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The Scarlet & Black

Challenges, benefits reported from caucus host buildings

Keli Vitaioli

In typical Iowa politics fashion, the Grinnell community came together to speak their voices in the Iowa Caucuses on Feb. 1. There were four voting precincts in Grinnell: Davis Elementary School, Grinnell High School, the Mayflower Center and the College’s Harris Center.

County party organizers asked locations to hold the caucus events based on availability. A few hours before the event, the Caucus hosts were given access to the buildings to prepare the space layout and make sure to meet the needs of the event.

This year, the county’s Democratic Party anticipated a large turnout because of the intense race between Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton. They wanted to promote college and town involvement by providing voting locations in each of Grinnell’s five voting precincts—making up half of Poweshiek County’s ten precincts.

Residents of Grinnell’s First Ward pack the Harris Center Feb. 1 for the Democratic Caucuses. Photo by Jun Taek Lee.
Residents of Grinnell’s First Ward pack the Harris Center Feb. 1 for the Democratic Caucuses. Photo by Jun Taek Lee.

“The Iowa Democratic organization believes strongly that voting should be held in the wards they are representing,” said Rachel Bly, the College’s Events Director for Conference Operations.

Bly has experience on both sides of the caucus organization, being active in the county Democratic Party. Bly aided in arranging the space usage at the Harris Center, and organized many of the recent political events on campus, including Bill Clinton’s recent visit.

Compared to recent politician visits, Bly said the caucus was one of the more easy events to organize. There were small challenges, such as finding chairs and having intermittent technological glitches, but the caucus hosts mostly ran the event. The space providers merely facilitated the event to take place.

A challenging aspect for all the locations was the unexpectedly large voter turnout. In the Harris Center, the request expanded from just the concert hall to allow access to the cinema if necessary—a request which was utilized on caucus night.

“The expectations for our numbers was only 500-600 for which the Harris Center would’ve worked really nicely … this was the biggest caucus we’ve ever [held here],” Bly said. “It was much bigger than the numbers from even [in 2008] when we had our last biggest caucus. I think next time we’re going to have to find a different space, maybe Darby or the fieldhouse, because Harris is just too small.”

The voter turnout at the Harris Center alone was 925—about 400 voters above the original estimate—with 600 of those 925 having registered at the door right before the event. The Mayflower Center also reported numbers well above expectations.

College students made up a large portion of the caucus voters in Grinnell, but they were not the only young people the event locations aimed to draw in. According to Grinnell High School principal Kevin Seney, there were even younger voters.

“The nice thing about holding [the caucus] at the school was that we were able to involve a lot of high school students who were interested in the process,” Seney said. “Because it was here, more of them felt comfortable coming and participating in their respective party’s caucus.”

Bly, who lives in town, showed excitement at the success in drawing high school student voters to the caucus this year.

“It’s really cool to see the [high school] students getting really excited with all the events leading up to the caucus,” Bly said. “The caucus is a great way to see the college students interact with the community in a very different way and that is part of being a [high school] student and being in this community.”

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