Students prepare for 1st-in-the-nation caucuses

The Iowa caucuses of 2020 are just about here, and people across campus are settling in on their candidate of choice. 

Cornell students have the unique opportunity to be at the forefront of these important, first-in-the-nation caucuses. The competition on Feb. 3 will set the stage for the rest of the election season.

“Cornell affords such a great opportunity for students to become actively engaged in politics; there aren’t many places where you will encounter multiple national election campaigns on such a personal level,” said Assistant Professor of American Politics Megan Goldberg. “Iowa has an important role in presidential elections, and there are very few other places where their votes will matter as much as they do here.” 

Students can find the Democratic caucus in the Cornell College Small Sport Center gymnasium or the Republican caucus at Mount Vernon High School

“They will have the opportunity to share thoughts, experiences, and beliefs and to help shape the party’s nominees during the caucuses,” said Civic Engagement Program Director Samantha Hebel. “This is a unique process so students might as well take advantage of the experience while they can!”

Blake Thornton
Blake Thornton

Blake Thornton is the Cornell College Republicans Chairman. The sophomore from Avoca, Iowa, will be taking part in the GOP caucus and says it will be a brand new experience for him. 

“I am planning to caucus because I want my voice to be heard,” Thornton said. “All too often the people of the ‘fly-over’ states are ignored until it comes time for another presidential election. And with the current White House administration, I feel as though my voice is being heard, but not by those in Congress.”

Senior Josie O’Connor-Miller, President of the Cornell College Democrats, says caucusing is nothing new to her. In fact, this will mark her fifth caucus–the second she has participated in as a voter. 

Josie O'Connor-Miller
Josie O’Connor-Miller

“I went to my first caucus when I was 6 with my mom, and I have loved it ever since,” O’Connor-Miller said. “You get to see all these people in your community who want to make their voices heard and want there to be a change for the better and that feels so inspiring to me.”

The politics major from Des Moines, Iowa, wants everyone to know that they shouldn’t be intimidated and don’t need to know everything about the process.

“There are volunteers who have been training for months to make sure each caucus runs smoothly and they will guide everyone through the process of each vote,” O’Connor-Miller said. “It’s also important to remember that you don’t need to know who you are caucusing for when you walk in. That’s part of the beauty of the caucuses. Some preliminary research into each candidate is a good idea. You want to know who people are and have a general idea about what they stand for, and what you stand for.”

While students say it is a great political experience, it’s also a great educational experience. Goldberg has been incorporating the caucuses into her classes as much as possible.

Students with presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg
Goldberg’s students visiting Cedar Rapids for the opening of one of Pete Buttigieg’s field offices

“We’ve taken field trips to see candidates, listened to candidates speak on campus, heard presentations, and held Q&A sessions with field organizers about how they got into political campaigns and what day-to-day life on the campaign is like,” Goldberg said. “My Block 3 class actually designed voter guides for the caucuses that described the process of caucusing in each party and what the individual candidates stand for.” 

Organizers suggest that people arrive early for the caucuses. For both, doors open at 6 p.m. with a start time of 7 p.m. Anyone who is not in the doors by 7 p.m. will not be allowed to caucus. You must be registered within the Democratic or Republican party to caucus with that party, and voters are able to do so at the caucus site. 

According to Linn County Elections, students participating in the GOP caucus must have an ID to participate. Students taking part in the Democratic caucus will only need an ID if they are registering to vote.

Hebel says Cornell College student IDs only work if they have an expiration date, which would include IDs printed for current first and second-year students. Students with IDs that do not have an expiration date and would like one to caucus can go to the Office of Residence Life for a new ID, free of charge. Other forms of acceptable IDs can be found on the Secretary of State’s website.

“I think it would be great for any students who are attending to grab some friends and bring them along, so we can get a great turnout for Mount Vernon,” Hebel said.

Students can contact Samantha Hebel ( with additional questions. Cornell does not endorse any candidate, the college does support critical thinking and analysis of all of the candidates.