The Iowa Caucuses were chaotic before we even thought we’d get results.
A few months ago, I got the opportunity to make it out to Iowa for the first official vote for the 2020 presidential election. And just this past week, I made it out to Iowa with about 45–50 other students, all hoping to try and understand this political process better. Before getting there, I re-read the rules and guidelines for the caucuses, knowing that I would inevitably get even more confused when I arrived. You can find the more detailed rules synthesized here, but the general gist is people align themselves by the candidate they want and need to reach 15% to get any delegates.
I hadn’t ever been to Iowa until we made it on Sunday afternoon, and it honestly did not feel physical like there was a massive event the next day. The streets of Des Moines were empty that night, but you could just feel the energy building as you saw or walked by anyone. Talking to Lyft and Uber drivers all weekend, I was just fascinated hearing what they had to say about caucusing, and singlehandedly the main thing I heard was this: often people don’t going caucus because it takes too much time. For as much power this first statement by the American people Iowa is, the fact that only around 200,000 people usually turn out to caucus is disturbing, to say the least. It doesn’t just speak to the fact that voting is often inaccessible (Iowa caucuses on a Monday), but this election process does not do enough to bring out people in the sort of resounding way we would hope.
I did initially find it funny that I did meet Tom Steyer on caucus day kind of randomly. We ended up swinging by his last canvass launch, and he was rocking his iconic plaid tie and a bright belt. That start to the morning was in many ways an indicator for the caucus we would attend that night: organized disorganization. That makes no sense, but in many ways, I would like to think of the caucuses process like that. You tell people to have to make their voting preferences known in the public amongst family, friends, even their employer. I’m not insinuating that you would get fired for voting a certain way, but you cannot deny that the requirement to have to vote in such a public way only further hurts and deters people from speaking for what they truly believe in.
When I saw first-hand how easy it could have been for one of us students to just jump in and participate in caucusing, begin making arguments for certain candidates, I realized how utterly flawed this process is. This was before we started seeing the errors in reporting. We were expecting to see results start to roll in around 8–9 PM, just as they had in years past. But we didn’t hear back from anything until 62% of the results were put out on Wednesday. Besides the obvious mistakes in awarding delegates by the Iowa Democratic Party, the amount of misrepresentation by the media of proclaiming this race is over when there are so many flaws is just not an honest way to report for citizens. The work done by independent reporters and journalists, now backed with stories written for the New York Times and other publications, continue to push for a re-tabulation of the results.
With every election cycle comes the discussion of moving Iowa both away from the caucus model and down the primary schedule. And while the reasons are justified on so many levels for so many reasons, like the states’ lack of diversity, things may never change because no one yet has been able to put together a substantive plan to make that change. For now, we can only continue to view Iowa as the undemocratic spectacle that our electoral college is, continuing to not represent not just the vast majority of their citizen’s views, but not function as a direct outlet for our democracy.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Iowa and learned a whole lot, but if there’s one thing to take away it’s this: American voting processes will continue to innately disenfranchise and prevent people to speak in an equal way unless there are policy changes to make it no longer that way. We will continue to feel frustrated by these mechanisms until we want to make changes to those rules, the rules that do not make us all truly equal.
Being Noah Tesfaye #118: My Time in Iowa on Caucus Day
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