DES MOINES, Iowa — The caucus was underway at the Iowa Democratic Party’s precinct 38 at Olin Hall in Des Moines’ Drake University, and the unexpectedly high turnout resulted in a chaotic scene. Crowds spilled over into the halls, and observers, who are normally allowed to watch, were temporarily asked to leave as the process began on Monday night.
Des Moines Register political columnist Katie Obradovich was on hand to watch. Obradovich noted that she was in the newsroom in 2008, which saw the most recent caucus in which no incumbent was running. Still, she said the crowds at the precinct seemed incredibly high.
“I would say this strikes me as being ridiculously crowded,” Obradovich said.
High turnout at colleges would seem to benefit Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, as he has demonstrated strong support among young voters. Still, the effect of unusually large numbers of young voters would be limited, because each precinct awards a predetermined number of delegates, based only on the turnout in past elections. These delegates are the ones who play a role in the presidential nominating process.
“This is a precinct at Drake, and this is going to be skewed to young people,” Obradovich said. “I would like to see, you know, how people are turning out elsewhere in the state.” But, she added, “Clearly, a ton of young people are turning out here.”
John Schley and Laura Kracht, a pair of Hillary Clinton supporters who said they had previously caucused at the same precinct, also described the turnout as exceptional.
“I think it’s three times larger than 2008,” Schley said.
“Easily,” Kracht said. “They can’t even get everybody in the room.”
“It’s crazy,” Schley declared.
Voters gather to caucus Monday night at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Des Moines 38th Precinct at Drake University. (Photo: Hunter Walker/Yahoo News)
Despite the crowds, party officials were still attempting to conduct the relatively complex Democratic caucus process at the precinct. It involves grouping people according to candidate preference, counting them, and then having realignment periods if any group is under a 15 percent viability threshold. As of the time of this writing, caucusing was still currently underway.
Schley, a computer programmer, and Kracht, an educator, were an unusual sight at the precinct. Most of the other attendees were Drake students. Sanders was also winning here based on the first alignment.
Schley and Kracht both cited Clinton’s “experience” when asked why they support the former first lady, senator and secretary of state.
Mikaela Peterson and Lydia Code are Drake students from Minneapolis who said they registered to participate and support Sanders. Iowa allows same-day voter registration for people who have proof of local residence or have a verified resident of the precinct willing to serve as an “attester” for them.
“It seems very disorganized,” Peterson said of the precinct. “I heard it got moved from one location to this location.”
“This is like one of the smaller lecture halls, too,” Code added.“There’s not enough room in here.”
Code described Sanders as “really popular” on the Drake campus.
“I would say probably 70 percent of the people I’ve talked to tonight are caucusing for Bernie,” Peterson said.
Sanders has emerged as Clinton’s top rival, after climbing in the polls. Heading into caucus day, he was within striking distance of Clinton.
Officials announced that, after the initial alignment, Sanders was in the lead, with 248 supporters. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was in second place, with 108 supporters, and Clinton in third with 107.
O’Malley, who visited this precinct before the caucus began, had far more support here than he had shown in polls in the broader race. According to
the RealClearPolitics average, O’Malley was coming in at a distant third place, with just 4.3 percent.
After O’Malley spoke at the precinct, Yahoo News asked him whether he was concerned that strong youth support for him would not be reflected in the results, because delegates are awarded based on turnout in prior years. He said he was not familiar with the rule.
“I’m not aware of that,” O’Malley said. “I think they’re going to have a good turnout.”
A source subsequently confirmed to Yahoo News that O’Malley was set to suspend his campaign Monday night on initial results around the state. He was to officially announce his departure from the race at an event for his supporters scheduled for 9:30 p.m. local time.