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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

An Iowa Afterthought

Over the weekend, Dana Goldstein posted a thoughtul piece on the American Prospect site about the disorganized and arguably unfair conduct of the Iowa Caucus site she monitered. Though I didn’t much convey it during my hurried live-blogging of Des Moines Precinct 19 on Caucus night (in part because I was typing with my laptop wedged at a crazy angle in a fire extinguisher alcove at the margins of the room, and was constantly moving to avoid obstructing the actual participants), my own experience paralleled hers.
Precinct 19 shared the site with Precinct 43, but there was virtually no signage indicating who should go where, and the party had not provided maps to indicate precinct lines (fortunately, one Biden and one Obama supporter had maps, if you lucked into encountering them in the midst of the chaotic crowd shuffling into the school). The room set aside for Precinct 19 was totally inadequate, with participants spilling into the corridor and beyond, where some could not have possibly heard the precinct chairman’s explanation of the process. The doors obviously had to remain open throughout the proceedings, and there was no monitoring of comings and goings, or indeed, whether participants had formally registered.
Since there was no space for separating preference groups, at least two (Kucinich and Clinton) were sent out into the adjoining lobby. This seriously handicapped the HRC effort when “realignment” began, since they couldn’t personally persuade supporters of non-viable candidates without luring them out of the room. And the entire preference group process underlined the most obvious difference between Caucuses and primaries: the absence of a secret ballot.
Candidate precinct captains for each campaign were allowed to conduct counts of their supporters without any official verification (at one point, the precinct chairman patiently explained to one captain how to efficiently conduct a hand count). And there were definite disparties in the quality of campaign preparation. I overheard one of the three HRC supporters who appeared to be in charge of her precinct operation ask a bystander at one point: “What happens next?” And the Biden captain convinced about half of his group to refuse to realign behind a second choice, on the dubious theory that this stubborn fidelity would be reflected in the “raw counts.”
Maybe my and Dana’s concerns are irrelevant in terms of the actual outcome, but given the consequences of Edwards’ razor-thin delegate margin over Clinton, a lot of small mistakes and accidents could have easily added up to a big effect on the presidential nominating process. I’m sure that there will be another debate after the nomination is decided about the caucus and primary calendar and Iowa’s iron grip on a highly disproportionate role. But however that turns out, if Iowa is still “first in the nation” in 2012, I hope both parties pay more attention to the need for sufficient space and direction to enable Iowans to know what they are doing for or to the rest of us.

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