Caucuses convene Tuesday
January 17, 2014 · Margaret Stevens
Though they won't get the national news coverage of presidential years, the Republican and Democratic parties are hoping for strong turnout at the precinct caucuses this coming Tuesday, Jan. 21. The caucuses start at 7 p.m.
The business of the evening is similar for both parties - choose delegates to the county conventions, elect precinct representatives to their county's central committee, and begin the process of establishing the party platform with the introduction, discussion and possible adoption of party planks.
"It's a real grassroots event," Cindy Golding, chair of the Linn County Republicans, said of the caucus. "People are disenfranchised from their government; this is a way to reengage the public."
"The biggest thing, with Citizen's United and money in politics, this is really an opportunity for people in the precincts and neighborhoods to vocalize the issues that are important to them," said Bret Nilles, chair of the Linn County Democrats "This is an opportunity to participate in the political process."
Anyone who is eligible to vote in the November 2014 election and is a registered member of their preferred party can participate. Attendees can register their party affiliation on caucus night. Non-eligible voters are allowed to observe, but not participate. Those participating in the Linn County Republican caucus must show a photo ID.
All Linn County Republicans will caucus at the Double Tree Hotel and Convention Center at 350 1st Ave N.E. in Cedar Rapids. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Special guests planned for the evening are Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, from Utah's third congressional district. They will be addressing caucus-goers sometime between 6 and 7 p.m. This will also be the time for any candidates to address caucus-goers.
Golding said the night will also feature fundraisers for the Linn County Republicans - a just-for-fun straw poll. A dollar will buy a "vote." Golding stressed that the fundraiser should not be taken seriously and should in no way be construed as an actual vote.
Any Linn County Republican caucus-goers who volunteer can attend the county convention, scheduled for March 8. Delegates to the district and state convention will be chosen at the county convention. Golding said she hopes those delegates will be those who do the work of the party - door knocking, fundraising, phone banking. She said she prefers not to know anything about candidate preferences so there are no worries about stacking the slate of delegates for or against any candidate.
There is no cost to attend caucuses, but there is a cost to attend the conventions, which include a meal. Payments will be collected when delegates sign-up; Golding said she's telling people to bring their checkbooks.
Golding said under current rules, caucus participation doesn't influence delegate numbers, which are based on votes in the general election.
"Caucus does measure turnout, however," she said. "Our off-year caucuses have been low and we're looking to change that."
The Linn/Pioneer precinct of Cedar County includes some Lisbon and Mechanicsville residents. Their precinct caucus will be held at North Cedar Elementary School in Mechanicsville on Jan. 21 at 7 p.m.
Linn County Democrats will hold their caucuses in different locations depending on precinct. Check-in starts at 6:30 p.m. in most locations, according to Linn County election services website.
Mount Vernon and most Lisbon Democrats will be meeting in the Mount Vernon High School commons on Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. - this includes Democrats from Mount Vernon North, Mount Vernon South and the Lisbon precinct named Franklin Township.
Bertram and Ely Democrats will meet in Ely City Hall, and Springville Democrats in the Springville Library.
Most Cedar County Democrats, including those in Linn/Pioneer precinct, will meet in the Tipton High School cafeteria.
Nilles figured each precinct would elect three or four delegates to the county convention. Delegates to the district and state convention will be chosen at the county convention.
There is a possibility of Democrats breaking up into preference groups at the precinct level, similar to preference groups in presidential election years. A precinct could split up that way if it is the desire of 15 percent of that precinct's registered caucus-goers.
This might impact the choice of Democrat to run in the First District Congressional race. If no candidate in the June 3 Democratic primary earns more than 35 precent of the vote that day, the Democratic candidate will be selected at a special district convention, convened after the primary.
Nilles said the preference groups are an option, but no one is really encouraging it.
"With presidential caucuses, that's what everyone is there for," he said. "With the congressional campaign, people can vote in the primary."
Nilles said that in speaking to the congressional campaigns, they are encouraging participation rather than trying to align delegates.
The Democrats and Republicans are planning to hold their county conventions on Saturday, March 8, and their district conventions Saturday, April 26. The Republicans plan to hold their state convention Saturday, June 14, while the Democrats will hold theirs June 21. Locations will be announced prior to those convention dates.
Several websites offer more information. The Iowa Secretary of State's office has a website including precinct maps for all of Iowa's counties. Linn County on Tuesday released a caucus locator tool at it website: www.linncountyelections.org/caucus2014/
Those interested can also visit the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus website, thecaucuses.org, or the Linn County party websites, www.linncountydemocrats.org and linncountygop.org.