THE BLOG

New Iowa Caucus Rules Allow Dog to Eat Homework

Elana Berkowitz and Mark Pike, OffTheBus correspondents, follow the youth beat this week while traveling through Iowa.

The Obama campaign confirmed that on Wednesday night they were informed of a procedural change to the caucus by the Iowa Democratic Party. Previously, caucus doors closed at 7 p.m. and if you didn't manage to make it to your correct location on time, you were out of luck. Now, if you arrive at the right time but at the wrong location, those presiding over the festivities can write you a note to take to your proper caucus location to explain your lateness. I'm not sure who lobbied for that change, but I imagine it will provide useful cover for those nursing post-New Year's hangovers who only have time to get to their nearest polling location by deadline.

The news was discussed at a mock caucus on Thursday night at Obama headquarters in downtown Des Moines. The assorted Obama supporters caucused over a question second in importance only to the election outcome itself: cookie choice - chocolate chip, peanut butter or chocolate. After getting briefed on the required 15% delegate support required to be deemed "viable," classic chocolate chip was out to a quick lead despite a one-man renegade breakaway campaign for oatmeal raisin. As the dozen potential caucus-goers, a mix of college-age young people and older volunteers, huddled around a board covered in cookie-related equations with calculators poised and quizzical eyebrows raised, it was easy to understand why, in 2004 only about 6% of the eligible Iowa electorate, or around 124,000 people, participated in the Democratic caucuses.

Some context for that small number: at the University of Iowa, one of the largest universities in the state, 11,000 students, or 37% of the student body, are from out of state, equivalent to almost 10% of the current caucus-going population. That figure highlights the potential importance of the debate, largely between the Clinton, Obama and Dodd campaigns, about the voter eligibility of out-of-state students of Iowa colleges.

On January 3rd, after each group stands for their candidate of choice, there will be 30 minutes of realignment during which it's a free-for-all of convincing the caucusers standing behind less-viable candidates to join their team. Clarissa Kornell, the knowledgeable and patient guide for the evening's mock caucusers, warned them to make sure Obama supporters had access to cookies and drinks and reminded them to remind their wards to go to the bathroom before the proceedings start.

For those who thought that caucuses bear no resemblance to a high school dance, not true. Different groups clump against the walls with the entire mock caucus dance floor left empty. The less popular cookie candidates were looking down awkwardly at their shoes. Other cookies, feeling more confident of their chances at scoring tonight, attempted to seductively beckon to the undecided. One woman grabbed an undecided caucuser by the shoulders, steering her towards her side of the room while another exclaimed "I have never known you to compromise when you want chocolate." "But chocolate chip cookies have the best of both worlds." "We all know that sometimes you go to take a bite of a chocolate chip cookie and come up empty."

Ultimately, a chocolate chip caucuser went to the bathroom and never came back and, after aggressive maneuvering by chocolate cookies, they took the day.