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How the Iowa Caucuses Work

If you live in a state where you indicate your choice of a presidential candidate by voting in a primary, you may not realize how different a caucus is. A primary is basically a polling of the registered voters to determine their choice of candidate. But a caucus is a social event in which you elect the delegates who, like in the Electoral College, will represent your choice for a candidate.

The Iowa caucuses will be the first opportunity Americans have to choose their presidential candidate. About one-hundred and twenty-five thousand people will gather in one-thousand, seven-hundred, and eighty-one locations, meeting in school houses, churches, auditoriums and even houses to select the delegates for their county convention. Each precinct has a set number of delegates to allocate; the number of delegates is determined by the voter turnout in the 2004 presidential and the 2006 governor races. So if you previously had a low turn out you may only have a few delegates to allocate no matter how many turn out this time. So if you precinct has ten delegates to allocate and ten people show up to caucus, then the each delegate would represent one persons vote, but if five-hundred people show up on caucus night, you still only have ten delegates to allocate, so each delegate would represent fifty peoples vote. This strange “caucus math” makes it hard to predict who will win Iowa. When you hear that a candidate is ahead in the polls, you don’t know if the people polled will get one vote for the candidate or one-fiftieth of a vote. But it gets even more complicated than that.

Ok, every one at your caucus is now aligned with a viable preference group and it time for more caucus math. The caucus chair will determine the number of delegates that each preference group is entitled to elect. He will do this by multiplying the number in each preference group by the total number of delegates to be elected and then dividing the result by the number of total eligible caucus attendees. Once he has determined the number he will announce the results and a call will be placed to Iowa Democratic Party’s toll free Reporting Line and report the results of the caucus. A representative from each preference group must be present when the results are reported. Now that you know the number of delegates your candidate has, you have to elect the delegates and alternates to go to the county convention. Each delegate candidate will be given an opportunity to speak to their preference group. After the delegates are chosen, the preference groups disband and join with the other caucus goers for the ratification of the slate of delegates and alternate delegates. Then the caucus will nominate persons to serve on the Platform Committee and the Committee on Committees for the County Convention from the delegates and alternate delegates just elected. The delegates who serve on the Platform Committee will help determine which platform resolutions are submitted to the state Convention for ratification in the State Democratic Party Platform and the delegates who serve on the Committee on Committees will be divided up among the following committees for the County Convention: Rules, Credentials, or Arrangements. Following this the caucus will discuss and adopt resolutions to be submitted to the platform committee. Resolutions are proposed by the caucus participants and time is allowed for discussion before calling the resolution to a vote. And finally, if there is no other business, the caucus is adjourned.

Those of us living in primary states can rejoice that on the cold winter night of the Iowa caucuses, we will be home watching football on the TV, checking the results of the Iowa caucuses online, and studying our absentee ballot that we must fill out and mail by Super Tuesday. For some of us participating in democracy is easier than it is for others.