BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – It wasn’t the way Iowa wanted to start the 2020 national presidential campaign.
With results of Iowa’s delegates, and now first preference reporting, still unavailable as of 11 p.m., national news media outlets were off and running, railing against the Iowa Democratic Party’s handling of the first-in-the-nation contest.
Lee County Democratic Chair Mary Jo Reisberg didn’t get her precinct’s numbers reported until 11:15 p.m. But Fort Madison 2nd Ward chair Bob Morawitz wasn’t able to report his precinct numbers until almost 11:30 p.m.
Reisberg said the IDP had an app that could be downloaded to personal phones to be used for reporting, but she wasn’t able to use the phone and was on the backup phone reporting system for close to 2.5 hours.
She said she assumed the party ran a test of some kind, but said there were difficulties.
“We, the users, had varying degrees of difficulty downloading it. If we were successful with the download, there were problems signing in, so for the users, there wasn’t the type of preview you usually have with a reporting app,” she said.
She said one person in Lee County used the app successfully, but she only knew of one.
Reisberg was the precinct chair of Keokuk’s 3rd precinct and said Buttigieg won two delegates along with Elizabeth Warren. Sanders and Biden each earned one.
But locals said the system ran fairly smoothly and was typical of Iowa caucuses.
Joe Little, who caucused at Lincoln Elementary School in Fort Madison’s 2nd Ward, said caucuses are supposed to be a little chaotic.
“It’s always a little disorganized, but it’s been well-managed this time as far as most normal caucuses, quite frankly. But it’s supposed to be that way because it’s the first step of democracy,” he said.
Little said the caucuses come from the Roman forums that were held in courtyards where people showed up and voiced their support for candidates.
“I love caucuses over voting. A caucus is the first step of a democracy although we’re a representative form of government, and we lose as soon as we get to the private voting,” Little said.
Little and his wife caucused for Elizabeth Warren, who was viable in the first count in the Fort Madison 2nd Ward precinct.
“Men have already screwed this up enough ain’t they,” Little said.
Abbee Kelly went to her first caucus with her mom when she was 14, but was experiencing her first participation in a caucus and helped shout out directions as the acoustics in the Lincoln gym made hearing difficult.
So difficult in fact that Morawitz had to gavel the session in with a large toy bowling pin to get the room’s attention.
“The process is okay, but the way this one was set up was a mess,” Kelly said. “It could have been a lot smoother, but you live and you learn.”
Kelly said she prefers this type of voting because you can persuade other people. She volunteers with the Pete Buttigieg campaign.
“We had numbers for Lee County but not for each individual precinct, so we didn’t know how many each precinct would have.”
Buttigieg had a strong showing in Fort Madison 2. Buttigieg unofficially received four delegates to Biden’s and Warren’s two each and Bernie Sanders’ 1. No other candidate was viable.
Buttigieg also had 37 first preference votes, to Biden’s 16, Warren’s 14, and Sanders’ 13.
Those numbers are now part of the official reporting along with State Delegate Equivalents.
Hugh Vandegriff, the precinct captain for Buttigieg said despite the heavy support, a lot of attendees were undecided coming in.
“So people came in pretty largely undecided and we talked to a lot of them on the way in and said ‘Hey, join us,’ and they did,” Vandegriff said.
He said he thinks the caucus process is pretty good and the new rule of locking in supporters in viable groups in the first count, should expedite the process.
‘I think it’s a good process. I’ve experienced one of these before not as a caucus captain, but theoretically this could have gone pretty quick,” Vandegriff said.
“I think I like this.”
Vandegriff said the change of releasing the first expression cards which represent caucus-goers’ first choice is a move toward one person-one vote, but he said this still represents that ideology with regard to the electoral college.
Mary Alice Schulte, a Biden supporter from Rochester Hills, Michigan who was on hand canvassing for the Biden campaign, said she’s never caucused before.
“This is very different. First you have to be very committed to your candidate because here you are coming out with your neighbors and physically standing with the person your rooting for,” she said.
“I give them a lot of credit. It’s a much different process than what we’re used to. We just go into a ballot and flip a switch,” Schulte said. “But I think this process really humanizes it.”