Iowans caucused around the country — from DC to Arizona — for the first time ever. Here’s what they said.
Iowans watch for results from their home state after attending a satellite caucus in Washington, D.C. Photo by Robin Bravender/States Newsroom
More Iowans caucused on Monday than ever before — without setting foot in Iowa.
The Iowa Caucuses are often criticized for not being inclusive enough for people who can’t attend a traditional precinct caucus because of work, mobility or family issues. The Iowa Democratic Party’s answer to that concern this year was creating 87 “satellite” caucuses, plus a dozen college campus sites. Many of them were in Iowa — in union halls, nursing homes and cultural centers. But there were also 24 out-of-state caucuses and three in foreign countries.
Iowa Capital Dispatch and its sister newsrooms in States Newsroom covered some of these unusual and first-of-their-kind caucuses in Iowa and around the country.
For Muslim Iowans, the 2020 caucus marks a historic day
To enter Masjid-an-Noor, the newest caucus site in Iowa, first you must take off your shoes.
Masjid an-Noor, also known as the Muslim Community Organization, is home to Des Moines’ local Muslim community — a familiar space where people pray, share stories and catch up on current events.
But for the first time ever, the mosque served as a caucus site — attracting 119 caucusgoers through its doors and up to its prayer room, where Muslim Iowans sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor, filling out their cards.
“It’s very very important for the Muslim community,” said Jaaphar Abdul Hamed, the imam for the Muslim Community Organization. “The mosque is not meant just for prayer. It’s meant for anything that has to do with Muslims and their well being.”
In an effort to improve its inclusivity, the Iowa Democratic Party introduced a list of 99 satellite caucus locations for 2020 for people both in Iowa and internationally, amid concerns over its accessibility.
The added caucus sites were picked in an effort to provide more convenient and comfortable locations for Iowans who may not be able to participate otherwise. Around 60 sites are in-state, 24 are out-of-state and three are in international locations, according to the Iowa Democratic Party.
For the Muslim community, having mosques included as caucus sites is huge, said Pervez Arif, vice president of the Muslim Community Organization. The local Muslim community is familiar with the mosque with some of them visiting five times a day to pray, Arif said.
Language barriers, lack of knowledge about the process, confusion and fear kept the already marginalized community away from the caucus process.
But he hopes that after learning how to caucus on Monday night, Muslims will be more prepared to vote in the future.
“Muslims are staying away from this process,” said Pervez Arif, vice president of the Muslim Community Organization. “If you’re not participating, you won’t be heard. In order to be heard, you must participate.”
Caucusgoers in the mosque overwhelmingly supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who also had the only staff presence at the site.
Blue “Bernie” stickers adorned womens’ dresses and signs for him were scattered around the mosque.
When it came time for alignment, a swarm of people filled the center of the prayer room, prompting tears from staffers who were watching and recording the event.
At the end of the evening, 117 people aligned with Sanders. No other candidates were viable, according to the caucus staff.
Monday evening was Amar Alazawi’s first time caucusing. In the past, the 33-year-old man said his family and friends voted at churches in Waukee.
Alazawi became a U.S. citizen six months ago. He said he supports Sanders because of the recent violence and racism that he’s witnessed because of President Donald Trump.
“We just need peace,” Alazawi said.
— Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch
Latino voters choose Sanders at Des Moines satellite caucus
At the same time Muslims gathered at Masjid-an-Noor, 187 other Iowans — almost exclusively Latino — gathered in the YMCA gymnasium on Des Moines’ south side. Many were community organizers, activists and leaders, and they ranged from college-age to the elderly, with business professionals mingling with working-class residents.
Even before the participants began caucusing, it was obvious Sanders would be the only viable candidate. Christian Ucles, a 37-year-old resident of Windsor Heights, was one of only four people there to support Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. He said that although it was heartening to see such a strong turnout, it also left him wondering whether the Warren campaign had done all it could to reach the Latino community.
“I was surprised by that,” he said. “They have had organizers that are bilingual, who were Latino and were working in the state of Iowa. So when the Democratic Party announced there would be bilingual satellite locations in Iowa to reach this community, I figured the campaign would send some of their supporters to this location. They did not, and Bernie’s people did. Most of these folks you see here tonight are from the south side of Des Moines.”
Ucles has been attending the Iowa caucuses since he was 17. Monday’s event was his sixth.
