Since the results from Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location in New Hampshire have come in, I thought I might share my experience from the previous contest.
Since I am a student at Grinnell College, I am eligible to vote in Iowa and have registered to vote there and only there. My first ballot was cast last November for the elections held then including the Congressional and Gubernatorial elections. However, the 2008 election cycle was a bit more important to me as it is the first Presidential election held after my 18th birthday. So, I wanted to not only ensure that I picked the best candidate to back, but that I did more than just cast my vote.
Over the summer I decided that Barack Obama was probably the best candidate, and as time went on, I became more certain of this, so when classes started, I looked to join the Grinnellians for Obama group which basically served as a group to campaign for Barack Obama’s candidacy on campus as well as working with the actual campaign, Obama for America, in volunteering for canvassing and phone banking sessions.
It became a rather large part of the fall semester. I would canvass some part of Grinnell and occasionally the neighboring town of Brooklyn, IA. During Grinnell’s one week fall break, I did a mini-internship, which basically meant that I participated in full-time canvassing and phone banking. During our ongoing winter break, I spent four days with my family, in which we went skiing, exchanged gifts, and visited my grandfather.
The day after Christmas, I headed back to Grinnell, catching a ride with a fellow member of Grinnellians for Obama who was doing the same thing. The following day, the collection of volunteers set up our new campaign office, which had largely been funded out-of-pocket by our local field organizer, Matt La Rocque:
On December 31, we hosted a Michelle Obama event, which was aired on C-SPAN. at the Mayflower, one of Grinnell’s senior centers that also served as a precinct caucus location for Ward 3 of Grinnell. Here is a picture of Alice Breemer, one of our strongest supporters in the community, introducing Michelle Obama:
We continued to do canvassing and phone banking until the day of the caucus, when we did some of that, but we focused more on “visibility canvassing” which was basically just waving signs on street corners and setting up de facto booths at restaurants and cafes. We were all excited and nervous for the evenings caucus and most of us had an outlook that could be described as “cautiously optimistic”
The caucus finally came. At 6:00 people started to filter into the Harris Center on the Grinnell College campus, which was to serve as the precinct caucus location for Ward 1 of Grinnell. The Harris Center has two main rooms: a “concert center”, which was basically a big room with a stage and a “cinema”, which was an auditorium with a screen in front over which movies were frequently projected and a stage.
Those who arrived early were sent to the auditorium to wait until the caucus opened to voter registration and check in. When it did, I turned in an already completed registration form, which re-registered me as a Democrat from the previous “No Party” selection I had made in my initial registration.
I went into the concert center and with some of the other early arrivers supporting Obama, we picked spot near the back of the room for Obama supporters to congregate. I eventually took up the duty of handing out “Standing with Obama” stickers next to stickerers for Edwards, Clinton, Richardson, and Dodd near the entrance to the concert center. I gave away quite a few stickers and it was clear that many of the attendees were going to be caucusing for Obama.
When the doors closed shortly after 7:00, the caucus chair, Don Smith announced that there were 484 caucus attendees, which was less than previous years, when the caucuses were held while classes were in session at Grinnell, attendances which had gone to earn Grinnell Ward 1 the most delegates of any precinct in the state: 37. But the turnout of students was impressive nonetheless.
Tallies for initial alignment were performed by sending preference groups to the auditorium in separate waves, where they could be counted by the number of complete rows they filled rather than doing a manual head count of 484 people. The first group to be sent there was the Biden group, who were instructed to fill in seats starting from the front of the auditorium in the 14-seat per row central section.
The next direction was for the Obama group to head to the auditorium and fill in the same section from the back of the auditorium. “If I’m correct, there will be a gap between the Obama and Biden groups.” Don Smith said.
He was not correct. The Obama group had filled in gap with more to be seated, so the Biden group, which had about 50 members, short of the 73 necessary for viability, was sent back to the concert center so that the Obama group could fill in the rest of the center section seats, with a good deal of overflow that stood on the stage in front. As we were doing that, the Edwards and Clinton groups filed into the smaller left and right sections of the auditorium respectively.
As they did so, several of us noted with surprise that the Clinton group only had 42 members, making them non-viable, a pleasant surprise for many of us in the Obama group. We headed back to the concert center to find that only the Obama group and the Edwards group were viable. During the subsequent realignment, which I suspect was a bit less orderly than in smaller caucuses as there was not enough space to form well defined groups in the concert center, most of the Dodd and Richardson groups banded with the Biden group under the Biden banner, perhaps with a delegate deal and after losing quite a few of its members, the bulk of the Clinton group decided to join the Edwards group. Most of the Kucinich group joined the Obama group, as well as a small portion of the attendees from other groups.
For the realigned count, only the Obama group was sent to the auditorium, where we filled most of the seats and were recounted. We were informed by one of our precinct captains, Alice Breemer, that there were 261 in our group and that that constituted 54% of those in attendance, which would unofficially give us a delegate count of 20. After confirmation with Don Smith, they announced that we actually had 57% of the remaining caucus-goers, and thus were entitled to 21 delegates.
When it came to deciding who was to be a delegate, I volunteered with roughly 20 others in the group. We asked for a few more to become alternates and some reluctantly came forward. We wrote our names and phone numbers down and the group voice voted us in. We then took the results to Don Smith to formalize them and most of the caucus-goers left.
I joined the more active members to listen to the mundane items at the end of the caucus. During this whole process, people had been checking the state-wide results via text messaging with friends and relatives, so a few minutes before the remaining attendees (a rather small group) formally approved the delegates, we heard that CNN had projected Obama as the winner. When I saw my field organizer, he gave me a bear hug, just saying “We won!”
So, that is how I became a delegate to the Poweshiek County Convention in March, where I will be electing delegates to go to the District and State Conventions, where the state delegates will be picked.
It was a pretty good night for me.