Hundreds of college students came out to caucus Feb. 1, flooding the hallways and staircases at the Drake University precinct. Millennials eager to cast their vote for their favorite Democratic candidate chatted excitedly while filling out voter registration forms, clogging up the entrances to the room. But parting their way through the sea of 20-somethings were Doug Johnson, 61, and his life partner, Cindy*, coming to cancel out each others’ votes.
Johnson was proudly sporting a “[Sen.] Bernie Sanders for President” T-shirt, partially hidden under his long, white beard. Johnson says he has been a Sanders supporter for many years.
“When he was running for senator up in Vermont, I was sending him money [for his campaign],” Johnson says. “Him and I have the same view on life.”
Johnson says he supports Sanders for his views on healthcare, non-interference in the Middle East and education. Cindy says she also agrees with many of Sanders’ policies, but ultimately cast her vote in a different direction.
“I really believe in Bernie’s policy,” Cindy says. “But … I think [Sanders’ and Clinton’s] policies are so close that I just have decided my vote for Hillary on the experience level.”
Johnson agrees that Clinton has experience, but has big hopes for the future with Sanders’ ideas.
“If [Sanders is] elected president, nobody expects him to be able to do anything [right away],” Johnson says. “But he will at least give a vision for the future, almost like a John F. Kennedy. ‘In ten years we can put a man on the moon,’ and with Bernie, in ten years maybe we can get everybody health insured and in ten years maybe we can get at least community college for everybody.”
When the caucus finally got underway, the couple separated. Johnson took found a seat among the crowd of millennials on the Sanders’ side of the auditorium, while Cindy moved to the Clinton side.
Johnson acknowledges that, in a way, the couples’ votes are pointless, since they will be cancelling one another out.
“But it’s just — I just had to do it,” Johnson says.
For Johnson and Cindy, involvement in politics is not optional. The two have caucused nearly every election year throughout their lives, they say. Both have served as delegates to the county and state conventions and have inspired their neighbors and families to vote.
“I think we’ve influenced our neighborhood because we now have more active political people who have understood … that your vote is worth a lot more by caucusing,” Cindy says. She says they have advocated for their neighbors to engage in activities such as protesting property taxes. Cindy says she also encourages her family members to engage in the political process and to caucus during election years.
“I talked my mother, who is 80-years-old, out in Greenfield, Iowa, who basically has been a Republican all her life, to vote for Bernie tonight,” Cindy says. “She’s totally irritated with the Republicans, for the first time!”
As the caucus for Democratic Precinct DSM 038 got underway, the room filled to well over capacity as nearly 500 people crammed into an auditorium fit for only around 200. The caucus was more chaotic and longer than expected, but the couple say they didn’t mind the added inconveniences because they were glad to see so many young people came out to vote.
On the Sanders side of the room, college students crowded together, each counting off one-by-one to tally the total number of votes. When Johnson raised his hand and said his number aloud, it was clear that he was the only person over the age of 30 in his group. Johnson says that he didn’t find this surprising.
“Especially for college students, just the idea of lowering student debt and free college tuition in the future [draws them in],” he says.
The caucus for Precinct DSM 038 concluded with Sanders in first place, earning three delegates, O’Malley in second place, earning one delegate, and Clinton in last place, also earning one delegate.
Cindy left the auditorium not long after the caucus concluded and expressed her disappointment with the results. “It made me so pleased that we had this number of people here,” she says. “But yes, I was disappointed with the [lack] of younger voters that Hillary’s been able to get confidence for her.”
Cindy says she would like to continue her involvement in the campaigns even after the caucuses are over, even though it may be very difficult for her.
“I just wish I could give more time to politics. But ever since my health kind of went downhill, it’s not possible,” Cindy says.
On the other hand, Johnson says that as a retiree, he has plenty of free time to donate to Sanders’ campaign. Johnson stayed behind to run for a position as delegate. However, the Sanders supporters at the Drake University precinct chose to elect two students and a teacher to represent them, since they were representing Drake University.
In spite of Johnson’s excitement that so many young people came to support Sanders, he was frustrated at his lack of appointment.
“There was a lot of students here, which I have some views about,” Johnson says, “Are they even gonna be here through the summer to attend the state convention or are they going back home, you know, once school’s out?”
Cindy agreed with Johnson that, while she was happy to see so many college students getting involved, she wasn’t sure if they would have the time to dedicate.
“We have so many excited young people, they’ll show up and then they won’t be able to find the time to attend. It takes way too much … the people who are students or have a job [won’t have time],” Cindy says.
As the night drew to a close, the college students and campaign workers quickly exited the auditorium for victory speeches and watch parties. Johnson and Cindy were some of the only people left in the building, taking their time getting to the exit.
For Johnson, his lifelong involvement with politics isn’t ending here, he says. He says he will be an alternate for the state convention, in case someone can’t attend.
“And I signed up for the platform committee,” he says. “[My specialty] is international affairs. I’m pretty well-versed in that, even though I’m just a lowly old retired carpenter,” Johnson says, laughing loudly.
*Cindy did not wish to disclose her name.