone proposed for the future, 4 regional primaries. The order of voting would be rotated every 4 years. It makes sense to me. I forgot which Senator or Congressman proposed it but it obviously didn't get very far.

Iowa and New Hampshire get way too much say into what happens.

 

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  posted on 1/3/2008 at 09:37 PM
I kind of wish I could have caucused. Any Iowans near Clive? I like that Wildwood Inn off Rt 80 there, pretty cool place.

It is weird how the Democrat caucus works with people getting to pull people from one group to another. If I go to my primary and somebody said, hey that candidate you are voting for isn't going to win, pick somebody else. Something just seems wrong with that.

I knew it was very possible that Obama could win Iowa, but now that it has happened I'm a little more surprised that it was rather convincingly over Clinton.

The precint I watched on CSpan had Alen Keyes get 2 votes and Duncan Hunter 0 - I'm embarrassed! Hunter is putting all resources into New Hampshire, but come on Keyes 2, Hunter 0!

John McCain won the precint CSpan was at and Romney came in 2nd, Huckabee 3rd. If the Democtratic model was in place here, maybe Huckabee wouldn't have even been viable and then his supporters would have joined another candidate, obviously hurting his numbers and increasing his rivals. The whole outcome of the state might have been different, at the very least much closer.

 

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  posted on 1/4/2008 at 12:11 AM
Again there are 2 million people in IOWA???

 

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  posted on 1/4/2008 at 09:46 AM
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Again there are 2 million people in IOWA???


Actually, it's a lot closer to 3 million...but who's counting...

 

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