The Iowa caucus is a peculiar thing: people vote in public. In primaries and general elections, Americans vote by secret ballot. You go to a polling place, sign in, and then draw that curtain behind you. If you want to vote for the American Communist party, you can do it without your neighbors–or the press–knowing you did.
The Iowa Democratic caucus is the last vestige of early American–actually early New England–democracy. Voting was a public act. You debated ferociously, and then you stood up and bore witness to your choice. And then you had to answer for your choice.
In four days, Iowa Democrats will go to church basements and school auditoriums, firehouses, and neighbor’s homes, and go stand in their candidate’s designated corner. In front of their friends. In front of their neighbors. In front of their families. And this year, in front of the press.
Some of the networks say that they are going to send spies into the caucus locations with video cameras and cell phone cameras to tape what is happening. They then plan to post those tapes on YouTube immediately. That means that not only will Iowans see how their neighbors are voting, but the rest of the world will too. In real time.
Too embarrassed for the world to see you voting for Dennis Kucinich? Go stand in the Chris Dodd corner. Believe in Joe Biden but don’t want the world to think you backed a loser? Go stand in the Barack Obama nook.
Will the presence of the world’s eye change voters’ behavior? It sure changed Judge Ito’s.
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