Things are looking grim for the Iowa Democratic party’s efforts to mount a successful caucus on 1 February. The Guardian has learned the party is still lacking a temporary chairman to run the caucuses in up to 300 locations across the state with just over a week to go before caucus night.
These officials preside over caucuses when they first convene. Caucuses can then elect a permanent chair but invariably the temporary chair is chosen. The chair ensures the Democratic party’s complex rules are followed and that an accurate vote is taken and then reported to state Democratic party. There are 1,681 caucus locations in the state.
The Guardian first reported in November that the Iowa Democratic party was unprepared for the first caucuses in the nation and Time magazine reported Saturday the state party lacked at least 200 temporary chairs.
The shortage of party volunteers to preside over each individual caucus is not a localized phenomenon. According to information provided to the Guardian by a local Democrat familiar with the planning, at least one precinct needs a caucus chair in over half of the state’s counties. The shortage is so dire that some counties are planning on having the same person chair multiple precinct caucuses simultaneously.
Problems are not limited to caucus chairs. Caucus locations have often been shifting abruptly, leaving caucus-goers and campaigns with uncertain information about which location to go to.
One well-connected Democrat told the Guardian there “have been several hundred precincts with errors on caucus locations – wrong addresses, changed locations, or other things”. The Democrat added that many changes have happened this week. In contrast, another veteran Democrat who had long been involved in the caucus process told the Guardian that at this point before the 2008 caucuses, there were only several dozen problematic precincts in the state when the state had 1,784 individual precincts, 100 more than it has today. The Guardian understands Iowa’s two largest counties, Polk County and Linn County, each potentially have that many problematic precincts.
In a statement, Josh Levitt, the press secretary for the Iowa Democratic party told the Guardian: “Whether or not a caucus has a pre-recruited temporary chair, a permanent chair will be elected by all attending caucus-goers at the beginning of the caucus on 1 February. The permanent chair will then administer the caucuses.”
Levitt emphasized: “However, we conduct as much training in advance as possible so the instance of confusion on caucus night can be held to a minimum. To that end, we will continue pre-recruiting chairs until 1 February, and we expect to fill our slots in the final days. In the rare instances where a temporary chair is not identified ahead of time, someone with experience and knowledge caucusing will step forward to run the caucus. The caucus materials provided to our county chairs contain precinct packets with detailed, step-by-step instructions for the business of the caucus as well as the reporting process for results. The IDP [Iowa Democratic party] also has a fully staffed helpline all night to answer any and all questions on the caucus process.”
The party spokesman also minimized the issue of changing caucus locations. “As happens every year, we have had some location changes due to capacity concerns, accessibility improvements, and some other extenuating circumstances.”
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