By the time this column is being read, the Iowa caucuses will be over and the results will provide additional inspiration and motivation for a candidate (or two) and have the opposite effect on even more campaigns that didn't get the result they hoped for. It is likely that a candidate or two will even drop out of the race after Iowans complete their process.
But rather than discuss the "horserace" that often eclipses any discussion regarding the returns from the Hawkeye State, this space will be dedicated to talking about the act of caucusing and how that affects turnout, participation, and the result of the first-in-the-nation contest.
There is plenty of debate surrounding the primary calendar. That debate is taking place in both parties and involves concerns of fairness for other states, demographic considerations, regional perspectives, and several other things. The one that seems to have begun to move into the spotlight is that act of caucusing itself. It is more difficult and time consuming than casting a ballot. The logistics involved in being able to make the commitment to caucus create barriers to those who might otherwise take part in helping choose their party's presidential nominee.
In terms of time, compare voting by ballot to taking part in a caucus. Obviously, there will be significant deviations from this generalized example, but walking into a polling place, marking the boxes next your preferred candidates, and depositing a piece of paper in to a machine requires minutes. The act of caucusing is often discussed in terms of taking hours. Imagine you have to work two jobs to pay your bills, have young children at home, or both. Being able to get off work, and afford it even if you accomplish it, isn't something a lot of people can do. Having children is such an impediment to participating that one campaign has made child care available to those who want to caucus, but might not have been able except for having a place for their children to go while they do.
Then, there are the concerns of the elderly, injured, or handicapped. Caucusing can, in some instances, involve long waits and moving around a room - sometimes large ones, like cafeterias and gymnasiums - and doing so in less-than-ideal conditions. Rooms can be crowded, stuffy, hot or cold, and food or drink may not be adequately supplied at every location. Despite great progress in terms of making public places more accessible for those with disabilities, caucusing is still more difficult for people who may have an altered gait, cannot stand for long periods of time, are using crutches, or who may be confined to a wheelchair.
All of those issues are in addition to others, like difficulty in producing auditable and verifiable results; the lack of "privacy" as compared to casting a secret ballot as in a primary election; and the inability to "early caucus" the way you can "early vote" in a primary.
Many of the columns I've written focus on the fairness and security of elections. I'm on record as being a proponent of anything that I believe produces increased participation in the electoral process. That includes things like civic education (not only does this make a person more likely to vote, but produces better informed voters), reforming redistricting processes, and streamlining registration procedures. Given the timing, it seemed appropriate to provide some commentary about an election process that isn't exactly conducive to voter participation - even if it doesn't affect me, or the voters around me.
Jason Nichols is District 2 Democratic Party chair, an instructor of political science at Northeastern State University, and former mayor of Tahlequah.