How the Iowa caucuses work

FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2015, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a concert hosted by his campaign in Davenport, Iowa. For Sanders, victory in Iowa’s kickoff presidential caucuses hinges on a simple proposition: that his message of political revolution will inspire people who typically stay home on that deep-winter night. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – A small group of people will soon settle themselves in a church basement or school cafeteria, away from the political coverage, data-driven online ads and candidates, to cast the first vote for President of the United States.

They will be taking part in the 2016 Iowa Caucus.

These meetings will not necessarily be quaint or quiet. People debate, give speeches on behalf of candidates (sometimes given by celebrities), and try to convince you to abandon the candidate you came to support.

Caucus History

How the caucus works today actually started in 1972.

It can be a little confusing, but caucuses, are not elections. They are overseen by the political parties and not the state of Iowa, which means voters, must show up at a specific time and place, and cannot vote throughout the day.

Anyone who will be of voting age by the time the actual election rolls around can vote (17 or older), but you cannot vote unless you register with one of the political parties.

That is different from New Hampshire’s primary where Independents are allowed to vote.

Caucus locations are divided into precincts. Several parts of Iowa are very rural with low populations, and as a result the caucuses can sometimes take place in someone’s living room.

The Republicans

The Republicans’ process is much more straightforward than the Democrats’.

In a Republican caucus, everyone from a certain precinct will be in the same room. If it is a large precinct, they may have to hold the caucus in a large high school gym to fit everyone inside.

The caucus chair calls the caucus to order. They then allow representatives to give speeches on behalf of each candidate. After that, each person writes a candidate’s name on a piece of paper and places it in a box or jar.

Each vote gets counted and the results are announced publicly. Those votes then get added to the statewide tally by party leaders.

The Democrats

The Democrats’ process is more complicated.

Attendees still get to speak on behalf of why you should support their candidate, but instead of filling out ballots or writing names, you vote by physically sitting in a certain part of the room.

Think of it like a high-stakes version of the old elementary school game Four Corners. Each corner would be a different candidate. Once people are in place, there’s a head count.

A candidate that does not have the support of at least 15 percent of the participants in the room is considered non-viable. Those participants supporting a non-viable candidate then have a chance to join another candidate’s delegation, convince more people to join them or choose to remain ‘uncommitted.’

After the realignment period, the participants are counted again and used to determine how many delegates each candidate will send to the county convention.

Told you it was more complicated.

The Caucus Future

Microsoft announced they hope to make one part of the process simpler in 2016.

Party chairs will be using a new app to report their precinct results to party leadership, which brings one little piece of this old fashioned system into the 21st Century.

Comments are closed.