“So for me, this was the first time I have seen anything like this kind of engagement or support for our community. I’m Honduran, I’m an immigrant and I became a U.S. citizen in 1998. So, to see all of this – after participating in six caucuses, with my first caucuses being Republican – is wonderful. This is a very sizable caucus. But I’m disappointed the other campaigns didn’t seem to put forth any effort here or try to organize. They would have only needed 27 people here to get a delegate. That would have made a difference. But instead we had a total of 12 people here tonight who weren’t aligned with Bernie.”
Ucles said that although he favors Warren, he has no problem backing Sanders. “I’ll be fine with that transition,” he said. “My politics are center-left, so Sen. Warren is more my speed, but I really don’t have an issue with Bernie.”
— Clark Kauffman/Iowa Capital Dispatch
Babies for Bernie, but Warren wins DC caucus
Iowan Ericka Petersen hasn’t missed a presidential caucus since she could participate, and she didn’t want 2020 to be the first time.
So Petersen, who’s living in Washington for a stint teaching at Georgetown University Law School, borrowed a double jogging stroller so she could ferry her two young kids to the satellite Iowa caucus in the nation’s capital. Both kids (ages 3 and 1) came equipped for the long night of politicking with McDonald’s Happy Meals.
“I’ve never missed one,” Petersen said Monday as she strolled her kids into the basement of a union headquarters building in downtown Washington. Her family is from Iowa City, and they’re moving back in May.
She’s a Bernie Sanders fan, and carried a Bernie sign as she pushed the stroller. “He’s the most progressive” of the candidates, she said. She believes health care is a universal right and she’s concerned about student debt, she said. She backed Bernie during the 2016 caucus, too, just before her daughter was born.
Petersen’s husband told the baby ahead of that caucus that she couldn’t make her debut yet. “Bernie needs you,” he said.
Petersen and her kids were swarmed by the many reporters in the crowd who wanted pictures of the cutest caucus-goers. The kids stood out Monday in the crowded basement full of Iowans, the rest of whom had reached legal voting age. Some of them were federal employees; while others were visiting on short trips. Outfits ranged from D.C. office attire to hoodies and polo shirts with baseball caps.
Brianne Todd, another Iowan from outside Sioux City, is an international researcher in Washington. She came in with an open mind but a preference for Amy Klobuchar and her centrist position (Todd is not a fan of Medicare for all). She was willing to be persuaded on the candidates, though. “I came in saying, ‘Woo me,’” she said.
Tom Avenarius was firmly in the Joe Biden camp. He met Biden when he first ran for president. “He can take off on day one,” said Avenarius, a retired welder from Dubuque who was in D.C. for a union convention. He’s willing to get on board with whomever the Democratic nominee is, he said. “Anybody’s better than what we got in there now.”
When the caucus kicked off, Democratic officials corralled the 100 Iowans into the center of the room as observers — including backers of various campaigns (including Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard) — sat along a far wall. Attendees were encouraged by a party official to “beat Donald Trump,” and to engage in the general election after what promises to be a hard-fought primary.
Candidates’ supporters were allowed to give hurried, 30-second speeches to advocate for their favored Democrats. Biden’s backer touted his chance of winning. The Pete Buttigieg supporter made a pitch for his military experience. A Klobuchar fan said the Minnesota senator could beat Trump and go on to get things done. Sanders has the best policy plans, Yang can win over Trump supporters and Elizabeth Warren will bring structural change, their allies told the crowd.
Then the camps formed. Warren’s early advantage was obvious, with the Buttigieg, Biden, Sanders and Klobuchar camps all sizable, but smaller. Two Yang supporters held up a sign.
Three of those camps were declared “viable”: Warren, Buttigieg and Biden. Caucus-goers filled out their cards and some of the camps went to appeal to the Klobuchar backers.
The Warren camp pulled in two converts, who were greeted with cheering and applause. The Sanders crew got another person, allowing them to become viable. The Biden and Buttigieg camps each pulled in five more.
The final counts: Warren (42 supporters, 3 delegates), Buttigieg (23 supporters, 2 delegates), Biden (20 supporters, 2 delegates), Sanders (15 supporters, 1 delegate).
The final count was read and the Iowans dispersed. It was well after 9 p.m. and Petersen’s kids were looking tired.
As she walked out, Petersen said she had been in touch with her mom, who told her she and her kids were blowing up the internet. Her mom told her she was out caucusing too, and was doing it for her grandkids.
