Friday, March 11, 2016

Making The Caucuses Happen: Convention Weekend in the Credentials Bunker

Who won Iowa?

Not so fast. We're not DONE yet. And no one in the national press is going to get this right.

According the the Official® Definitely Not A Body Count Results, Hillary Clinton won, 700.47 (49.84%) to Sanders' 696.92 (49.59%) of "state delegate equivalents."

The key word there is "equivalents." The ACTUAL state delegate score is zero to zero, because the actual human being (or, if you're for Bernie, yooman being) state delegates get elected on Saturday at the 99 county conventions.

The "equivalent" formula reported on caucus night assumes 1) everyone elected on caucus night actually shows up at the county conventions 2) no one changes preference and 3) bodies can be divided into fractions. If you need that, New Jersey redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering knows a guy.

Delegate shifts, if any, will only minimally be about people changing preferences, even though the tiny Martin O'Malley contingent is nevertheless bigger than the Hillary-Bernie statewide margin. And it's not a matter of stealing vacant seats from the other team - the rules prevent that. Instead, it's a matter of who shows up. If one side fills all its seats in a given county, and the other side doesn't, the delegate math shifts.

So both campaigns are working the phones hard to get as many people as possible to the conventions. If Team Hillary lets up even a little, Team Bernie can pick up a delegate here, a delegate there, and maybe even claim a win. But in order to get that, they can't let up either.

I'll literally be the first to know how this shakes out in Johnson County on Saturday, as co-chair of the credentials committee. Settle in for a Marianas Trench depth deep dive into process.

(Speaking of the Marianas, the Northern Mariana Islands are caucusing at 2 AM Iowa Time Saturday...)

I'll be getting to Clear Creek Amana Middle School in Tiffin at about 6:30 AM Saturday, by which time I hope to have those Northern Marianas results. This is a move from our originally planned site. Historically, the nomination contest has settled down by county convention weekend. For example, in 2004, John Kerry had pretty much clinched the nomination. That meant a certain "flake rate" (staffer speak) on delegates, and much every alternate who wanted to get seated was seated.

But in 2008, for the first time ever, Johnson County filled EVERY SEAT. (But it wasn't the first time we turned alternates away.) With the nomination fight close, and with a whole month less time between caucus night and convention weekend, we expect the same to happen again, so we went to a bigger venue.

We start signing delegates in at 7 AM. Alternates may also sign in, but they will wait a while.

Johnson County has 353 county convention delegates. Counties determine their own size (meaning it's 353 because I said so and everyone else said OK). Assuming EVERY delegate shows up and NO ONE changes their mind, we'll break out at 210 for Bernie, 142 for Hillary, and 1 for O'Malley. That 60-40 split is very close to my Top Secret Johnson County Body Count That I'm Not Allowed to Release.

A delegate is a kind of very minor elected official who is "delegate"ed to represent their precinct. They have the right to change their minds. It happens often in years with multi-way contests, or where candidates have dropped out. (Our one O'Malley delegate, Brad Kunkel of rural Solon, says he will attend and plans to "keep everyone guessing.")

But in at least one case this year, a campaign made a mistake. (Dead candidates for examples.) Team McGovern won a one-delegate precinct, but none of their people wanted to attend the convention. So they elected a Humphrey supporter, who was reported on caucus night as "McGovern, one delegate." But if she attends, she's the delegate and she has has every right to switch back to Humphrey. (The smart move would have been to elect a real McGovern person, even if they couldn't attend, to hold on to the seat and get it filled with a loyal McGovern alternate.)

So from 7 to 9 the delegates will be checking in, while the alternates will go on a de facto waiting list. Most of the credentials crew will be at tables at the entrance, signing people in and handing them packets. I'll be hiding in The Credentials Bunker - we call it that, though it's just a classroom - doing the data entry. This is an intense data crunch so the tweets will have to wait. My co-chair Tom Larkin, who is much more diplomatic than me (a couple decades working for a senator will build that skill set) will be managing people, answering questions, and solving problems.

