Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
One can hardly disagree after seeing democracy in action in Iowa.
To be honest, there were hardly any surprises when it came to the actual results of the Iowa caucus. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton eked out a razor-thin victory over Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley got so little support that he opted to end his campaign on the spot thereby crushing his dozens of supporters.
On the Republican side, Ted Cruz out-creepied Donald Trump to earn the victory with hard-charging Marco Rubio finishing a close third. Unfortunately, everyone’s favorite televangelist-turned-politician Mike Huckabee finished 9th place in a state he won eight years ago. He realized that instead of having him run for president, God actually wanted him to most return to Fox News… at least until the next election.
Now that the results are out of the way, let’s take a look at the good stuff.
First off, stories have emerged from the caucus process. For those unaware, the Iowa caucus is unique in that during its primary, citizens show up to one of 1,681 precincts where they hear speeches from either the candidates themselves or elected representatives of the candidates. On the Democratic side, candidates physically move into groups based on whom they support. If any candidate gets less than 15% support (looking at you, Martin O’Malley) then their supporters must then be “wooed” by another candidate who will pick up that support.
On the Republican side, after having heard the pitches by the candidate representatives, voters participate in a secret ballot where they vote for their candidate of choice. Eventually, results are tabulated and at the end of the night delegates are distributed based on overall precinct totals.
This process can lead to some outright crazy things. For starters, the candidates themselves have to try and target as many people across the state as possible and convince them to vote.
Ted Cruz did this in two unique ways. The first involved tried to publicly shame people by sending a controversial mailer that chronicled a person’s voting history and gave them a “grade” on their civic engagement. This course of action was rebuked by not only the Iowa Secretary of State, but also by several of Cruz’ fellow Republican candidates. Cruz’s second attempt saw he and his team of analysts look at certain issues which could help swing him votes. They actually found that they could potentially earn an additional 60 votes in Des Moines by campaigning to help legalize fireworks in the state.
It might not sound like much, but those 60 votes very well might have helped to put Cruz over the top in a hotly-contested race.
In addition to the candidates, the caucus itself has some, well, “interesting” procedures. These occur when there is discrepancy over a vote total or the vote is tied.
For example, there were initially 484 participants at a caucus site in Ames. However, after breaking into preference groups, the new count decreased to 424, meaning that 60 people somehow mysteriously disappeared… or they snuck out the back door to go smoke a bowl. Either way, the caucus site had no definite way of knowing who those caucus-goers would have chosen. So, a coin flip was used to determine which candidate would get the extra delegate.
Overall, this process was used at least six times, with Hillary Clinton remarkably winning all six coin flips. It should be noted that these coin flips were for county delegates and not state delegates and so no, Bernie Sanders did not lose Iowa because of a few unlucky coin flips.
And so that, ladies and gentlemen, is the Iowa caucus in a nutshell. Show up to a school because you’ve got a failing grade in democracy. Mingle with your neighbors. Have someone tell who you should vote for and why. Express your political preference. Try to convince/shame your neighbors to join your cause. Hand count people and ballots. Try not to lose any participants but if you do, have a coin ready to flip. Report the results to the proper officials. Go home. Relax. Wait four years until you do it all again.
And in the interim, just hope that President Cruz has avoided World War III.