— Robin Bravender/States Newsroom
In Michigan, questioning the need to caucus
Nine Iowans gathered in the Ann Arbor Downtown District Library Monday night to divide up four available Democratic delegates.
The final count, which did not change from the initial alignment, resulted in an even split of the four delegates: Two delegates for Elizabeth Warren and two for Bernie Sanders.
But throughout the hour-long process, the caucus-goers voiced their frustration with rules imposed by the Iowa Democratic Party and the need to caucus at all.
Alexis Irlbeck, 19, from Aboca, Iowa, was one of the three Sanders supporters. This was her first caucus and she called the process “a little draconian, to say the least.”
“I mean, the whole, we have to do 15 minutes for a realignment period for a caucus of nine people — it’s definitely a little bit unnecessary,” Irlbeck said.
Irlbeck said that since she studies at the University of Michigan, there is “no way” she would have been able to participate if the satellite caucus in Ann Arbor wasn’t an option.
She added that satellites are a great idea as long as Iowa insists on being a caucus state, but said, “I think an even better idea would be to go to primaries, with absentee voting.”
As for her preferred candidate, Irlbeck said she caucused for Sanders because of his consistent political record.
“I like somebody whose politics have never changed. I don’t feel comfortable with a lot of the other candidates, especially some of the newer ones like [businessman Andrew] Yang … [who don’t have much of] a track record.”
In the first alignment, the nine caucus-goers arranged themselves into three groups: Five people for Warren, three for Sanders and one for Pete Buttigieg.
Since Iowa’s “viability threshold” of 15% roughly equated to two people out of the nine participating from Michigan, this meant that a group needed to have at least two people to be considered “viable.” Only Warren’s and Sanders’ groups met the threshold.
The lone Buttigieg supporter, a law school student at University of Michigan, said he tended to prefer Sanders to Warren but did not want to commit to either group. Instead, he signed a form that let him drop out of the process. This allowed Warren and Sanders to get two delegates each.
Many caucus-goers were college-age. But the eldest participant, Joanna Courteau from Ames, Iowa, said she has caucused every year since 1976.
“I am just that excited that we have a satellite caucus. My first one ever,” Courteau said before the caucus began.
She said she would not have been able to caucus if it weren’t for the new satellite option.
“I had problems getting there [to Iowa] because I had emergency surgery, so I couldn’t travel,” Courteau said.
When asked who she planned to caucus for, Courteau said, “Elizabeth [Warren].”
“For right now, I am. But I mean, I’ll support any Democrat,” she added.
Megan Maloney, 20, who also caucused for Warren, is a junior at University of Michigan from Iowa’s Quad Cities region. Monday night was her first caucus.
“I know that this is incredibly different than how it goes in Iowa,” Maloney said, adding that although she enjoyed participating in Monday’s caucuses, she would prefer that Iowa have primaries instead.
“It’s just not a smart process,” Maloney said. “It’s like so many people were saying. It is not a convenient thing in any sense.”
Maloney said that she did appreciate the new satellite caucus option, but still thinks the process is not accessible enough.
She also said that although she ended up caucusing for Warren, she was initially split between Warren and Sanders.
“I genuinely liked both candidates a lot and I think they have a lot of good things to say,” Maloney said.
Her final decision came down to who would gain the most support from her parents’ demographic, which led her to support Warren.
— Laina G. Stebbins/Michigan Advance
In Arizona, agreement that every candidate is ‘great’
Iowans who reside part time in Arizona were the first to caucus for their preferred Democratic nominee in a first for the Iowa Caucus: satellite locations across the nation and the world for Iowans to vote.
A Harkins movie theater in Queen Creek, about 40 miles from Phoenix, was one of four satellite locations in Arizona, and proved the most popular. About 160 people turned out, some sipping soda out of Harkin’s theater cups.
The venue cost the party $800, but caucus leaders announced they’d raise more $1,800 from the crowd itself during the caucusing.
Each candidate needed support from 25 people to move on and the top contenders easily met that threshold.
Amy Klobuchar received the most votes with 54 Iowans choosing the Minnesotan. Pete Buttigieg followed with 41 votes, Joe Biden received 33 and Elizabeth Warren, 31.
Attendees may have differed over their preferred candidate but all agreed that every candidate was “great” in their own way and would be better than the current administration. For most there, it was about finding a candidate who was strong enough to defeat President Donald Trump in November.
