By Arthur Vidro
Go stand in the corner!” the authority figure commands.
Males and females obediently walk to the designated corner and loiter.
What has just happened? A teacher or parent imposing discipline on naughty children?
Not quite. It is just the ridiculous Iowa caucus.
Voting is not ridiculous. Voting is arguably the greatest of all consumer powers. Many nations run by dictators do not give consumers a right to vote – or the vote is for a sham election, such as in the old USSR when anyone could vote but only one name was on the ballot.
Come Tuesday, Feb. 11, New Hampshire has its primary, the first in the nation. I will proudly vote.
But if I lived in Iowa, I would skip the caucuses. Hey, I have nothing against Iowa. It is only their caucus system that repels me.
In states with primaries, citizens have authentic elections. One person, one vote, with trusted people carefully tallying the votes. Four years ago, I supervised vote tallying in Claremont’s Ward I).
Voting is painless and relatively quick.
Not so in an Iowa caucus.
Everyone has to show up at the same time – 7 p.m. is when it started this past Monday – so picture very crowded school gymnasiums, church basements and wherever else the caucusing might take place.
But you don’t cast a vote. Instead, you are directed to stand in a designated area of the room, which is divided into sections, each representing one of the candidates. Someone will count each person in each group and tally the results.
This itself is difficult.
“Stop fidgeting, I can’t count moving targets!”
“I’d like to use a restroom, but there aren’t any in this corner. And if I leave this segment, my vote won’t be counted.”
“Oy, my feet hurt from standing. Let me sit.”
“Sorry, no chairs. Everyone must stand.”
Would a person in a wheelchair be required to stand? And if they can stay seated, why not others? What about a wheelchair-restricted person’s attendant? Would the attendant have to leave the patient if the attendant supported a different candidate in some other part of the room?
This first round of counting is mere preliminary. It’s to see which candidates have the support of at least 15% of those in attendance – but until you count everyone in attendance, you won’t know how much 15% of that will be.
If a candidate’s support does not reach the 15% level, then that candidate’s supporters can try to increase the support level by persuading “voters” favoring other candidates to switch sides. Or the candidate’s supporters can give up on their candidate and sidle over to a section for a different candidate.
I shudder thinking about it. I was raised on the sanctity of the voting booth. In a caucus, there is no privacy.
“Hey, there’s my boss, who’s trying to get everyone at work to vote for Moe Schmo. But I prefer Jane Doe. Should I stand in Moe’s corner to please my boss? Will standing with Jane’s supporters hurt my career?”
I would have zero desire to try to convince others to switch their votes. But I can picture the bedlam. Loud people futilely bellowing with other loud people. Quiet people (including me) getting challenged, pressured, possibly bullied.
If someone tried to get me to change my vote, I’d silently go home.
Plus, all those people use a lot of air. I would be gasping for breath, begging for air conditioning or open windows within 10 minutes. But this is an hours-long process.
And standing the whole time! That is inhumane.
It is a caucus of only those “voters” who have the time, strength, and health to stand around all evening in crowded, hot conditions. Feeble folks using walkers would stay home.
Eventually, there is a final tallying where the “voters” are counted for only those candidates who garnered support from at least 15% of the people in attendance; then those counts would get phoned in to Iowa Democratic Party headquarters, and a complex formula would determine the apportionment of the state’s 41 delegates to the party’s national convention in July.
Except this year, they added an electronic mobile app to the process. An app is a chance for one more thing to go wrong – and it did. By mid-Wednesday — when I submitted this column — the final results, already 36 hours late, still weren’t in.
But don’t worry, the people in charge quickly and proudly proclaimed that there was no hacking involved.
So should we be happy that mere computer or software incompetence caused the problem? And should we rely on similar software in the future?
Vote counters who tried to phone in the results instead of using the defective app were stymied by a lack of human beings answering the telephones. (When you rely on electronics, you cut back on humans.)
Come out Tuesday and vote – in the privacy of an app-free voting booth.
If you have consumerism questions, send them to Arthur Vidro in the care of this newspaper, which publishes his column every weekend.