MT. PLEASANT — The Henry County Democrats held a “mock caucus” Sunday, Nov. 3, to practice what they will do on caucus night, Feb. 3, 2020.
Henry County Democratic Party chairman Jeff Fager organized the mock caucus because the party has instituted new rules. He invited Hal Goetz, Iowa Democratic Party district director for the Second District, to come to Henry County to explain the new rules.
The Henry County Democrats met in Iowa Wesleyan University’s Social Hall. Instead of asking the participants to select their preferred presidential candidates as they would on caucus night, Fager substituted the names of popular desserts. For instance, those who liked key lime pie were asked to congregate around one table, those who liked cheesecake to congregate around another, and so on. Fager said he liked doing a non-political run-through of the caucus process to avoid needless confrontations before the real caucus night.
The biggest change for this upcoming caucus compared to prior caucuses is that participants will be required to write-down their candidate preferences on a piece of paper. In the past, voters would congregate around the table of their preferred candidate. The candidate had to receive at least 15 percent of the votes of those present in order to be considered “viable.” If the candidate was not viable, their supporters had to move to a candidate who was.
After this second round of sorting, the chair counted how many people supported each candidate. This determined how many delegates that candidate would be able to send to the county and district conventions, and ultimately affect the number of delegates that candidate would send to the national convention held in the summer when the nominee is chosen.
Goetz explained that the Democratic National Committee told the Iowa Democratic Party that it needs to be able to perform a recount on the caucus results. Since the process was fairly informal before with no ballots of any kind, this was not possible. That’s why the Iowa Democratic Party has introduced a ballot of sorts to the 2020 caucus.
This time around, when voters attend their local caucus, they will receive a piece of paper. They must fill out their name, voting address, and city, along with their top choice for president.
After the first round of voting, those who are supporting non-viable candidates must pick a different candidate, or encourage the supporters of other non-viable candidates to come to their side. Under earlier rules, anyone could switch their preference at this point by moving to another candidate’s table. However, the new rules stipulate that if voters select a candidate and that candidate remains viable after the first round, they cannot switch to another candidate.
The supporters of non-viable candidates can band together so that a candidate who was not viable at the end of the first round has enough supporters after the second round that they meet the 15 percent threshold. Supporters of non-viable candidates also have the option of dropping out altogether if they are dissatisfied with the remaining choices. However, those who drop out at that point will not be allowed to vote on delegates to the county convention.
After the second round of realignment, only the viable candidates will remain. Those voters who had to move from their first choice to their second choice will flip over the piece of paper and write the name of the candidate they moved to.
This paper trail will allow the Iowa Democratic Party to know how many votes a particular candidate received after the first round, and how many they received after realignment.
These slips of paper must be signed and turned into the county parties. If the Iowa Democratic Party or the national party requests a recount, these are the ballots they will rely on.
Another significant change is that the IDP will allow for “satellite” caucuses, for people who cannot attend their local caucus. These are especially useful for those living in nursing homes, or perhaps those staying at a hospital. They can even be organized at out-of-state colleges and overseas. Under the new rules, voters in these satellite caucuses will be able to participate just like all the other voters. The only difference is that they will not elect delegates to the county convention, just the district and state conventions.
One type of caucus that Iowans will not see is a “virtual” caucus. A virtual caucus was a plan put forward by the Iowa Democratic Party to allow people to participate in caucuses through teleconferences or online in the week leading up to the caucus, but the DNC recommended not adopting this over security concerns.