Monday night was a first for me. Even though I've lived in Iowa my whole life, I've never been to a caucus. That changed the other night, when I was assigned to cover Precinct 2.
My lack of experience doesn't stem from not caring about politics. Sure, it can sometimes be mentally draining and the campaign ads get old, but I still know the importance voting plays in our society.
However, when I was younger and first registered to vote, I didn't know enough about the system and party platforms to feel as though I should register with either party. As I got older and more involved in the operations of the newspaper, I have felt, as a member of the press, it would be prudent to officially remain independent. Thus, no caucuses as a participant.
I've also never had to cover one. In previous cycles, I've been in the office, working behind the scenes, helping to collect results, laying out pages or at the very least communicating with our designers on what was going on and what pieces of information needed to go where in the paper.
So, prior to Monday evening, staff writer Chiara Elena Romero and I had a meeting with Managing Editor Matt Milner about how the process works, what to expect and what type of coverage he was looking for.
At this point, I felt I knew what to expect of the process. Asking people for their thoughts, however, felt a little intimidating. I try to avoid discussing politics in public, so outright asking people who they were supporting and why seemed a bit daunting.
It wasn't as bad as I thought, though. The people were very polite, and those willing to speak gave me a lot of good stuff I was able to bring back to the office. Even those who didn't care to talk to me were very polite about it.
The process was intriguing to watch. It took a while to get going — I got there right when the doors opened, and people were still signing in a bit past 7 p.m., so that hour is when I went around and felt people out.
Once things got underway, there was some general business that had to be taken care of before the "real" action started. Most of the people came in and sat near their preferred candidate's area — the precinct had established those before people arrived — so there wasn't a huge rush of movement when it was time to align.
The counting, from what I could see, was done very carefully. The precinct captain counted people off while the precinct secretary watched to make sure everyone got counted. All counting was done out loud as well, and if there was any doubt over whether people got missed, the counting for that group started over. Everything was very open. The two officials, in the interest of transparency, even shared who they were caucusing for when it was time to align.
But what impressed me the most about the evening was there were no outright confrontations. It's politics, and there's a gurantee people are going to have differences of opinions. These neighbors gathered together to discuss one of those topics we're told "never to discuss" and shared their thoughts in friendly ways. There was no animosity that I saw.
In fact, many of those who spoke on behalf of presidential candidates stated that even if the caucus-goers didn't support their candidate, they were happy to see them out participating in the process.
Hopefully, the delay of the results doesn't end Iowa's tradition. Let's hope lessons are learned and the process gets better.