By Kate Selig
Stanford will host a satellite caucus at the Haas Center for the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) 2020 Caucuses on Monday. This is the first year the IDP is allowing Iowans to caucus in the Democratic party primary outside of each voter’s precinct, a switch intended to increase caucus participation and accessibility.
The first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses have historically had an outsize effect on Democratic primaries. Some have argued that former President Barack Obama’s unexpected victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses propelled him to become the eventual nominee over establishment-favorite Hillary Clinton.
The caucus is open to any registered Iowa Democrat who makes it to Stanford’s campus. Stanford Votes’s State Expert for Iowa, Kevin Li ’22, who is originally from Iowa said he expected the turnout to be around 20 people. Li also serves as student-at-large on The Daily’s Board of Directors.
“There are only 20 undergraduates and 22 graduate students from Iowa,” Li said. “And even turnout within Iowa is around 12% because of how inconvenient it can be to caucus.”
The Democratic National Committee’s rules changed last year to encourage states to run primary elections instead of caucuses to determine candidate delegate allocation. Only three states — Iowa, Nevada and Wyoming — will determine delegate allocation by caucus this year.
In a caucus, attendees lobby other caucus-goers in support of their chosen candidate. Attendees are required to stay at the caucus location until the caucus — often a multiple-hour affair — is finished. The strict attendance rule has generated criticism that the Iowa caucuses are inaccessible.
According to an infographic put out by the IDP, the introduction of satellite caucuses is designed to increase “[participation] in the Democratic process” and “[ensure] that caucusing is easy and accessible.”
This year, Iowan Democrats have the option to caucus at 97 additional locations, 25 of which are out-of-state.
Li agreed that the caucuses in prior years were relatively inaccessible, compared to traditional primaries, where individuals vote instead of caucusing.
“Requiring caucus-goers to be physically present at one place for three hours on a Monday evening in one place in Iowa is not the best for turnout,” Li said.
Stanford granted a caucus location
Li characterized the distribution of satellite caucuses as “arbitrary.”
“Where the sites are depends on where people who have the energy and resources to host them are,” Li said, observing that out-of-state caucuses are distributed across only 13 states, with California hosting two.
According to Li, two Stanford students applied last year to host a caucus on campus at the Haas Center. Stanford’s campus was not initially granted the caucus, with the IDP naming the Menlo Park Library as a satellite caucus site instead.
Li said that the Menlo Park Library turned down the offer, leading the IDP to grant Stanford the caucus.
Menlo Park Library Services Director Sean Reinhart said that while he was not aware of any decision to apply for or reject the caucus, library policy would have precluded Menlo Park Library from hosting the caucus.
“Our meeting room policy stipulates that meetings and other activities in the library’s meetings rooms must be non-political in nature,” Reinhart said.
Stanford Votes mobilizes voters
Chase Small ’22, who co-directs Stanford Votes with Alexandra Chau ’22, said Stanford Votes has been working to increase voter turnout, including at Stanford’s satellite caucus. According to Small, Stanford Votes was founded after the 2014 midterm election, where student turnout was 14.5%.
Small said that, in the lead-up to the 2020 elections, Stanford Votes has created two additional roles for students to increase turnout. Stanford Votes Representatives encourage students in clubs and dorms to register to vote, and State Experts share knowledge about the voting policies of each state.
Small said the State Experts have an especially important role in increasing turnout, given the varied voting policies across states.
“Each state has its own process, timeline and type of election,” Small said. “There are so many moving parts, and even people who want to help their friends vote can’t hold all that information.”
Li, in his role as a State Expert, said he has created and distributed a one-page document to explain the caucus registration process for Iowans at Stanford.
“We’ve put out an email blast to all of the Iowa students,” Li said. “With Iowa, it’s been very important to have people who are knowledgeable about the process to get the word out.”
Li said, “The overall mantra is that every vote counts.”
The satellite caucus will be held at 5 p.m. at the DK Room at the Haas Center on Monday. To be eligible to caucus, students need to have pre-registered by Jan. 17.
Contact Kate Selig at kselig ‘at’ stanford.edu.
This article has been updated to include that Alexandra Chau ’22 is the other co-director of Stanford Votes.