By Kristin Rodine
In the second round of voting, Mitt Romney won Canyon County’s GOP caucus with 51.8 percent of the vote.
Rick Santorum ended with 32.65 percent of the Canyon vote, and Ron Paul got 15.54 percent. Newt Gingrich was knocked out in the first round.
Canyon County GOP Chair Steve Kren said the event, which drew more than 4,500 participating voters, went very smoothly, and the volunteers -- including area high school students, did a great job.
The event cost the county party budgeted $20,000 to put on the event, he said, but they hope to defray much of that cost with raffle-ticket sales, donations and sales of the special brass tokens used for voting.
Kren, who announced the results, said he was surprised it took two rounds of voting for Romney to prevail in Canyon County, since he took Ada County in the first round.
The second round of voting was completed at 10:10 p.m. and volunteers with shopping carts schlepped their loads of token-filled buckets for counting.
Patriotic music plays and state and local GOP officials -- Nampa Mayor Tom Dale and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, a Nampa resident -- give radio interviews while everyone waits for the result.
Nampa resident Cheryl Storrs brought her 17-year-old son and said he was impressed by the event and chose who he’d like to vote for – if his 18th birthday didn’t fall a month and a half after the November election. The process will help him earn a Citizenship in Community merit badge, one of the last ones he needs to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
Storrs said she loves seeing many young faces – including students from high school government classes -- among the event’s 300 volunteeers.
One downside of the caucus process, she said, is that it’s time-consuming and shuts out people who can’t make it to the Idaho Center to spend the evening.
“It’s not the 12-hour window you normally would have” to drop by the polling place and cast your vote, “and you can’t vote absentee.”
As voters file back into the bleachers after casting their second-round votes, an organizer encouraged them to help defray the event’s cost with donations, raffle tickets and purchases of the brass coin-sized tokens used for casting votes.
Those tokens will be available for sale at the end of the night for $3 each or two for $5.
The mood is still cheery, with many voters concerned about the outcome beyond their state’s borders. Several Idaho voters approaching media with laptops and asked them to look up the latest tallies for Ohio.
As organizers call out sections of the arena to come vote, it sounds like a very large Bingo game: "A4. A6"
The first round of voting is complete, with Mitt Romney holding a sizable lead and Newt Gingrich failing to make it to the second round,.
Gingrich drew only 6.45 percent of the vote.Any candidate who doesn't draw at least 15 percent falls out of the caucus.
Romney brought in nearly 46 percent of the first-round voting with 2,072 votes. Rick Santorum came in second with 28 percent or 1,280 votes, and Ron Paul drew nearly 20 percent with 864 votes.
Before the second round begins, a surrogate for each of the remaining three candidates gets two minutes.
Some in the crowd already appear weary, When organizers mentioned the speeches, a woman in the crowd yelled, "Let us vote," and others cheered.
Shopping carts laden with beige buckets – each containing tokens representing votes for a specific presidential candidate – were wheeled across the Idaho Center floor at 8:40 p.m. to scattered applause.
They’ll now be counted by weight and the first-round’s vote totals will soon be announced.
Well, not quite now: It appears a few event volunteers have yet to cast their votes.
All of the caucus-goers at the Idaho Center filed through the booths and cast their brass-token votes within 54 minutes.
Now caucus volunteers are voting, the totals will be tallied and round 2 will commence.
There will be up to four rounds of voting, so this event could go late into the night.
Voters like the weight of the coin, the feeling of process
Don and Larissa Keck of Caldwell brought their 4 ½ year old son and 6-week-old daughter with them for Canyon County’s first Presidential caucus.
Assuming the infant’s slumber and their son’s patience hold out, they hoped to stay through the evening. But they said they enjoyed the experience of tossing their special brass caucus tokens into their candidate’s bucket in the first of what could be four rounds of voting.
“I like the weight of the coins,” Don Keck said. “It’s like the weight of your vote. It feels like you’re doing something.”
This reporter was so impressed with their infant daughter’s ability to sleep peacefully through the brass-band music and revved-up crowd, she forgot to ask who the Kecks voted for.
Sandra and Jon Wakelam of Nampa also were among the first few hundred to cast their votes. When asked who they voted for, Jon proclaimed “Gingrich.”
“Actually, I voted for Santorum,” Sandra said.
“That’s OK,” her husband replied.
Both said they appreciate the opportunity to cast a vote for their choice of GOP presidential hopeful on Super Tuesday, rather than waiting for a May primary, by which time the Republican nomination could already be sewn up.
“It’s our American right,” Sandra said. “You’ve got to do it, or you can’t have a voice.”
The flip side, she said, is that independents or others who don’t want to declare as a Republican aren’t able to participate.
As the second batch of caucus voters files through the voting booths and then back into the stands, a new crowd estimate has emerged: 4,600 people.
The first batch of Canyon County voters have begun to file into the voting booths on the floor of the Idaho Center Arena.
Young volunteers in white shirts with beige pouches around their waists are posted at the voting booths and will hand out a token to each participant who hands them a voter card.
Voters are called down according to the section they’re sitting in, with voters in wheelchairs or with other disabilities the first to vote. Each voter places their token into a bucket marked with the name of their chosen presidential candidate.
There are 55 voter booths, but so far the first round of voting seems to be proceeding slowly.
After all of the estimated 5,000 participants have voted, each candidate’s buckets will be dumped into a special sale and counted by weight. The resulting tally will be announced, candidates with less than 15 percent of the vote will be dropped from the next round.
Mitt Romney’s son Josh roused the crowd before the first round of caucus voting, but the biggest roar from the Idaho Center crowd came when Ron Paul’s presentation was announced.
Caldwell resident Dan Symms spoke for Paul, stressing consistent support for balanced budgets and tax cuts and stalwart opposition to interventionist foreign policy. When he mentioned phasing out the federal reserve, the crowd howled approval.
Josh Romney focused on his father’s business experience and success.
“The real Mitt Romney, the Mitt Romney I know, will make an amazing president of the United States.
Idaho State Treasurer Ron Crane just introduced the last candidate presentation, a video from Rick Santorum.
Estimates now place the crowd at around 5,000.
• • •
Around 3,000 Canyon County Republicans are on hand at the Idaho Center awaiting the start of Idaho’s first-ever presidential caucus, and many others are apparently on their way, backed up on the Garrity Boulevard eastbound off-ramp.
Ron Paul signs along the off-ramp signaled the significance of the night.
Local candidates and party leaders dot the arena as they await the first comments from surrogates representing the GOP men who want to be president.
Exactly how many people will turn out to cast their caucus vote is uncertain. Canyon caucus leader Brandon Hixon said around 5,300 county residents had filled out the required GOP declaration form by Monday, and those who haven’t already done so can fill out a form at the registration tables.
Each caucus voter receives a blue voting certificate and a stamp on their hand, plus their mode of voting -- a special token with an outline of Idaho flanked by GOP elephants on one side, and an eagle and shield on the other.
Once the first round of voting commences, voters will file one-by-one into 55 black-curtained voting booths where each will drop his or her token in a bucket marked with their presidential pick’s name. When all have cast their tokens in the voting booths, the buckets for each candidate will be dumped into a special scale that will calculate the number of coins by weight.
Four rounds of voting are anticipated, but if one of the candidates reaches 50 percent of the votes cast, the Canyon caucus will be over. Candidates who receive less than 15 percent of the vote during a round will be dropped from the process, and their supporters are free to cast their next token in another hopeful’s bucket.