Everyone also agreed that getting the chance to participate in the caucus process even though they were in Arizona was a very welcome change.
“It’s an opportunity to talk to your neighbors,” Julie Allen, an Elizabeth Warren supporter, said before the caucus began of her experiences in caucuses back home. Allen said she’d been undecided, but ended up backing Warren because she liked her financial plans, background teaching history and her experience in the Senate.
For Allen, the Democratic field offered a bevy of candidates that she felt she could support. Buttigieg, in particular, was one she was particularly fond of and said a Warren/Buttigieg ticket would be her “dream ticket.”
When the voting was over, Klobuchar supporters received three delegates, while supporters of Buttigieg, Biden and Warren each received two.
In Minnesota, voting for the first time
Thirty-two Iowans sat in silence as Ben Popken spoke.
“The Iowa Democratic Party finance envelope will be passed around,” the caucus chair said, reading from a script. “Since we’ll be electing the 46th president this year, I thought we could each toss in $46.”
The crowd, mostly college-age voters, erupted in laughter. Popken smirked.
The satellite Iowa caucus at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreational Center in St. Paul wasn’t all fun and games, but voters remained cheerful as they determined how many delegates their chosen Democratic presidential candidates would receive. By 8:30 p.m., Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders each won two delegates, and Andrew Yang won one.
Macalester College student Louise Bequeaith caucused for the first time. The Des Moines native said she grew up going to caucuses with her parents, then volunteered at them before she was old enough to vote. She didn’t want to miss the chance to support Sanders in her home state, she said.
“I think my point of view is more critical in Iowa,” Bequeaith said before the caucus began. “I just think that, as a more progressive liberal, that my voice matters more somewhere that’s more of a swing state.”
Some, like Claire Pardubsky, were undecided when they walked through the recreation room doors. Pardubsky said she was looking forward to hearing other people’s views before making up her mind, but instead, the University of Minnesota student and a handful of other would-be voters observed the caucus from the sidelines because they hadn’t pre-registered.
“I was kind of going to wing it … I was going to see what other people have to say. I was thinking maybe Pete, or Amy, or Bernie. I don’t know … I think anyone is better than Trump at this point,” she said.
During the first count, voters gathered in bunches around the room to support Warren, Sanders, Yang, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Buttigieg and Klobuchar didn’t have enough supporters in the room to remain viable candidates, so those six voters moved to join other candidates.
There were claps and cheers as some joined the Warren group. In a matter of minutes, Warren had gained another three supporters, Yang two and Sanders one. Popken announced the final counts, and with no other business to consider, closed the caucus.
As the young adults filed out of the rec room, Bequeaith said she was excited to have voted for the first time.
“It was great to be with a candidate I feel passionate about,” she said.
— Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer
Bringing ‘democracy to the people’ in Wisconsin
In room 157 of the Alumni Memorial Union at Marquette University — just around the corner from where the Democratic Party will be choosing its nominee in July — a handful of Iowa caucus-goers Monday cast some of the very first votes of the primary season in Milwaukee’s first-ever satellite caucus.
“This is really a unique opportunity, especially knowing that this process is going to conclude just down the road at the Fiserv Forum,” said Jason Rae, secretary of the Democratic National Committee, who was there to run the caucus. “We’re going to start the process and end the process in Milwaukee. That’s really special for our city.”
Media outnumbered voters, of which there were seven, by about 5-to-1. A few dozen more people showed up to support their candidate and a few more were there just to take in the process.
The event came together in large part because of Eric Rorholm, chair of the Marquette College Democrats, who said it was important to him to make a satellite caucus in Milwaukee a reality and help bring “democracy to the people.”
“Elections are done at the municipal and precinct and state level and our lives don’t happen in those geographical boundaries,” he said. “Not everybody has the means to return home for a caucus. It’s a real time commitment, people work, not everyone has the time or the money or the resources to do so.”
With seven voters there to caucus, just two voters caucusing for a candidate would put them over the 15 percent viability threshold. Elizabeth Warren received three votes, two voted for Amy Klobuchar and two voted for Bernie Sanders. Each candidate surpassed the viability threshold and delegates were awarded — two to Warren and one apiece to Klobuchar and Sanders.
And then it was over.
— Dan Shafer/Wisconsin Examiner
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