The Sioux Center caucus: cupcakes and coin flips

Harrison Burns — Staff Writer

Not even the bitter winds raging through Sioux Center could keep away the dozens of residents pouring into the local Iowa Democratic caucuses.  One of these voters was Hannah Adams, a junior at Dordt studying history and secondary education.  While many arrived at the caucus eager to vote, Adams, originally from Wisconsin, visibly beamed in anticipation.  She had more reason than most to be excited.  “I picked a college in Iowa just so I could caucus,” Adams said.

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Although Sioux Center is part of the consistently Republican Sioux County, the 125 registered voters who participated nearly doubled the turnout from the same Democratic caucus in 2016.

The All Seasons Center hosted the caucus, with the voting room overlooking the indoor pool from the front wall and a hockey practice from the back wall.  Rows of cold metal chairs lined the center of the room, enticing screaming children to sprint between them.

Immediately after the residents entered the voting area, a line of candidate organizers bombarded them with stickers and slogans.

Jason Lief, a former Dordt professor, worked as one of the surrogate greeters at the entrance.  He placed an Amy Klobuchar sticker into a new arrivals hand.  “I know you want this,” he said before moving on to the next in line.

After wading through the sea of greeters, the Sioux Center residents found themselves in the large arena where the battle lines of the political competition were drawn.  Candidates’ camps were clearly marked by the excessive merchandise surrounding tables across the room.  These ranged from blunt “I am caucusing for Bernie” signs to more obscure advertisements like Andrew Yang’s sign that simply said “MATH”.

Other surrogates went beyond visuals to attract potential undecided voters.  The green colored Klobuchar table held a single liter of Diet Coke open to the public and the Warren team brought an assortment of cupcakes and cookies.

Victoria Kollbaum, another junior who came along with Adams, was one of these undecided caucus goers.  While Adams remained 100% committed to supporting Pete Buttigieg, Kollbaum admitted to not being as familiar with the candidates as her friend.  “I came here to learn more about politics,” she said.

Once the meeting started 20 minutes late (due to the large number of first-time caucus-goers registering to vote), each surrogate delivered a three minute stump for their candidates before the voting.

Dordt history professor, Scott Culpepper, represented the Buttigieg campaign and focused on the former mayor’s successes in his local town of South Bend.

Lief touted Klobuchar’s ability to work with both extremes on the political spectrum and her practical approach for change.  “She understands people need to be led and not pushed,” he said.

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Dordt’s influence on the caucus could be felt as yet another Dordt professor, Laurel Koerner, advocated for Elizabeth Warren.  The theatre arts professor pointed to the need for systemic, structural change and made the case that Warren would accomplish just that.

While most of the surrogates were local citizens of Sioux Center, the Bernie Sanders camp utilized out of state supporters.  Making a ten-hour drive from Denver, Colorado, Sara Sheiner came to the small northwest Iowa town to garner support at the request of the Sander’s campaign.  “Bernie’s just the best.  His campaign’s focus is that people are what matter,” she said.

Sheiner launched into politics after Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 and has been a Sander’s fan ever since.  Not being an Iowan native like many locals in the room, Sheiner shared her appreciation for the caucusing process that encourages community discussion.  “This is how politics should be,” she said.

Once the stump speeches ended, the actual voting began and the Office Chair separated the room between the northern and central voting districts.  Voters flocked to their preferred candidates’ clusters in the room, indicated by the waving signs of each surrogate.

The renowned unpredictability of the caucuses was on full display during the voting process.  In the northern precinct voting, six of Sander’s supporters just missed the 15% viability cut off, seven votes, in the first round.

When the realignment in the second round began, Dordt junior Ian Nelson initially switched to Buttigieg, his second choice after Sanders.  However, a lone Biden supporter, who also didn’t achieve the 15% viability, unexpectedly chose to join the Sander’s coalition.  Seeing this, Nelson quickly switched again, this time back to Sanders.  This allowed the Sander’s camp to barely capture the prized viability with seven votes in the second round of voting, resulting in a delegate vote for Sanders.

Nelson explained his primary interest in candidates was not their policy differences.  “I am more worried about the character of the candidate,” Nelson said, “I want someone who can be a good friend for the states.”

The central Sioux Center voting also witnessed dramatic twists through the process.  After calculating the votes of the second round, the Klobuchar and Buttigieg teams ended up tying.  Because of the draw in the final count, the caucus required a coin toss to decide where the final delegate vote would go.  The coin flipped tails and the Klobuchar team shouted in victory, scoring another delegate for their candidate.

By the time the second and final round of voting finished, Klobuchar won the central Sioux Center caucus, earning 3 total delegates, while north Sioux Center concluded in a four-way split, with Buttigieg, Warren, Yang and Sanders all earning one delegate.

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