The Iowa caucuses have kicked off every presidential primary election race since 1972 and serve to narrow down the field of candidates in each political party. However, what ensued during this year’s Iowa caucus left both the importance and credibility of the historic event in question ahead of the remaining caucuses and primaries. It ultimately took party officials 15 days to get 100 percent of the votes in, with candidates Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie, D-Vt., Sanders determined as the winners.
There were issues downloading a new app the Iowa Democratic Party rolled out, with only 439 people ultimately submitting their votes through the app out of 1,765 precincts.
The mishaps of the Iowa caucus left many voters discouraged. LSA senior Jessica Kosticak, co-president for Students for Pete, was in Iowa as the caucus results unfolded.
“It was an interesting sight to behold. It was just wild,” Kosticak said. “As I was traveling back to Michigan the day after (the Iowa caucus), my road trip partner was reading me poll results and as some of the precinct results started coming in, I was like, ‘Okay, but is it real?’ There was a lot of skepticism in person and online. There still continues to be, I think rightfully so.”
The Michigan primary on March 10 is a key moment, since the state is considered a battleground state in the 2020 election. Donald Trump won in Michigan by over 10,000 votes in 2016 where, in previous elections, the state had voted Democratic, and since has voted in a Democratic governor.
While acknowledging the mishaps of the Iowa caucus, Jake Rollow, director of communications at the Michigan Department of State, highlighted the differences between the way each state runs their primary elections.
“I always use the apples to oranges comparison. Iowa’s run by caucuses, ours aren’t caucuses, they’re primaries,” Rollow said. “They are run by the party, ours are not, ours are run by experienced election officials to carry out elections, typically every year if not every two years. And we’re not using untested technology. We’re not expecting a similar scenario to what occurred in Iowa.”
The Michigan primary differs greatly from the Iowa caucuses. Instead of going to a corner of the room to vote for your candidate, voters go to their local precinct and cast a ballot for whichever candidate they support. Voters in the Michigan primary are also able to vote with absentee ballots, allowing for more voters to take part in the election.
In 2018, a law passed in the Michigan state legislature granting the right for any eligible voter to vote by absentee ballot regardless of reasoning. As of Feb. 18, over 666,000 absentee ballots had been distributed, with a projected number of over 850,000 to be distributed by the primary date.
LSA freshman Andrew Schaeffler, co-founder of the University’s chapter of Students for Biden, expressed his concerns about absentee ballots.
“I think that the absentee ballots are definitely going to be the thing in the Michigan primary,” Schaeffler said. “That if we were to have any problem that’s even similar to Iowa but in the same context of that.”
The uptick in absentee ballots has also caused a shift in how presidential candidates have campaigned in Michigan. Trump and many Democratic front-runners have focused on trying to rally early votes by setting up campaign offices, phone banking, door-knocking and other tactics.
Schaeffler said former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic front-runner in the 2020 election, is trying to rally the early absentee ballot voters.
“I think the Biden campaign is effectively beginning and implementing a campaign strategy in Michigan, focusing on reaching out to voters with their absentee ballots currently,” Shaeffler said. “Making these initial connections has been integral. Our club, in conjunction with Biden volunteers, have made thousands of calls to Michiganders and folks in other states, making direct voter contact.”
Other political student groups like Students for Warren, College Republicans and Students for Bernie did not reply to requests for comment.
While an increased number of voters for the primary isn’t expected, the rise in absentee ballots is projected to put more of a burden on clerks across the state. Since clerks aren’t allowed to start collecting results until 7 a.m. on the day of the primary, many clerks said they are worried about not getting the results in quickly enough.
Jacqueline Beaudry, a city clerk in Ann Arbor, spoke to The Daily about how the city is dealing with the influx of absentee ballots.
“We have actually doubled the number of counting boards for this election compared to the March 2016 (election),” Beaudry said. “So we are obviously in support, moving into November, of any reforms that would allow us to start processing earlier or to extend the time to process ballots. But, in terms of March, we’ve doubled our workforce and our number of tabulators to count the ballots.”
Though Ann Arbor is just one city that has hired more workers to deal with the influx of absentee ballots this year, the state is working to make sure all precincts can efficiently count the ballots in a timely manner, Rollow said.
“Our goal is to count all ballots accurately and to provide results,” Rollow said. “We’re working with clerks across the state to help them have the resources they need to do their job. We’ve also called on the legislature to request they be allowed to at least start processing absentee ballots prior to the Election Day.”
LSA junior Carolyn Chen, field organizer for the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, is responsible for getting people registered to vote. Chen said waiting for results is acceptable if it means greater accuracy in the vote calculations.
“I don’t think it was a huge deal that people had to wait for the results. If that’s gonna get you an accurate answer, then just wait it out,” Chen said. “I feel like I don’t go into elections expecting everything to go perfectly anyway.”
Logan Woods, Rackham student and secretary for Turnup Turnout, an organization dedicated to getting students registered to vote, spoke about the importance of making sure all elections are secure, no matter if it’s a primary or a caucus.
“The benefit of (having primaries and caucuses) within states is that states, counties or towns and cities, can tailor their elections to what works best for their community,” Woods said. “The election system’s commissioner is bipartisan. I know that within states, all of the local election officials that I’ve spoken with, regardless of their party, have been professional and helpful, and they want elections to run smoothly. They want votes and voting machines to be secure and to work properly.”
With the primary coming up in 16 days, voters and election officials alike are continuing to prepare to make the primary day run smoothly and efficiently.
“We’ve done numerous things to ensure that our elections are safe,” Rollow said. “And we do that because of the importance of elections and also because we want voters to feel what they should feel, which is absolute confidence that their voice matters and their vote will be counted.”
Daily Reporter Julia Forrest can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org