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June 26th, 2012
 

Caucus Review Committee Finishes Its Work but Fails to Tackle Major Reforms

As it turns out, the Republican Party of Iowa’s Caucus Review Committee was aptly named.  After sending numerous press releases, holding three regional meetings that were open to the public, and conducting a non-scientific poll that gave the 2012 caucuses high marks, the committee has finished its work and will only offer a handful of obvious recommendations to the Republican State Central Committee.

The committee has voted to recommend that the Republican Party of Iowa amend its bylaws to include specific instructions for the party chair and staff to follow in a presidential caucus year.  The new Republican State Central Committee will take up the recommendations at their next meeting, but for the recommendations to be enacted, they will need to be approved by a two-thirds vote by the committee.

The following are the additions to the bylaws that the committee is recommending.

1. The Republican Party of Iowa’s announcement of statewide results of the Iowa Caucuses Republican Presidential Preference Poll shall be made available to all media and interested parties at one time by the chair of the Republican Party of Iowa or his or her designee.

2. If the margin between the top two presidential candidates is less than 1% of the total votes counted, the results will be reported as uncertified and no winner will be officially declared until the results are certified.

3. Final certification of vote results shall be completed within 72 hours, so that results are announced prior to the New Hampshire primary. Regardless of the margin, the candidate with the most certified votes will be declared the winner of the Iowa Caucuses Republican Presidential Preference Poll.

4. Training material, including the official First-in-the-Nation Precinct Chair’s Guide to Organizing Your Precinct Caucuses and the official County Chair’s Guide to Organizing the Iowa Caucuses will be distributed to county chairs and made available on-line 365 days prior to the date of the Iowa caucuses. Final training materials will be distributed and made available online at least 60 days prior to the date of the caucuses. Paper reporting forms will be in triplicate and electronic reporting systems will have redundancy. Registered voter lists will be made available 30 days prior to the date of the caucuses.

5. In non-presidential election year caucuses, a training test run of the Presidential Preference Poll will be conducted by the Republican Party of Iowa.

The biggest change is that the Republican Party of Iowa is shrinking the time it takes to certify the results from two weeks to three days.  It’s a necessary move, but one that has leaders of large metropolitan counties worried about collecting all of the information from various precincts.  Committee member David Fischer, a former State Central Committee member, voiced concern that the committee isn’t being bold enough.  Fischer believes that the vote can be certified instantly and without filling out a form.  The majority of the committee however felt the need to keep in tact an actual paper trail that could be used to verify the results in each precinct across the state.

While the committee rightfully focused on expanding training of caucus leaders and wants to use non-presidential caucuses to test the reporting and tabulating system, most of the problems on which the committee focused involved the shortcomings of Matt Strawn, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa who stepped down following the caucuses.

The recommendations require that all caucus results be communicated simultaneously to the media.  With the exception of 2012 when Strawn decided to release the 2012 certified caucus results only to the Des Moines Register, this is something that has been done for as long as I can remember, usually by utilizing the Associated Press.  The major change is that the new rule, if adopted, would prevent the chair from declaring a winner when the race is within a one percent margin.

On January 3rd, with Mitt Romney ahead of Rick Santorum by only eight votes, Strawn declared Romney the winner. Looking back, Strawn should have said the race was too close to call, and the certification process would determine who the winner of the closest caucus in Iowa’s history would be.  However, the problem wasn’t only that Strawn declared Romney the winner on caucus night, it’s that he refused to declare Santorum the winner after the certification process.

While the actions of the committee clearly show that they want to prevent future chairs from trying to spin the results to one reporter like Strawn did following the certification process, the committee was tight lipped when members of the public wanted an explanation of why the chairman would clearly declare Romney the winner on caucus night, but basically refuse to declare Santorum the winner after the certification process.

The committee also showed no interest in dealing with what may be the biggest criticism of the Iowa caucuses moving forward – the fact that the winner on caucus night means nothing in terms of delegates to the national convention.  When a gentleman stated that most of the votes in his precinct were cast for either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, the top two finishers statewide, yet neither has much representation in the Iowa delegation that is headed to Tampa later this summer, committee chairman Bill Schickel stated that the committee was more focused on the problems that were experienced on caucus night than anything else.

Maybe the most frustrating thing about the final meeting of the Caucus Review Committee is that it was clear that they were just going though the motions.  While only eight or so members of the public turned out to the meeting, the committee had already settled on their recommendations long before they made their way to Sioux City.  The committee listened to the ideas from the public, most of which were acknowledged by Schickel saying “duly noted.”  Meanwhile, the final recommendations were already written and printed out.  When that point was brought up to the committee, copies of the final recommendations were passed out.  So much for public input from people in northwest Iowa.

It’s unfortunate that the committee decided to finish its work before listening to the concerns of people at all their meetings.  Even though the number of attendees was few in Sioux City, serious concerns were raised.  Denise Anderson shared the story of her two sons who went to the wrong caucus location but were still allowed to vote despite not being on the voter rolls.  The committee’s response?  We need better-trained volunteers.

Sheila Murphy, the chair of the Harrison County GOP, brought up the idea of the precinct leaders being elected by the local county central committees before the caucuses so that they could be better trained.  Such a move would also provide the Republican Party with more certainty as to who is responsible for each precinct caucus.  Currently the pre-identified caucus leader is only a temporary chair that must win election to be the permanent chair.

Very rarely does the temporary chair not become the permanent chair, but it has happened in the past.  Having each central committee pre-select the permanent chair for each precinct would allow counties to make sure all precinct leaders are trained, but it would also speed things up on caucus night.  Unfortunately, Ms. Murphy’s idea was greeted by a, “duly noted,” and the committee moved on with other business.

The Caucus Review Committee did what it’s name suggested it would do, review the 2012 caucuses.  That’s not a bad thing, but following a caucus that received an immense amount of bad media attention, the committee took a pass on making changes that could strengthen Iowa’s argument as to why it deserves to remain the first contest on the presidential nominating calendar.

The committee could have looked at making the Republican caucuses more hospitable to candidates by ending the Ames Straw Poll, which causes problems for late emerging candidates and angers other states because it’s perceived as giving Iowans two bites at the apple.  The committee didn’t even bring it up, and the current chairman says the idea is dead on arrival.

The committee could have found a way to ensure that the winner on caucus night is rewarded by garnering enough delegates to allow them to be the actual winner.  Again, the committee took no action on the matter.

The committee could find ways to streamline Iowa’s caucus to convention process in a way that would make it more appealing for people to participate.  Instead of selecting national delegates from each congressional district on the Friday night before the state convention, which is a huge inconvience and expense for people outside of the Des Moines area, they could be selected at the district convention it self.  The committee didn’t even go in that direction because it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual caucuses.

Much media attention has been given to the Caucus Review Committee, but in the end, it really didn’t produce much besides the obvious.  It doesn’t take a committee to realize that the handling of the caucus results, especially following the certification process, was a complete disaster.  It doesn’t take a committee to suggest that more training is needed after some counties failed to turn in the necessary forms.

Worse yet for the Caucus Review Committee is that getting two-thirds of the Republican State Central Committee to vote to add their recommendations to the state party bylaws to make them binding for future caucuses isn’t going to be easy.  While David Fischer is no longer a member of the of the central committee, a majority of the incoming SCC members probably share his viewpoint that including these recommendations in the party bylaws isn’t necessary.

If the Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee votes down the recommendations from the caucus review committee, Iowa Republicans will once again have egg on their faces because all the committee’s work was for naught.

One can only hope the rest of the county is not watching.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and TheIowaRepublican.com as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, TheIowaRepublcian.com. Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.




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