At the time of writing this, we still do not know who won Iowa. But as a firsthand witness, I can tell you who won the Paris satellite caucus. Approximately 4,340 miles away from the Hawkeye State, 17 Iowa ex-pats gathered in a small, grey room in France and exercised their right to caucus.
For the first time in history, the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) offered residents who were unable to caucus in their local precinct to participate in a “satellite” caucus elsewhere. There were 99 total satellite locations and only three international. Along with Paris, registered Iowa Democrats could also caucus in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Glasgow, Scotland.
In Paris, 20-year-old Emily Hagedorn was tasked with coordinating and running the satellite caucus. Even with only 17 people, it looked like a daunting task for a study abroad student.
The small crowd in Paris was not particularly representative of the Iowa population. Nearly everyone was young; many were under 30. What stood out to me, though, was not the youthfulness of the crowd, but their former alliances. At least five of them were previously registered Republicans who had caucused for the other side in earlier elections. After three years of Trump, however, they had had enough.
People traveled all the way from Germany and the United Kingdom to caucus in Paris. Only three were undecided when they arrived. One caucus-goer supporting Pete Buttigieg even showed up with three “fan club” members who were not Iowan and could not actually participate in the caucus but came to support Buttigieg anyway, bringing their own signs, hats and pins. Another ineligible U.S. citizen came wearing a “MATH” hat and T-shirt in support of Andrew Yang and had a binder full of talking points in an attempt to sway participants. She had zero success.
The small caucus was quite an interesting media phenomenon. There were more journalists than caucus-goers, including from major outlets such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal and France 24. Almost every caucus participant in Paris got their own interview.
Just like the traditional caucus in Iowa, the satellite caucus in Paris had a few glitches. Initially, the event kicked off at 8 p.m. CET, but 20 minutes later, several new registered participants showed up. Normally, no one is allowed to participate if they arrive after the start of the caucus, but the Iowa Democratic Party had sent an email mistakenly saying that the start time was 8 p.m. GMT, which is 9 p.m. in Paris. Given the confusion, participants voted to begin the caucus anew “in the favor of democracy.”
The restart added four new caucus members to the mix, from 13 to 17. With the new additions, the threshold of viability went up from two people to three (15 percent of 17 participants).
As European ex-pats, the necessity of free social services kept coming up in discussions and candidate endorsement speeches. Ten years ago, Edmund Dean, 31, who now lives in the United Kingdom, was a hardcore Republican.
“I was just as energized for the Republican Party then as I am for the Democrats now,” Dean said.
In recent years, however, his attitude evolved, and he now firmly supports the Democratic Party. Dean is a fervent Bernie Sanders supporter.
“A lot of that has come from living in Europe and enjoying free universal health care,” Dean said.
Military service member Paige Greene, 31, is also supporting the Democratic Party after experiencing government social services in Germany, where she works and lives on a U.S. airbase.
“I joined the military for free education and free health care. And then I came to Europe and saw it was possible everywhere,” she said. And in Germany, you “do not have to promise to die for your country” to receive those benefits, she noted.
Greene was initially undecided but she ended up choosing Amy Klobuchar.
In the first round, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar received enough support to be considered viable. Pete Buttigieg was the only other candidate to get any votes, but with only two, he did not make it to the second round. His supporters had to realign. Joe Biden did not get a single vote, nor any of the other eight candidates, for that matter.
At the end of the night, the results in Paris were much clearer than in the Iowa. We could physically count every vote in the room, so it wasn’t much of a challenge. Warren received 8 votes of support (and 2 delegates as a result). Sanders got 6 votes (and 1 delegate). Klobuchar got 3 votes (also 1 delegate). How Klobuchar received literally half the support that Sanders did and the same number of delegates, I truly do not understand.
That being said, I really do not understand much of the Iowa caucus process. I never caucused in Colorado, as I was always in college before our state abolished them and switched to voting. And after this year, I definitely think Colorado made the right call in doing so.
Personally, I think Iowa is overhyped. The state is 90.7 percent white and not representative of the country. Iowa is also the only state that has a lifetime voting ban on convicted felons. More than 52,000 people could not participate in the caucus due to felony convictions, according to voting rights groups. While black people compose 4 percent of Iowa’s population, they are 26 percent of the prison population, and one in 10 black adults are not able to vote, according to the ACLU of Iowa. And aside from prison laws, the mere fact that you have to be physically present to caucus prevents many people with tough working hours or family obligations from exercising their democratic right.
I think 2020 has already showed us one thing: It is time stop putting so much emphasis on Iowa.