Caucus Across The Border

By J.D. Erickson

A couple of us South Dakotans crossed into Lyons County, Iowa on caucus night to witness the vote count at the Forster Community Center in Rock Rapids. I’d been there recently to hear Michele Bachmann, and I recognized a few people from that visit, including the elderly lady I’d escorted around a news cameraman so she could speak to Michelle. Another gentleman I recognized took special interest in me, a stranger-with-clipboard. I didn’t appear to be one of the news media, and since I remained standing, I wasn’t there to vote. If nothing else, his observance of me told me he wouldn’t stand for any occupier or other outsider nonsense at his meeting.

The parking lot was full. The hallway was four or five people deep waiting to enter precinct 8. There seemed to be a number of teen-agers in the que. People were chatting; friendly smiles all around. The weather had cooperated. After months of presidential politicking in their town, it was time to vote.

A day or so before, I’d watched the organizational meeting for the Bettendorf caucus on C-SPAN. Rock Rapids isn’t Bettendorf, where the chairman organized the chaos of a great many precincts and voting venues. We had two precincts to observe, one in each of two large rooms made by dividing the Forster Center’s main room.

Rick Santorum campaigning for Iowa Caucus, January 2, 2012 (Photo credit:

In precinct 7 no one spoke for Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich, or Jon Huntsman. Likewise for Mitt Romney. Two small Rick Perry signs were the only wall décor in the entire room, while the tables had been laid with candidate flyers, most of which were black and white copies of Santorum campaign ads. As it turned out, a young woman from Texas spoke for Perry in precinct 7, while her husband spoke in precinct 8. Her young son wore a Perry t-shirt and drew the attention of a photographer. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul each had two supporters willing to give voice to a last-minute appeal for votes.

The votes were collected in Blue Bunny ice cream pails and the official count was on. A news photographer took close-up still photos of ballots while a news video camera recorded the scene at table level. The Iowans accommodated them, no problem. Santorum won big in 7 and in 8 in the next room. The chairman in 7 moved things along, soliciting volunteers for delegates, collecting party platform suggestions, and announcing the dates for the upcoming county Republican gathering.

Over in precinct 8, a much larger group than in 7, Lyons County Chair, Cody Hoefert had just passed the ice cream bucket to the voting table. Hoefert came to the front of the room where several of the aforementioned teens were sitting on the floor. He told them to go register as Junior Delegates, and fourteen of them lined up at the speaker’s table. Hoefert is a Spencer, South Dakota native, and we soon determined we had a mutual friend from his high school days. He explained that the Iowa Junior Delegates were comparable to our teenage Republicans (TARS). He thought there were about fifty of them in Lyons County. They’re growing up with the caucus experience, and encouraged to get involved at county, state and local levels.

My cohort and I reported our vote counts by phone to a watchdog group. States bordering Iowa sent many vote observers like us to the caucuses. The votes phoned in are compared to the official vote tallies. The Rock Rapids caucus seemed fully able to police itself.

J.D. Erickson has worked in the news business and sports photography before graduating to ebay and politics.  He lives in Sioux Falls, prefers being behind the camera, and his dream situation is working for candidates where all constituents live on a lake. 

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