On Thursday night, the nation watched as Iowans began the presidential selection process. The choices made can deeply influence how the race will unfold for each candidate and determine who will lead our nation. This past year, as states competed for early positions in the presidential contest, greater scrutiny over Iowa’s process developed.
In every other state during a primary election, voters cast individual ballots at polls. In Iowa, registered voters attend caucuses for their political party which are located in churches, libraries, schools or individual homes. At the Republican caucuses, participants listen briefly to campaigning for each candidate then cast their vote by ballot or by a show of hands.
At the Democratic caucuses, participants must arrive at their designated location a specific time and stay for as long as two hours. Voters have up to 30 minutes to divide themselves into preference groups based on candidate. During this time, individuals can attempt to persuade other people to join their group. At the end of this initial period, it is determined whether groups carry a viable number of attendees. Any preference group that is not viable is given an additional 30 minutes to lobby support for their preferred candidate, realign themselves and/or merge with other groups. Once preference groups are viable, the caucus chair determines the number of county convention delegates for each group.
Supporters of this format argue that caucuses encourage civic engagement. In an era of mudslinging ads and sound bites, a caucus creates the opportunity for a public exchange of ideas and opinions. Critics point out that it is precisely the public nature of process that is problematic. Voters may end up feeling pressured into voting the same way as family members or employers. Many argue that because absentee ballots are not allowed, the process is inherently discriminatory against certain groups such as working class individuals, single parents, and armed service men and women serving overseas.
Does Iowa’s caucus process promote a more participatory democracy? Are there other merits or flaws to this system? Would you be willing or reluctant to engage in a similar process? Does the system unfairly exclude segments of the population? Given the unconventional process, does Iowa have too much influence over the national outcome of the primary elections?
For more informaiton, please contact Kristin Millikan at 312.422.5580.