Experiencing the Caucus



Iowa Caucus precinct workers count and tally Iowa Democratic Caucus votes by hand as caucus votes are counted after a Democratic presidential caucus at West Des Moines Christian Church in West Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., February 3, 2020. Picture taken February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Lily Pumphrey

Having recently turned 18, I was super excited to caucus for the first time. I’m glad I got the opportunity before leaving for college because Iowa is a particularly important state when it comes to caucusing. Because Iowa is the first to caucus, the results tend to set the tone for the rest of the election. Also, Iowa has historically been good at predicting who the presidential nominee will be. A win in Iowa can really propel a candidate forward. With this in mind, I set out to caucus. 

Because I technically live in Knoxville, my caucus location was the Harvey community center. My mom and I arrived about 30 minutes early, and she went in to register. I hung around, and was eventually approached by a representative working with the Warren campaign. There were two representatives from the Warren campaign, and both had travelled from New York, and one representative from the Sanders campaign, who was from Minnesota. All of the representatives I talked to were really nice, even though I didn’t plan to caucus for their candidates.

In total, 20 people arrived to caucus (none of the representatives were allowed to caucus). After we had been counted, we split into preference groups. Harvey has two representatives, which means that two people representing two candidates can move on to the next stage of caucusing. In order to obtain a representative, the candidate preference group had to be viable. Generally, in order to be viable, the candidate preference group needs to represent about 15% of the total people in attendance. For us, this threshold was 5. 

After splitting into preference groups, Buttigieg and Klobochar were viable. The other candidates who were represented at my caucus were Sanders and Warren. After splitting into initial preference groups, those of us in viable groups (Buttigieg and Klobochar) were asked to stay in place, while those of us in non-viable groups were given several options. Those in non-viable groups could join a viable group, remain with their candidate (and not obtain a representative), or form a new group. Several people decided to join a viable group, while some remained with their candidate. In the end, Buttigieg and Klobochar each obtained one representative, as they were the two largest viable groups. At this point,  the two viable groups selected one member of their group each to represent their candidate at the next stage of caucusing.

I’m glad I decided to caucus; I learned a lot about the process and felt like I was truly involved in and influential upon politics. A lot of the time, the goings-on in Washington seem pretty distant to me. Sure, I can vote, but what influence does an eighteen year-old working a minimum wage job really have on politics? It’s easy to feel insignificant, or like your opinion doesn’t matter. Caucusing is a unique opportunity to feel involved. The race between the Democratic candidates is currently very close, and every vote matters. Given my experience, I encourage everyone, Democrat or Republican, to caucus.