Seven times, Mike Day drove down to Iowa from Minneapolis to knock on doors and make the case for his candidate in the first state where it matters.
He was there, with an “observer” sticker on his chest, when Ankeny precinct 15A started caucusing, as a campaign volunteer, hoping enough of the 263 caucusgoers would walk over to join him under the Amy for America sign.
The caucus was orderly, organized and full of people who take the responsibility of casting the country’s first votes for president seriously.
Like everything else about the 2020 Iowa caucuses, it ended in complete disaster.
“I saw a little piece of history,” Day said. “The last Iowa caucus that will ever be held.”
We still don’t have a winner in Iowa. We still don’t have an explanation.
What we do have is the bone-deep certainty that caucuses are a terrible way to pick a president. They are clunky, confusing, undemocratic antiques that work best when barely anyone participates.
Last Monday, as the caucuses crashed and the rest of the nation started questioning the whole Iowa-goes-first arrangement, Minnesota campaign volunteers were watching, with “observer” stickers on their chests.
Down in Ankeny, Day watched as the three rows of Andrew Yang supporters in front of him fell six people short of the 15% threshold they needed to have their votes count.
“As someone who is used to voting, I felt like you were saying to 13% of the people in that precinct, ‘I’m sorry, your candidate isn’t going to win — here, you can go vote again,’ ” he said. He’d heard all the explanations defending the caucus process, but witnessing it, he said, “It felt arcane. I felt for Yang.”
In a Des Moines middle school cafeteria, Carey Morrison of Circle Pines, Minn., watched Klobuchar supporters drift away to Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg — the only candidates still viable after the 42 caucusgoers cast their first votes.
Her husband works nights and she has three small children, so this was the first caucus Morrison was able to attend. She’d gone down to Iowa three times before, door-knocking across Waterloo, Mason City and Decorah.
“I went for the candidate I believe in,” she said. “I’m grateful I went.”
In Marshalltown, Iowa, the app was acting up.
“It was a little bit like a zoo,” said Klobuchar volunteer Michelle Harstad of Afton, Minn., who watched caucusgoers circle around the precinct floor “like a country dance.” Buttigieg wasn’t viable. Neither was Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. One very committed neighbor managed to lock in one of the precinct’s four delegates for Tom Steyer. Klobuchar and Biden divided the rest. But the app that was supposed to be reporting those results, wasn’t.
“I think it brings a community together,” Harstad said of the caucus process. “These Iowans hold these caucuses pretty dear.”
Many other Americans do not hold caucuses dear, because caucuses are terrible.
Real elections make it easy to vote. You can mail your ballot from home, you can vote early, you can vote all day on Election Day.
Caucuses are a 200-year-old hazing ritual, designed to test how much tedium you’ll endure to have your voice heard.
You can have your voice heard at a Minnesota precinct caucus on Feb. 25, if you’d like. There, you can choose the delegates to the upcoming state conventions, discuss candidates and party platforms — the idea that became the Peace Corps got its start at a Minnesota caucus.
The Minnesota secretary of state has a caucus finder, if you want to give it a whirl: caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us.
The one thing you won’t be able to do at Minnesota precinct caucuses this year is vote for president. The state switched back to a presidential primary for the first time in decades this year, thank goodness.
Set your calendar for March 3.