Iowa satellite caucus in Michigan: Sanders, Warren split 4 delegates

By: - February 3, 2020 10:05 pm

Satellite Iowa caucus in Ann Arbor, Feb. 3, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

Nine Iowans gathered in the Ann Arbor Downtown District Library Monday night — at one of 87 satellite caucuses offered for Iowans who could not make it back to their home district — to divide up four available Democratic delegates.

The final count, which did not change from the initial alignment, resulted in an even split of the four delegates: Two delegates for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and two for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (R) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), July 30, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

But throughout the hour-long process, the caucus-goers voiced their frustration with the stringent rules imposed by the Iowa Democratic Party on caucus procedures.

“Having an unfair system just to be first is ridiculous,” remarked one Warren supporter who declined to give her name, after hearing that there would have to be at least 15 minutes between the first and second rounds. 

This rule was imposed, despite all nine participants deciding on their second round groups within two minutes of the first (no one moved groups).

In the first alignment, the nine caucus-goers arranged themselves into three groups: Five people for Warren, three for Sanders and one for former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Since Iowa’s “viability threshold” of 15% roughly equated to two people out of the nine participating from Michigan, this meant that a group needed to have at least two people to be considered “viable.” Only Warren’s and Sanders’ groups met this threshold.

Satellite Iowa caucus in Ann Arbor, Feb. 3, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

The lone Buttigieg supporter, who said he was a law school student at University of Michigan, said he tended to prefer Sanders to Warren but did not want to commit to either group. Instead, he signed a form that let him drop out of the process. This allowed Warren and Sanders to get two delegates each – which he said was the easiest option for everyone.

Many caucus-goers were college-age. But the eldest participant, Joanna Courteau from Ames, Iowa, said she has caucused every year since 1976.

“I am just that excited that we have a satellite caucus. My first one ever,” Courteau said before the caucus began. 

She said she would not have been able to caucus if it weren’t for the new satellite option.

“I had problems getting there [to Iowa] because I had emergency surgery, so I couldn’t travel,” Courteau said.

Satellite Iowa caucus in Ann Arbor, Feb. 3, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

When asked who she planned to caucus for, Courteau said, “Elizabeth [Warren].”

“For right now, I am. But I mean, I’ll support any Democrat,” she added.

19-year-old Alexis Irlbeck from Aboca, Iowa was one of the three Sanders supporters and a first-time caucus-goer. Afterwards, Irlbeck told the Advance that the process was “a little draconian, to say the least.”

“I mean, the whole, we have to do 15 minutes for a realignment period for a caucus of nine people – it’s definitely a little bit unnecessary,” Irlbeck said..

Irlbeck said that since she studies at the University of Michigan, there is “no way” she would have been able to participate if the satellite caucus in Ann Arbor wasn’t an option.

She added that satellites are a great idea as long as Iowa insists on being a caucus state, but said, “I think an even better idea would be to go to primaries, with absentee voting.”

Alexis Irlbeck caucused for Bernie Sanders at the satellite Iowa caucus in Ann Arbor, Feb. 3, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

As for her preferred candidate, Irlbeck said she caucused for Sanders because of his consistent political record.

“I like somebody whose politics have never changed. I don’t feel comfortable with a lot of the other candidates, especially some of the newer ones like [businessman Andrew] Yang … [who don’t have much of] a track record.

“So definitely, I went for Sanders because those politics have never changed. He’s never gone back and forth on the issues and I appreciate that,” Irlbeck said.

Megan Maloney, 20, who caucused for Warren, is a junior at University of Michigan from Iowa’s Quad Cities region. Monday night was also her first caucus experience.

“I know that this is incredibly different than how it goes in Iowa,” Maloney said, adding that although she enjoyed participating in Monday’s caucuses, she would prefer that Iowa have primaries instead.

“None of us particularly like it. It’s just not a smart process,” Maloney said. “It’s like so many people were saying. It is not a convenient thing in any sense.”

Maloney said that she did appreciate the new satellite caucus option, but still thinks the process is not accessible enough.

She also said that although she ended up caucusing for Warren, she was initially split between Warren and Sanders.

“I genuinely liked both candidates a lot and I think they have a lot of good things to say,” Maloney said. 

Her final decision came down to who would gain the most support from her parents’ demographic, which led her to support Warren.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.