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Examining the Exclusionary Tendencies of the Iowa Caucuses

Posted: January 28, 2020 | By: Gabi Watkins Tagged: Blog

As the date of the caucus nears, it’s time to consider the long-standing criticisms associated with the closed contests. For those who advocate in favor of the caucuses, it’s usually on the grounds of party involvement and ideology. The argument is that those who set aside time to attend and pre-register with their party are more likely to be more involved in party affairs and to have a better gauge on which candidate is the “most qualified” nominee. There is also the issue of party business that is attended to after the polling process, as fears about individuals who would not ordinarily identify as Democrat or Republican get a say in how the party should function.

Since the caucuses are closed contests, individuals must be registered members of their respective parties to attend and participate. As more and more Americans are identifying as independents, registering with either party can be a tedious and unideal process for many potential voters. The caucuses also require participants to attend for an indiscriminate amount of time, something that may be impossible for the disabled, elderly, and members of the working class. While the Iowa Democratic Party has implemented “satellite caucuses” for the 2020 cycle, allowing people to attend earlier in the day, this does not adequately address the fact that certain members of the electorate are not able to be physically present for a set amount of time; something that could be remedied by the use of absentee ballots. As a result of these exclusionary components, caucuses have notoriously lower voter turnout than primaries – compare Iowa’s 2016 caucus turnout of 15.7 percent of the electorate to New Hampshire’s primary participation rate of 52.4 percent.

I recently attended a caucus training for my preferred candidate and was saddened when I heard an older woman inquire if her husband could still cast his vote. They had caucused together for the past 20 years, but now that he was diagnosed with cancer, he was rarely able to leave his bed. If you’ve been following me thus far, you’ll know that, unfortunately, her husband will not be able to attend the caucuses and his presidential preference will not be counted in any capacity as a result.

Every year Iowa has to defend its first in the nation status and is criticized for not being representative of the diversity of the nation. In my opinion, justifying Iowa going first becomes increasingly difficult to do as polling methods become less inclusive and more targeted towards certain members of the citizenry; partly due to the innately exclusionary tendencies of the caucus system. Iowa, and especially the Iowa Democratic Party, should reexamine the caucus process going forward, and should absolutely consider reforming the polling method into something more inclusionary and representative of the values they claim to hold so dear.