Barry McNamara  |   Published February 03, 2020

Students Find Iowa ‘Sloppy, Complicated’

Monmouth students, professors witness historic Iowa caucus.
  • The Monmouth group who traveled to one of the Iowa caucus sites in Burlington on Feb. 3.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Well, we’re waiting.

At least one of the Monmouth College students who traveled to Burlington, Iowa, Monday night was not surprised by the delay in the results of the state’s Democratic caucuses, which had not yet been made public by late Tuesday morning.

“Unorganized, sloppy,” was how Will Stefanisin ’20 of Downers Grove, Ill., described the process. He was one of about two dozen students who made the trip to Burlington, led by Monmouth political science professors Andre Audette, Robin Johnson and Mike Nelson.

“For a state that prides itself on making a big point of ‘We’re the first in the nation. We take this seriously,’ it seems like they’re unprepared for it, at least the precinct we were at,” said Stefanisin. “If that’s just the way it (always) is on the ground floor, they can do better.”

Audette was a little more forgiving in his analysis, saying that the election process is rarely without hiccups, no matter the state.

“I think this kind of reflects on democracy on the whole,” he said. “Democracy is messy. It’s always messy. You have local people in charge of this, local party officials, so democracy is messy and elections are messy and caucuses are messy.”

Despite the snafus, Audette said observing a caucus was a valuable experience for the students.

“It’s good for students to be able to see the Iowa caucus to put sort of a face on one of the methods that we use to elect our candidates,” he said. “It’s one thing to hear about it in a classroom and another thing to see it in person. I heard a number of students comment on the organization of the process.”

Nelson said attending the caucus offered students a chance to see a voting process used by nine states.

“It was a great opportunity to see American politics in action, to witness at the early stage how people are starting to think about these candidates,” said the political science chair, who, like most of the students, was attending his first Iowa caucus. “We got to hear different people speak up for each of the candidates. This is a very public process. You have to be willing to wear your candidate on your sleeve and be out there. There are some interesting things to consider with that. Whether or not people feel comfortable voting and whether that affects turnout, and whether it’s accessible to everybody since it’s done in a very limited time period.”

While Nelson appreciated the public aspect of the caucus, his overall view was more in line with Stefanisin’s.

“I thought it was an incredibly complicated process,” he said. “It surprised me to see how disorganized part of it was, but also how easy it was to see how dejected people who had candidates who were not viable were, and how confused they were about what they could do next.”

As a member of the 18- to 22-year-old demographic, Stefanisin has enjoyed following the buildup to the 2020 election and learning more about the candidates, some of whom might one day be sitting in the Oval Office.

“I was at a town hall with both (Democratic candidates) Andrew Yang and Pete Buttigieg,” he said. “Watching the candidates and listening to them talk, I thought ‘I’m watching someone who might be making the major decisions in my future and the future of the country.’ It’s a really interesting experience, something that I didn’t think I’d really feel. But you get a profound idea of ‘Wow, this is the person who’s going to be leading the country.’” 

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