It wasn’t hard to tell when I had arrived at an elementary school in northwest Des Moines that was being used for four different precincts in the Iowa Caucus, as parking around the school was at a premium, and the line of those attending trailed outside the building.
But then it kept growing.
And growing. And growing.
30 minutes before the start of the caucus, the line stretched down the hall of Hillis Elementary, out the front door, down the sidewalk to the street, and then all the way to the main road hundreds of yards away.
It was literally hundreds and hundreds of people.
Organizers strained to deal with the big surge of people.
“How are we going to count all these people?” one Democrat asked inside the gymnasium for Des Moines Precinct 15, where the crowd grew and grew.
Finally, party officials decided to have everyone leave the gymnasium by one of the two exits, walk out into the parking lot, and then have everyone come back in the other door, so they could be counted, one by one.
Over in the cafeteria, a much smaller – and more manageable Des Moines Precinct 14 for Democrats was engaged in counting all the votes for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley.
There were only a handful of O’Malley voters – they did not reach the 15 percent viability number.
Across the hall, one of the Republican precincts at the same school had done their duty, voting by secret ballot.
Here was the tally sheet from that precinct:
Once I had snapped that photo, it was time to head out.
As I left the caucus site, a middle-aged woman came walking out alongside me. She had been in one of the two Republican precincts and saw that I was a reporter. We chatted as went down the sidewalk.
One of her sons was still in the zoo that was Precinct 15 for the Democrats.
“I used to be a Democrat,” she told me with a smile, as we hustled through the cold, down the sidewalk that earlier had been jammed with people waiting to get in.
“And then, what happened?” I asked. As soon as the words left my mouth, I suddenly wished that I hadn’t asked that question.
“One of my sons,” she said. Suddenly her words grew halting.
“He volunteered for the military.” There was another pause. “He was killed in Iraq.”
“I don’t care how cold it was, or how long the line was,” she said slowly, “I was going to make sure I voted tonight.”