Staff Columnist

Rule mistake makes a caucus mess in Marion

Caucus night in Marion 5
Caucus night in Marion 5

In Marion’s precinct 5, caucus night got messy.

“Well, I was rooting for you, Iowa caucuses,” said my, daughter, Tess, who was caucusing for the first time and witnessed, first hand, how things can go very wrong. She got her sarcasm from someplace.

On the north side of Marion, at Excelsior Middle School, things went south with the first alignment count Monday night. This year’s introduction of preference cards caused some confusion, and when the numbers were tallied, the group supporting Massachusetts. Sen. Elizabeth Warren fell one person short of viability.

Warren had 40 backers, and needed 41 to reach 15 percent viability in a precinct that drew 272 caucus goers. Warren backers looked stunned as the count was announced. Sanders, in that initial count, was viable by only a single vote.

Warren supporters were then told by caucus volunteers they would not be allowed to combine with supporters of other non-viable candidates to become viable. Volunteers were wrong, as a call later to Democratic officials confirmed. Team Warren could have built a viable second-chance coalition under the rules.

Some dejected Warren voters switched candidates. Some simply left before the mistaken rules interpretation was corrected. Warren backers who stayed tried to get their realigned supporters back. There was much counting and cajoling and consternation, but Warren still fell short.

“Are you going to report how this was a (beep) show?” asked Megan Lange, a Warren supporter. “If this is going on in other caucuses, how reliable is it?”

“We had to do two hours of training so we knew how it was supposed to work,” said Diane Bean, another Warren backer, who wondered whether volunteers were trained well enough.

Nate Harris caucused for the first time to support Warren.

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“This is like a badly organized middle school assembly,” Harris said. “As a young voter, this is very disappointing.”

Volunteers messed up. And their late efforts to pull Marion 5 out of the dumpster fire might have fared better if more people had waited to go from being caucusgoers to home-goers. By the time the problem was identified, too few Democrats remained in the gym for a replay call.

“We regret the confusion,” said Barb Wild, a caucus volunteer. She encouraged Warren supporters to document the problems so lessons can be learned. A complaint is likely.

Aside from that big mistake, how did north Marion Democrats enjoy the caucuses? Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg won the most support with 87 votes translating into three delegate equivalents. Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders, who picked up support on realignment, tied with 57 votes and two delegates each. Joe Biden got a delegate from his 53-vote support.

The fact that moderate candidates did so well isn’t surprising. This is the part of Marion that sent moderate Democrat Swati Dandekar to the state Senate. She was on hand to caucus for Klobuchar Monday night. The precinct also has backed moderate Republicans, when they existed, such as the late, great Mary Lundby. Lundby’s protégé, Republican turned Democratic County Supervisor Brent Oleson, caucused for Biden.

So there’s a centrist streak running through the vinyl castles of north Marion. Revolution is slow growing here. Must be that lack of topsoil.

Tess caucused for Klobuchar, although Warren was her second choice. She wondered if she had supported Warren whether the whole Marion 5 mess of 2020 might have been avoided. We’ll never know. One thing we do know, knowing the rules always helps.

(319) 398-82626; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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