Excitement and tension built as 284 people waited to see if the Democratic candidate they came out to support would take the majority number of delegates at precinct 36 in Cedar Rapids.
McKinley Middle School hosted the Democratic caucus on Feb. 1. The precinct had seven delegates; a candidate needed 15 percent of those attending to be viable.
Parking was an issue because a large number of people are present to caucus. The best option was a parking spot I created in a vacant lot about a block away.
A long line of people were waiting to enter the middle school. It was 6:30p.m. and Iowans were lined up, standing outside in the 31-degree cold to caucus for their favorite candidate. Once inside the door it was clear that McKinley was scheduled to host Cedar Rapids’ precinct 26 as well. That explained congestion at the entrance.
The line extended inside with the wind blowing through the open door, exposing the caucus-goers to the February chill. After the division of the precincts – precinct 36 to go downstairs to the cafeteria and precinct 26 to go upstairs to the auditorium – precinct 36 people were divided by registered and unregistered voters. Then the registered voters are separated by alphabet with the A-L people on the right and the M-Z people to the left.
Standing in line offered an opportunity for people to communicate with neighbors about the candidates, their families and goings-on in the neighborhood. A few of the neighbors I had a chance to talk with were all recognized by their dogs.
At 7 p.m. the lines still were exploding out the door. Any participant in line could still take part in the caucus. Once the line made it inside no more people were able to participate. By 7:30 p.m. people were still in the line and the doors were closed.
While waiting, a third grader expressed to me her excitement about being at the caucus. She said she attended with her mom in support of Hillary Clinton.
The check-in process consisted of telling the precinct volunteer your name, signing in and marking which candidate you plan to caucus for.
The space at McKinley did not easily hold the 284 people who showed up. At one point people were asked to give up their chairs for others who could not stand for long periods of time.
Twice as many people showed up for this precinct than expected. The event was chaotic with a lot of people and a lack of organization. But many people expressed enthusiasm to be supporting their candidates.
In the adjoining room there are kids playing basketball, making it hard to hear what was taking place. I understand we are waiting for everyone to be checked in.
People stood around chatting with neighbors, making friends and reconnecting with others.
People finally checked in, which meant each candidate needed 43 people to be viable. We were told to separate by the candidate we are supporting.
At 8 p.m. the registered voters in each area were counted. This process took a while because the number needed to be precise. The number cames back with Clinton receiving 134, Bernie Sanders 134 and Martin O’Malley 16. Because O’Malley did not attain enough votes to be viable, his supporters were instructed to pick another candidate or their vote would not count. A decision had to be made by the O’Malley camp by 8:40 p.m.
The O’Malley supporters wanted stay with their candidate, but weren’t able to come up with enough people to be viable. The Clinton side offered a deal to the O’Malley group that both the Clinton and Sanders groups should each give the O’Malley side enough people so O’Malley can be viable.
Our precinct would then have had one delegate for O’Malley, three for Clinton and three for Sanders. But the Sanders group would not agree to the deal so the O’Malley group decided to join the Clinton side. Everyone in the Clinton group cheered with the news of the O’Malley group joining.
The final Clinton count was 144, while Sanders had 140.
Sanders supporters initiated a recount. The Clinton supporters agree to comply. The Sanders side erupted and the supporters were divided with the decision for a recount. A decision eventually was made that a recount was unnecessary and Clinton won the precinct.
Every registered voter present was accounted for. Clinton took the majority vote, earning her four delegates from precinct 36. Sanders took three delegates from the precinct in second place.
READ BILLIE BARKER’S FIRST-PERSON ACCOUNT FROM A REPUBLICAN CAUCUS