Iowa is getting a bad rap. They held their caucuses and they tried to upgrade using an app and it failed them. Sounds like some of the apps I tried, found wanting, and deleted. In the wake of the confusion many leaders in the Democratic party and the media are calling for Iowa to get rid of its “archaic” mode of counting votes . I disagree.
As illustrated by Michael Barbaro, host of the New York Times podcast “The Daily,” there is a clear process for the voting caucuses. Voters arrive at a set place and time, check-in, and then proceed to the location of their preferred candidate. If a particular candidate does not have at least 15% of those gathered in the room, they have to move and find another candidate. There is lots of conversation and efforts to persuade others to come to support this or that candidate. After the jockeying is over, then the totals of the remaining candidates are notes and reported in. Everyone goes home after two hours of grassroots democracy.
The problem in Iowa was not the caucuses, but the reporting system. The app that was going to make it all quick and efficient turned it into a mess. The voters in Iowa did their part, but when the app failed, they did not have a good plan B, a backup reporting system in place. This frustrated all the pundits in the media who wanted to be the first to “call Iowa.” They wanted a quick report, clean efficient, clear.
The problem is that is not how democracy works, real democracy.
While I am not from Iowa, I have participated in the caucus system in Minnesota. I found it to be a fascinating experience of grassroots democracy. People come together, often with neighbors, co-workers, and others they know and talk about issues and candidates. It can be deep, congenial and informative. And you have to make tough decisions – do I support this person or that one? go here or there? Sometimes the determining factor was an issue, at other times a particular candidate. But I felt like I was working with my fellow citizens in the way it was designed to be.
Minnesota has vacillated between using primaries and caucuses during the presidential elections years. This year they will have a primary, where people come and vote. My year, 1988, they had both! And the caucuses and the primaries came up with different candidates for governor on the Republican side, so that year there were 3 candidates: Two Republicans and one Democrat, and the caucus Republican won!
I have grown weary of the way the major parties try to control the process. By many accounts, Bernie Sanders might have won the Democratic nomination in 2016, but the party bosses wanted Hillary. Nothing wrong with Senator Clinton; she would have done far better than #45, but its for the people to decide, not the party bosses.
What I like about the caucus system is even if your first choice candidate is not viable, you have an opportunity to support another candidate. In the primaries, you are one and done, and the voter often faces the terrible choice of having to decide between the candidate they really like vs. the one they think has a chance to win. Why not give us all two rounds? Serve coffee and donuts the second time, so we can sit around and talk about why we are voting for our candidate. How about having a real conversation rather than a posting of Facebook or a Twitter storm attacking the other person’s favorite. Maybe we would not have such pol;arization if we actually talked to each other as citizens rather “flame” each other on social media. Coming together usually leads to greater civility.
Don’t blame Iowa – they were just doing their part. Yes, it is messy and time-consuming, but that’s democracy. Get over it!