BOISE — Over 9,000 voters crowded inside the Taco Bell Arena on Super Tuesday for Ada County’s first ever caucus, where Mitt Romney secured all of Idaho’s 32 delegates. Ada County Chairman Dwight Johnson called it the “largest caucus in the history of the Republican Party.” The sharp 7 p.m. walk-in deadline was extended to accommodate the barrage of latecomers, and by the time attendance was established, half an hour had passed.
After a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem, instructions, and stump speeches for each of the four candidates (Rick Santorum submitted a video message), the voting part of the event finally got under way. Caucus goers lined up according to the stamps on their wristbands at various polling booths around the stadium. I use the term “booth” loosely, since voting space was just a few gauze black curtains. Inside was a table with four buckets. Each bucket had a candidate’s name taped to it.
As voters entered, volunteers handed them a token — a shiny, new Lincoln penny — to place inside the bucket of their choice. On their way out, another volunteer marked their hands with a blue marker to signify they had voted in the first round.
It took about an hour to filter through everyone sitting in two tiers of bleachers. A few county officials counted all 9,050 pennies — by hand.
The clock approached 10 p.m. and the first round of voting was not complete. Unless one candidate captured over 50 percent of those pennies, it was going to be a long night. Fortunately, attendees had a live band and blow-up bouncy balls to help them pass the time. Though some grumbled about the time, almost everyone agreed they would stay and keep voting as necessary.
Then, the announcement came. From lowest to highest, Gingrich won 3.75 percent of the vote, Ron Paul received 21.61 percent, Rick Santorum got 22.83% and Mitt Romney swept the room with 51.79%. Just like that, it was decided and the first ever Ada County caucus emptied out of the arena.
Below, Johnson talked to UW Election Eye on camera about caucus turnout, kinks, and excitement.
Next up in Part Two: Ada County voters talk to UW Election Eye about their choice of candidate, and a report on the final stage of the caucus that resulted in Romney’s sweep of all 32 delegates up for grabs.