/Iowas caucusgoers have a new place to vote: overseas

Iowas caucusgoers have a new place to vote: overseas

You can take the would-be caucusgoer out of Iowa but not the quintessentially Iowan neighborhood political gathering out of the would-be caucusgoer.

The first step in Iowa’s U.S. presidential nomination process takes place in fire stations, schools, libraries, churches and private homes. This year, there’s something different: For the first time, they are happening outside the state. 

Colyn Burbank’s apartment he shares with his wife and young daughter is a good example. Except in one way: The graduate student is hosting an Iowa caucus in his adopted home of Glasgow, Scotland – 4,000 miles from where he grew up. 

“I know at least six Iowans who will show up. Maybe 10. The word’s gotten out,” the Des Moines native, 31, said. “I’m really happy Iowans will be part of the process even though they are not in Iowa. Because of the time difference, we’re going to be caucusing six hours ahead of Iowa – one of the first in the world.” 

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Also a first this year: Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, which take place Monday and give an early if not absolutely reliable indication which Democrat could go on to win the nomination of the political party for U.S. president, are going international. (The Republican caucuses in Iowa also take place on Monday, but with President Donald Trump facing no serious primary challenge, the focus this year is mainly on the Democratic contest.) 

In addition to Glasgow, Iowa’s Democratic Party designated Tbilisi, Georgia – an ex-Soviet republic located at the crossroads of eastern Europe and western Asia – as well as Paris, France, as international caucus sites. They are for voters who, like Burbank, are unable to attend their precinct’s caucus in Iowa.

Troy Price, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said in a statement late last year when the idea for the satellite caucuses was first announced that the ultimate goal was “to make these caucuses the most accessible in our party’s history.” 

In an email, Joshua Kucera, a freelance journalist from Iowa who is hosting the caucus in Tbilisi, said he had done a few interviews about his motivations for organizing a caucus in Georgia but then decided to write his own story about it. It was published online Friday by The Nation, a weekly magazine. Kucera notes in the story that the very first of the votes of the Iowa caucuses will actually be cast in his apartment “south of Russia and east of Turkey” in a region that is known “as it happens, as the Caucasus.”  

Kucera said he is looking forward to recreating a “tiny bit of Iowa halfway around the world.” Emphasis on tiny: “I have one other Iowan friend here in Tbilisi, and when our site was approved, we set about trying to find other Iowans to take part … We posted in the expat Facebook groups and contacted the U.S. Embassy and Peace Corps here to see if they had any Iowans. In the end, we found … one.” 

Well, three beats none. 

In Paris, where Iowan Emily Hagedorn is hosting a caucus in France’s capital not far from the famous Louvre Museum and the elegant arcades that frame the handsome garden of the Jardin du Palais Royal, numbers may not be as big an issue. Paris is home to a large expatriate population, many of them Americans.  

“There are 26 preregistered Iowans for the caucus last I checked, but that doesn’t mean 26 will come, necessarily,” she said in emailed comments Friday, noting that Paris’ mayor’s office is “graciously” letting her use a room to host the event. 

“It’s important to me to be civically engaged and I’m really thankful the Iowa Democratic Party made this an option this year,” she said. Hagedorn said she transmit the results back to Iowa via FaceTime, Apple’s video software.

Burbank intends to use Skype’s video application to send his results. 

Democratic officials expect a turnout of nearly 240,000 Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa on Monday at more than 1,600 precincts, a figure that would rival 2008’s record turnout. Iowa’s Democratic Party has authorized 60 in-state satellite locations, 25 out-of-state sites, plus the three international ones.

All the events will function in a similar way.

Colyn Burbank with his daughter, Nell, in Glasgow, Scotland.

Caucusgoers must be present at a physical location at a prescribed time to register their support by forming preference groups. Like a regular caucus, the events in Glasgow, Paris and Tbilisi will be overseen by a trained chairperson (Burbank, Hagedorn and Kucera, respectively). The satellite caucuses are treated as one big county. The number of delegates each candidate wins won’t be known until all the satellites report. 

Burbank, who caucused in Iowa four years ago ahead of the last U.S. presidential election – as a participant, not a host – said that at his event in Glasgow he is expecting to put his support behind Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator is statistically tied at the top of the Democratic field with former Vice President Joe Biden, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll released Friday.

Burbank described Elizabeth Warren as a “great option” and pointed out that his mother, Mary Horsman, back home in Iowa, prefers the Massachusetts Senator. 

“I do not see it so much as a rivalry, but as a time to talk about how much is on the line for the next presidential election,” Horsman said in an email. “We both will support whoever wins the final nomination,” she said, adding in a “p.s.”: “Not sure where to add this but I feel like I need to share. I grew up in a politically active family. I think it is in (our family’s DNA) not to sit on the sidelines.”

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Burbank said that, like him, at least two of his fellow caucusgoers are students. He said one of the biggest challenges of hosting the caucus will be to accommodate up to 10 Iowans in his small apartment in Glasgow, a few of whom will be bringing their small children, the next generation of caucusgoers. “But it should be a pretty varied demographic and it will be interesting to see what happens,” he said. 

“We’re hoping for a friendly vibe, to make it as Iowan as possible,” he said, saying that because Iowa is known for its cornfields he might make corn on the cob.

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