Re: A lovely little present from Iowa

From: Douglas W. Jones <jones_at_cs_dot_uiowa_dot_edu>
Date: Fri Jan 04 2008 - 09:51:00 CST

On Jan 4, 2008, at 1:21 AM, Arthur Keller wrote:

> What's your comment on Bev's report on the discrepancy in the
> percentages?

I have no idea how the Democratic web site does its summary statistics,
but I note that they report both delegates to the county convention and
a projection from that to fractional "delegate equivalents" to higher

If they are reporting percentages based on delegate equivalents, their
math may well incorporate the impact of county convention rules, where
certain delegations at the county conventions will be declared non-
and will have to realign. I have no idea how sophisticated their logic
is for this. See below for further discussion of the hidden details
don't come out on the web site:


My perspective is largely local, dominated by my work last night.
Here's my record of one caucus, in Johnson County, Iowa, Precinct IC04
(Iowa City 4):

Attendees: 765 (4 years ago, the number was around 500) The venue
we had was just large enough, the smaller of the University of Iowa's
two concert halls.

Viability, under the rules, requires 15%, so any candidate preference
group with fewer than 115 voters at the caucus was not viable.

First division
    Biden 27
    Clinton 137
    Dodd 24
    Edwards 140
    Kucinich 26
    Obama 339
    Richardson 71
    Undecided 10

Note!!! The numbers don't add up to 765. The small groups could easily
determine that they were not viable long before the large groups
counting, and some members of smaller groups immediately wandered off
to join viable groups, therefore being counted twice. It is very clear
that the basic caucus structure was never designed to handle such high
turnout! It is very hard to stop people from milling around.

In any case, only 3 groups came out of this as viable. On the second
division, the numbers were:

    Clinton 163
    Edwards 195
    Obama 396

The precinct was entitled to 11 delegates to the county convention.
Under the rules, delegates are allocated proportionally to the group
size, so the delegate counts were:

    Clinton 2
    Edwards 3
    Obama 6

What these numbers hide is that the Richardson group had fairly strong
leadership and cohesiveness. They cut a deal with Obama group that if
they could earn Obama an extra delegate by joining the Obama group,
they could select that delegate. They could have merged with the Dodd
and Biden groups to create an uncommitted delegation, but this would
have taken more discipline and leadership to hold that group together
and discourage defections to one of the big three.

As a result of the Richardson deal, one of the 6 Obama delegates
is really a Richardson delegate, and will join the Richardson
delegation at the county convention. At the county convention, it is
highly likely that Richardson's delegation will not be viable at the
county convention, but they could potentially pull a similar deal to
push delegates forward to the state and even national level.

By way of background, I was involved in the McGovern delegation to the
county and state conventions back in 1988. We pulled such a series of
deals and ended up with one delegate to the Democratic National
Convention who cast a lone vote for McGovern from the convention floor.

In any case, I did check the state web site after the caucus to verify
that the delegate counts reported there were the same as the counts
I recorded on my index card at the caucus. I also checked all the math
during the caucus, and the numbers on my index card were used to check
the official forms filled out at the caucus because the chair wanted to
double check all the numbers.


The record attendance included long lines of people changing their
registration to Democratic. These lines included not only former
independents, but a number of people I'd classify as "country club
Republicans", the core constituency behind former Congressman Jim Leach,
who was famous as the most moderate Republican in Congress for several
years. About 2 weeks before the caucus, Leach wrote an editorial about
the field of presidential candidates from both parties, and in that
editorial, he singled out Obama as the most interesting of all the
candidates. It was not quite an endorsement, but certainly, a very
positive statement. It appears that significant numbers of moderate
Republicans shared his thinking and acted on it, switching parties.

We have same-day registration in Iowa. That is new, but not entirely
new. Voters have always been allowed to change their party affiliation
on election day, which involves re-registering at the polling place,
and they have been allowed to change their residence within the county
(change of precinct, but only if previously registered in the county),
which also involves re-registering at the polling place. As a result,
I can't comment on the extent to which the change in same-day
law had any effect, except to note that the lines at the registration
desk at the precinct were long, but that most of the re-registration
involved independents and Republicans re-registering as Democrats.


The Iowa Caucus system was never designed to work with such high
Originally, the Iowa caucuses were ignored by presidential candidates,
until Jimmy Carter decided to use the caucuses as a springboard. It's
clear that the system will have to change. We'll probably need to
to some form of primary, but it would be a pity if that primary were
on a simple plurality system. The caucus process has some
that are similar to instant runoff elections, but it also produces a
delegate mix that has an element of proportional representation.

Someone who is interested in election mechanics might have fun trying to
invent an election counting scheme that ensures proportional
while also taking into account voter's secondary preferences in order to
avoid dividing the delegation into too many small blocks.

                Doug Jones
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Received on Fri Jan 11 16:16:30 2008

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