There's always a problem.

As you may remember, caucus night was... not perfect. There was a mass exodus as soon as the delegate count was locked in, people were elected to stuff without completely understanding what they were elected to, and paperwork was completed in haste and under pressure.

I've spent the intervening weeks trouble shooting, Most problems are solved, a handful are not and those are mostly related to running out of voter registration forms at precincts and thus easily resolved with, well, a voter registration form. Johnson County's tradition is to err on the side of inclusion, and to assume that mistakes are almost always good faith errors. Both surviving campaigns are kept in the loop and are led by experienced activists. Team Hillary has no reason to object to a Bernie Alternate, and vice versa, because as you'll see that won't affect the count.

And when in doubt, we go to The Big Box.

Or, this year, The Big Boxes. This is all the paperwork from caucus night: sign in sheets, summaries of results, minutes, random notes, printouts of post-caucus emails to chairs with followup questions - everything. In 2004 I brought the paper towels people signed in on, and if I'd had the legendary apocryphal pizza box I would have brought that.

If there's any question, we pull the precinct packet out of the Big Box, get the committee and the campaigns together, and figure it out. Usually, it goes well, and I've never seen it go badly between the campaigns or with campaign leadership. I've only seen it go badly when someone brand new comes out of nowhere:
"You left me off on purpose!"
"I left you off because I didn't see anything telling me to put you on. Where on any of these pages in any of these Two Big Boxes does it say you're a delegate?"
"I'm a delegate and this convention is rigged!"
There are almost always seats left, which is why I promote "put your hand down to be an alternate" on caucus night. The first time we ever had to turn away alternates was in 2000.

Preference group takes priority over EVERYTHING else in seating. If there are empty Jimmy Carter seats, Ted Kennedy people do NOT get to fill them. They stay empty. So the way that the state delegate counts will change from caucus night is through attrition. If the Al Smith campaign does not get all its seats filled, and the McAdoo campaign does, McAdoo will get a bigger share of state* convention delegates.

* I'll use "state" delegates for simplicity. The same pool of people will be delegates both to the April 30 congressional district convention and the June 18 state convention.

That's what happened to us in 2000. The caucus night breakout was Bradley 147, Gore 122, Uncommitted 1. (STILL proud we were the #1 Bradley county in the country.) By the time the convention rolled around Bradley had dropped out, which tended to make attendance less urgent for us, so we only filled 122 of our seats. Gore filled all 122 of his, so we had a tie. A couple Gore alternates went unseated - because their seats were full. Ours weren't but Gore people couldn't take them.

So Gore got 50% of our state delegates, even though he only earned 45% on caucus night. And that kind of dynamic, in drips and drops, is what could shift numbers on Saturday.

Johnson County gets 92 state delegates. They're apportioned using the same 15% viability standard as caucus night. Assuming again that everyone shows up and nobody switches, that's 55 delegates for Bernie and 37 for Hillary. The O'Malley guy doesn't switch a delegate all by himself. But if just two people switch or two seats go unfilled, then numbers start moving - and remember that the statewide margin is less than four delegates equivalents.

Which brings us back to the sign-in table.

There will be open seats at 9 AM. (Times may very in other counties. We're starting early because we have to be done by 5 and we take forever on platform.) Several people have said they can't make it. We also have 13 seats that were not actually filled. In two precincts, one campaign was process confused, and rather than electing delegates, simply signed people up who WANTED to be delegates. So we listed those people as alternates, listed the seats as "Harry Truman Delegate," and the FDR campaign had no objections.

We've got a total of 537 people on the alternate lists lined up for the empty delegate slots.

While the number of seats per campaign has always been strict, in past years, picking the people for those seats was very loose. We'd announce "Kefauver has 32 open seats, Stevenson has 15," The preference group chair for Stevenson would pick his favorite 15 alternates. Kefauver only had 22 alternates on hand, and would lose out on the 10 empty seats.

