Justice

U.S. Senator Disenfranchised By Iowa Caucus Rules

CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

On Monday night, a minority of Iowa voters will gather for the nation’s first contest to choose major party candidates for the presidency. Even if the caucuses see record turnout, less than 40 percent of eligible voters are likely to show up.

One of the voters who won’t be showing up: United States Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA).

In fairness to Ernst, she has a pretty good excuse. A blizzard is expected to hit Iowa early Tuesday, shortly after voters go home from the caucuses. According to ABC News’ Rick Klein, Ernst says that “she needs to get back to dc ahead of the storm,” lest she be trapped by the snow and unable to attend to Senate business in Washington. (As of this writing, Ernst’s office has not responded to a request for comment from ThinkProgress.)

Ernst will not be the only person disenfranchised because her job responsibilities conflict with her ability to vote. With a few narrow exceptions on the Democratic side, both parties require caucus participants to present themselves at 7 p.m. at their caucus site if they wish to be able to vote. As then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) noted shortly after the 2008 Iowa caucuses, “there are a lot of people who couldn’t caucus tonight” because they “work at night . . . taking care of patients in a hospital, or waiting on a table in a restaurant, or maybe in a patrol car keeping our streets safe.”

If Iowa held an ordinary primary election, rather than a caucus, neither Ernst nor the voters Clinton mentioned would be disenfranchised. Ernst would have the opportunity to vote early in the day and then catch a flight back to DC before the snow starts coming down. Meanwhile, voters who expect their job to prevent them from reaching the polls on election day would be able to vote absentee either by mail or in person.

Thanks to Iowa’s caucus rules, however, thousands of Iowans will instead be unable to vote because they work for a living.