What is the Iowa Caucus?

State of Iowa

What is the Iowa Caucus?

The Iowa caucuses are part of our electoral process where Iowa registered voters help to select the Democratic and Republican representatives for President of the United States. All registered voters – even those not registered to vote in Iowa, i.e., media members, underage voters – meet in precinct caucuses such as homes, schools, churches, and public libraries to elect delegates to a county convention. Since there are 99 counties there are 99 conventions. There are 1784 precincts – that’s’ a lot of beer, wine and chips sold on these evenings! The 99 conventions select delegates for both Iowa’s Congressional District Convention and the State Convention, and they, in turn select delegates for the Presidential Primaries – also known as a nominating convention.

A caucus is generally much different from the typical primary election, such as New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, registered voters cast individual secret ballots at thousands of available polling stations. Each vote is tallied and the presidential nominee from each political party that has received the most votes wins the New Hampshire primary and direct national delegates are awarded.

A caucus is regarded by Iowans as a gathering of neighbors. So, instead of casting a vote at a polling station, Iowans gather at a location and sketch out what they want their political parties’ platform to be then elect delegates to carry their platform resolutions to a county convention to elect state delegates who will, in turn, elect national convention delegates.

As an example, Iowa Republicans gather and are issued blank pieces of paper – there are no candidate names on them! – on which they write the name of the preferred presidential party candidate – this of course after a few hours of discourse from the candidates, candidate representatives or meeting speakers themselves. In 2008, some precincts asked for a show of hands to tabulate votes. The delegates from these precinct caucuses move on to the county convention to choose delegates to the district convention and it is the district convention delegates that select other delegates to go to the Iowa Republican State Convention where political party candidates are voted on. Here’s the rub: it seems that delegates do not have to abide by the results of the precinct caucus – or in other words, Iowa State Convention delegates do not have to abide by the intentions or requests of the voters. Today, with media attention though, precinct results are broadcast immediately so pressure seems to be on the State convention delegates to vote according to the people they represent.

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