An Ambassador’s On-The-Ground Reflections from the Iowa Caucus

My classmates and I spent the evening of Monday, February 3rd the same way many others in our nation did: anxiously awaiting results from the Iowa Caucuses. However, as scenes from caucus sites around the state appeared on our screen, it felt a little different. We had been there. Iowans were choosing between candidates for whom my peers had knocked on front doors throughout Des Moines. Organizers were holding up stacks of Presidential Preference Cards that I had stuffed into precinct packets. Our student journalists had their cameras between major news outlets and asked the candidates questions in press gaggles. The opportunity to experience caucus preparations was tremendous and definitely a highlight of my studies so far. I had the immense privilege of being there on the ground and learned so much from my experience.

During Elon University’s 2020 Winter Term, 27 fellow students, two professors, and I flew to Des Moines, Iowa, where we spent 12 days following the preparations for the upcoming Iowa Caucuses. Most of us spent our days working for different candidates, and the journalism students who were on the trip reported on various campaign events all over the state. Not having a preference for one candidate over the others, two other students and I chose to work for the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP).

Our first few days with the IDP were spent stuffing boxes with all the different forms, preference cards, envelopes, and more that are necessary for each of Iowa’s precincts to have a caucus. Once the boxes were filled and shipped out, we turned our focus to caucus logistics. For the first time, satellite caucuses were held to make the civic process more accessible to Iowans. Eighty-seven total locations in Iowa, across the country, and around the world, helped make these caucuses more democratic with solutions like earlier start times and translators. When working on a spreadsheet of caucus locations, I was struck to see that Scotland’s satellite caucus was being held in a private residence. An Iowan abroad was opening his home for an evening simply to help his neighbors participate in the civic process.

Accessibility was also a top priority at the regular caucuses as well. Every single caucus site was ensured ADA accessible. The IDP had a full-time staff member dedicated to coordinating accommodations for people with disabilities. The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses were the most accessible and democratic in history. Party staff members worked tirelessly, seven days a week, to make sure that as many Iowans as possible who wanted to caucus could. Despite what happened later with the app and reporting results, more Iowans had the ability to caucus than ever before.

This dedication to increasing active citizenship is inspiring and reminds me that we at The Andrew Goodman Foundation are not alone in this fight. Coming back to campus after being in Iowa was difficult and discouraging. The democratic process that I had just been fully immersed in was no longer the talk of the town, and I had my fair share of “now what” moments. But in the weeks leading up to the North Carolina registration deadline, I saw students filling out forms and sliding them in TurboVote envelopes. The Kernodle Center, our campus office, saw plenty of traffic from students who needed stamps and envelopes or help registering and requesting their absentee ballots. The 2020 primaries have just begun, and anything can happen between now and November 3rd. But through the chaos and noise, students are listening, watching, and most importantly: participating.

 About The Author

Andrea Sheetz is an Andrew Goodman Ambassador and student at Elon University.