This year, the state party has detailed the seating process. This cost me a weekend of figuring out how to query it on the fly, but I figured it out.

The first alternates seated are people from the same precinct as the vacancy. Remember that preference group trumps everything else. (see what I did there.) I'm an Iowa City 11 Hillary alternate, and our one delegate seat is going to be filled. I do NOT get to be seated in an Iowa City 11 Bernie vacancy, even if none of his five delegates show up. (I can't over-emphasize that enough, because that's the scenario that the delegates who can't attend are panicking about.)

If there are more alternates in a precinct than vacancies, priority goes to first come first served. (This added another step to data entry, as we have to track the order that people sign in.)We have up to 16 alternates in some precinct preference groups, so late arrivals will get bumped to the next stage of seating...

Once vacancies in the same precinct get filled, seating does to "similar" precincts. The definition of "similar" is left to the counties. Our credentials committee settled on same city: Iowa City (with the enclave of University Heights added), Coralville, North Liberty, and rest of county.

So at this stage, the first X number of Hillary alternates in Iowa City who have not yet been seated in their own precincts will fill the Iowa City Hillary vacancies, and maybe I get seated. (One of the perks of co-chairing credentials is we get there first and sign ourselves in first.) The first Y number of Bernie people in Coralville fill those slots, and so on.

If there are any seats left after that stage, which I'm not expecting, delegates are seated at large - again, in the order they signed in, and always within preference group. (Once they're seated, they're delegates, and can switch if they want.)

So I'm sitting in the Credentials Bunker calculating this out, while in the main convention hall, they're going through preliminary stuff and usually candidate speeches. (Also, expect a big push from Team Patty Judge, as they hustle to get the signatures to get on the ballot by next Friday's deadline.)

Once we've seated either 1) every alternate who wants to be seated or more likely 2) all 353 seats, the work of the Credentials Committee is Officially over. We issue our final report with our final body count: Bernie 210, Hillary 142, and probably one of them plus one from O'Malley.

Unofficially, we help the Rules and Nominations committee, because we have some electing to do. There are opportunities for realignment, but I expect in most places that time line will be compressed because very few people will be moving.

(Tangent: One year, I think 2004, we had a major blow-up at this stage, because one group objected to having the realignment overlap with lunch. "We can't conduct business over lunch! People need to be Intensely Focused On Persuasion!" So we went to lunch for an hour, reconvened for one minute, and then realigned for an hour. Can't remember if anyone moved.)

Soon after this the convention will break into preference groups, and the preference groups will each separately elect their state delegates, 55 give or take for Bernie and 37 give or take for Hillary. It's a self-nominating process; as people sign in, they check a box indicating they would like to run. Alternates who don't get seated can still run, and people who aren't present can run. I run another query and get lists of who's running to all the campaigns.

This can take either a very short time or a very long time, depending on whether or not Put Your Hand Down To Be An Alternate works. This varies a lot by year and campaign. I remember in 2012 the very small but viable Uncommitted group took much longer than the much larger Obama group, because pretty much everyone in Uncommitted wanted to be a state delegate and they wanted to go through the whole process of speeches and multiple ballots. So we waited.

People start trickling away at this stage, unless they're interested in platform.

I am not interested in platform.

I'm a GOTV person who's about electing people, and I believe platform is an empty gesture because there is no way to enforce it with the elected officials. But there is definitely a breed of cat that is a Platform Person, who actually care more about that paragraph than they do about who's nominated. I try to spend Platform Time in the Credentials Bunker, which is by now the Rules And Nominations Bunker, helping prep lists for third or fourth ballots, and data entering the winners so I can get the list to the state party ASAP.

That's the main reason I want to get seated: I make it a point to vote No on final passage of the platform. Since we can't enforce it, I'd rather not have one. It's a lonely vote. I might win at the BEGINNING of the convention. But the problem is that by the end of the convention, no one is left except but the Platform People. The GOTV people long ago escaped to the nearest tavern.

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