Staff Columnist

Iowa's democratic process vulnerable to snowflake attacks

Iowans forced to slip and slide to 2018 caucuses

Adam Sullivan is a writer, activist and communications adviser in Iowa City.
Adam Sullivan is a writer, activist and communications adviser in Iowa City.

Snowflakes plotted revenge on the political world this week.

Ice crystals have been ruthlessly slandered lately, their name repurposed as a political insult. On Monday, zillions of them lashed out at Iowans, covering windshields and roads in the hours before our beloved biennial caucuses.

Despite inches of snow and risky driving conditions, party officials said they had no legal way to reschedule caucuses.

Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians all estimated their turnout was depressed by the winter weather, although Democrats still managed to top their midterm caucus participation numbers from 2010 and 2014, fueled by competitive primaries for governor and U.S. House.

Only two fellow Republicans showed up from my home precinct in downtown Iowa City. Five other precinct caucuses in the same location were similarly sparse.

My political enemies should be relieved to learn I did not seek a post as a convention delegate or central committee member. And batted .333 on my proposed platform resolutions. Good for a baseball player, but bad for a political organizer.

My compatriots in Iowa City precinct 20 rejected my platform planks calling to legalize medical marijuana and ban traffic cameras, but narrowly approved the one calling to repeal the 16h Amendment, 2-0, with the third member abstaining because she hadn’t memorized the amendments.

I weathered the political bruises with my head held high. We adjourned just 40 minutes after we started.

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I like caucusing, and I participate every chance I get. It makes perfect sense, since the system is designed to suit people like me — Iowans who live in urban areas, work salaried jobs, and have enough time and education to study the partisan process.

Caucuses entail huge barriers to participation, requiring voters to visit their designated caucus site at the designated time in order to get involved. That presents a challenge for hourly wage workers, military personnel and family caretakers.

Add another to that list: rural folks driving to town during a February snowstorm.

The whole grass roots political process is mired in complex rules, lending outsized power to the party regulars who are knowledgeable about the procedural intricacies. In some cases, political elites are actually guaranteed disproportionate influence, like with the Democrats’ “superdelegates.”

It is discouraging for newcomers, and excludes political independents altogether.

Many Iowans are reluctant to make significant changes to the caucus process, partly in reverence to our unique tradition, and partly in fear Iowa could lose its influential, first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest.

Late last year, a panel of Democratic National Committee leaders unveiled new rules to increase access to their presidential nominating process, including absentee caucus participation and reporting full vote totals, rather than only the traditional delegate counts.

At the very least, it’s a worthwhile experiment. A political process that can be thrown off by snowflakes is unfit for a republic as free and prosperous as ours.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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