A Look Inside The Iowa Caucus

Photo courtesy of Bobbi Jo Rohrberg

Photo courtesy of Bobbi Jo Rohrberg

We had two writers in the same small, Iowa town last night. Here is how it went down in Glenwood.  

By Bobbi Jo Rohrberg

With winter storm and blizzard warnings looming over the state, a record-setting 180,000 Iowans headed out Monday night to take part in the GOP Caucus. Our local voting precinct has multiple wards and my particular ward met in the cafeteria of our local high school. You must be a registered Republican in order to vote in the caucus, but rest assured–you can register to vote right there on the spot, and have your name added to the voting rolls.

Once you’ve checked in, it is time to find a seat. Our caucus site was a packed house–our Caucus Chair noted that attendance had literally tripled from the number who caucused back in 2012. Tables were adorned with signs, stickers and pamphlets touting the various Presidential candidates. When the clock struck seven, it was time to get started. Being traditional, our caucus started with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by an invocation (prayer). Then our temporary Caucus Chair called for nominations for a permanent Caucus Chair to run the meeting and a Caucus Secretary to record results.

Once leadership was established, the real caucusing began. Upon check-in, voters could sign up to speak for their candidate of choice. At this time, the assigned Time Keeper called each person up one at a time, going alphabetically by the candidate’s last names, to speak for a maximum of two minutes each. At our site, people volunteered to speak for Bush, Carson, Cruz, Fiorina, Kasich, Paul, and Rubio. Each person kept their speech focused on their candidate versus attacking other candidates–they call us Iowa Nice for a reason.


Photo courtesy of Bobbi Jo Rohrberg

This entire process was completed in 25 minutes. Once speeches were completed, voting began. Caucus-goers were given paper ballots upon check-in, with the names of all GOP candidates listed. Due to record turnout, some late-arrivals received blank pieces of paper on which they wrote the name of their candidate of choice. All ballots were collected in a simple cardboard box and taken to the counting table. I was one of two people chosen to observe the counting process and verify results. While votes were being counted, the Caucus Chair asked for volunteers to be delegates to the County GOP Convention next month. I was one of several named as delegates. Junior Delegates are also allowed to attend the convention. They must be between 12-18 years old. My son was one selected to serve as a Junior Delegate.

By the time delegates were named, the counting was complete. Senator Rubio won our caucus, followed by Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Senator Cruz. Every other candidate got five or fewer votes, with former Governors Mike Huckabee and Jim Gilmore receiving zero votes. The results were immediately sent on to the State GOP. Just like that our caucus was over, lasting less than an hour. By morning the candidates and the media will be on to New Hampshire, but for one night, the eyes of the nation were on us here in Iowa.

At a Hillary rally on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Katrina Markel

At a Hillary rally on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Katrina Markel

By Katrina Markel

My caucus was almost anti-climactic. This is the first time I've lived in Iowa as an adult and the build-up seemed so much more exciting. On caucus night  we basically sat in the Middle School library and had a business meeting.

Occasionally caucuses are dramatic and emotional and I'm sure that happened in some places.   I have a friend who chaired a big Des Moines caucus when Barack Obama won in 2008 and she said cheers went up when she cast her vote for him.  The Democrats do not do secret ballots.

Our ward was chaired by a city councilman and we split into two groups. There were no undecided voters and no O’Malley voters. Twenty-two people sat on the Bernie side of the room and seventeen  people sat on the Hillary side of the room. The Bernie Sanders voters were younger by far.   We didn’t speak or have to convince anyone to come to our side, which happens in some precincts. Our ward was straightforward.

It was heartening to see politically engaged teens and young adults.   For me, it was a lovely chance to reconnect with people I’ve known since I was a child, but mostly  haven’t seen since I moved back home. It was also an opportunity for the Democrats in an overwhelmingly Republican county  to connect with each other.  

"Oh, you're one of us!  There aren't many of us around these parts," people seemed to say.

As I left the middle school I chatted with one of the the first Latino families to arrive in the community.   We discussed the weakening of unions and how Donald Trump is bringing the xenophobes out of the woodwork.   When I returned home I was relieved to see that  Trump  didn't win the state for the GOP. In fact, it was the two Latino candidates who  gave him a good run for his money. We may be an overwhelmingly white state, but Iowans have a history of fairness, decency and equality. Thank God we didn't throw that away by handing a win to a candidate who trades on fear of the 'other.'

This morning I woke up to an Iowa blanketed in snow, but the blizzard held off just long enough for my little state to have its quadrennial day in the sun.

Photo courtesy of Katrina Markel

Photo courtesy of Katrina Markel