Local caucus leaders share insight into experience

Monica Lyons of Monticello chairs the caucus site for the Monticello 3 precinct. Lyons said the new caucus format went well for everyone. She did not experience any issues when reporting the results. (Photo by Pete Temple)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     There were a few changes to the Iowa Caucuses this year, namely in the way the Democratic Caucuses were conducted, the format, and the reporting mechanism.

     For starters, there were three sets of numbers caucus chairs were responsible for reporting to the IDP (Iowa Democratic Party) in Des Moines. There was the first alignment in which caucusgoers formed support groups depending on the presidential candidate of their choice. This was the first number to report. If a support group totaled less than 15 percent of the total attendees, that candidate was no longer viable. Attendees were then instructed to either join a viable support group or remain uncommitted. After this realignment, this was the second number to report. The final number to report is the number of state delegates awarded to each viable candidate following the final realignment.

     This year, with one clear candidate for the Republican Caucus, their evening went off without a hitch.

     While caucus results typically start pouring in around 9 p.m. on caucus night, final results, meaning 100 percent reporting, were not fully released until last week, several days following the Monday evening caucuses.

     So much was said as to why the caucus results were delayed. Statements were made by IDP Chair Troy Price, apologizing for the delay. Despite the national media frenzy, Iowa’s state and national Representatives, Senators, and Governor released statements as well, standing  by the Iowa Caucuses.

     The Express reached out to several local people who were caucus chairs and caucus site secretaries for their insight into how the process worked and issues they may have faced.

     Keith Stamp and Monica Lyons, both of Monticello, chaired Castle Grove/Lovell/Wayne Townships and Monticello 3 respectively. Stamp had about 70 people at his caucus site; Lyons had about 35, including a few observers like her 8-year-old daughter Mary Grace Lyons.

     Stamp said as a former high school government teacher, he wanted to become active in the caucus process to practice what he preaches.

     “I firmly believe that I should practice service in a variety of ways to my community,” he said. “One way to achieve this goal is to participate in a political party.”

     Lyons was attending a community event with fellow Jones County Democrat supporter Deb Bowman, who mentioned the need for caucus site volunteers.

     “I’m a political junkie and was going to be attending the caucus anyway,” she said. “So taking some online training and reading a script to facilitate a meeting was an easy ‘add on’ to my night.”

     Ellen Strittmatter was caucus secretary for Monticello 1, with 24 participants. Like Lyons, she also considers herself a “political junkie.”

     “I was pleased to serve as the caucus secretary.”

     Four years ago, Strittmatter provided the same service during the 2016 caucuses.

     With the new format for the Democrats this year, all three said they took part in some sort of training, whether in person or online. Lyons downloaded the new reporting app on her cell phone and tested it prior to Monday night.

     “I felt confident that I understood the format, the rules, potential concerns/questions, and especially how to contact folks if there were any unusual situations,” Lyons relayed.

     Stamp felt the new format “increased the accountability” for those collecting and reporting results. “The process this year enhanced the document trail for caucus work,” he said. In addition, Stamp said the reporting process “was VERY challenging.”

     However, he felt the caucusgoers understood the process, despite the changes.

     Lyons felt the same in terms of attendees having an understanding of the format. She paused from time to time to answer any questions, if necessary.

     “My precinct had very few questions, and the entire caucus process went very smoothly,” shared Lyons. “This new format also provided more transparency to candidates and others in the preference intentions of participants.”

     Strittmatter was a fan of the change in format, but was disappointed that the plans “were upended.”

     “The national reaction has cast Iowa in such an unfavorable light,” added Strittmatter.

     Like the local and national media reported, there were issues for those trying to report numbers via the app or by calling them in directly. Stamp experienced just that. He said it was slow when it came to getting a response from the IDP.

     Lyons was success in reporting her precinct numbers with the app, and experienced no issues whatsoever. She did admit some disappointment for those who had trouble reporting either through the app or over the phone.

     Stamp expressed he was “exceedingly disappointed.” Though he did share that both the Democrats and Republican offices in Des Moines have limited staff and resources when it comes to “effectively implementing the Iowa Caucus system.”

     Strittmatter said her caucus chair attempted to call the results in, but was put on hold for a bit.

     Rather than the first caucus, Strittmatter would like to see that replaced by the first primary.

     “Should Iowa lose its first-in-the-nation status, I will miss the political excitement of meeting the candidate hopefuls face-to-face,” she said.

     Speaking of Iowa’s future with the first-in-the-nation caucuses, Lyons feels some pride in that fact because it attracts so many of the candidates every four years.

     “We have so much exposure to candidates very early in their presidential bid process,” she said. “It’s an awesome opportunity to help them shape their platforms.”

     Stamp is less sure that this longstanding tradition will last for Iowa.

     “Iowa clearly is not representative of the demographics of the nation as a totality,” he said. “Iowa is likely to lose some significant political influence if the first-in-the-nation caucus does not continue.”


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