Students from Iowa will caucus at Stanford
Stanford students from Iowa have organized the first satellite Democratic caucus site at the university. On Monday, they will be among the first Americans to vote in the 2020 presidential primary season.
On Monday, Feb. 3, voters in Iowa will gather across that state to officially submit their votes for their party’s presidential nominations – the first voters in the nation to do so this primary season. Each gathering, known as a caucus, is a complex voting process that requires constituents’ physical presence in order to be counted. But for the first time in history, Iowa Democrats who cannot attend their precinct caucuses will be able to attend a satellite caucus at one of 96 additional caucus sites globally.
Since November, coterminal student Ahmi Dhuna and undergraduate Nova Meurice have been working with the Iowa Democratic party to bring a caucus site to Stanford, one of just two in California. Their caucus will take place Monday, 5 p.m., at the Haas Center for Public Service, and is open to the public.
Stanford News caught up with Dhuna and Meurice to learn what it took to organize the caucus, how many Iowans they expect to attend and how this complicated – and rare – voting process works.
Why did you decide to organize a caucus at Stanford?
Meurice: Historically, young people haven’t made their voices heard at the polls. I feel like this is a really direct opportunity to engage with democracy where you’re not just casting a ballot, but you’re actually engaging with people, which I think is a fun process.
Dhuna: It’s also a full day trek to get from campus back to Iowa, as well as a $400 expense, so I think it’s a good first step toward making voting accessible.
What went into organizing a satellite caucus at Stanford?
Meurice: There are a lot of logistical steps, like submitting an application and working with the Democratic party. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to us, such as training for how to do it.
Dhuna: We also had to find a location, which was tricky, but we’re very lucky that the Haas Center worked out. The Democratic party in Iowa has a good infrastructure in place. For example, there’s a point-person in the party whose job is to assist the satellite caucuses.
How many Iowans do you expect to attend?
Dhuna: We have about 35 or 40 voters registered for the Stanford caucus. Some are undergrads, some are graduate students. It is public so we also have some community members. But it looks like the caucus is attracting mostly Stanford students because Stanford seems to have the highest concentration of Iowa expats in the Bay Area.
Only a few states hold caucuses. How does the voting process occur?
Dhuna: First we count how many people are there and use that number to calculate the viability threshold, which is the number of people that a candidate needs in order to be viable.
All around the room, there will be signs for different candidates. Voters will assemble in groups by the candidates of their choice – this is called the alignment period and lasts about 20 minutes. Once this period closes, voters cannot move to another candidate’s group. We count and record the number of people in each group, then announce which candidates are no longer viable because their voting numbers are under the viability threshold. Voters in those groups then realign, meaning they can either come together in another candidate’s group to become viable, or they can be convinced by voters in other viable groups to join. The caucusing process is very participatory and conversational. Voters then hand in cards where they have written down their preference.
It sounds like a fun way to select candidates, especially for first-time voters.
Meurice: This is my first time voting, so I’m excited to finally experience it, even in this weird form.