How The Iowa Caucus Works
Today is the big day; The Republican Iowa Caucus. But what exactly is that?
KVML News Director B.J. Hansen grew up in Iowa and explained how the caucus system works, as Tuesday’s KVML “Newsmaker of the Day”.
The Iowa caucuses are an electoral event in which residents of the U.S. state of Iowa meet in precinct caucuses in all of Iowa’s 1,784 precincts and elect delegates to the corresponding county conventions. There are 99 counties in Iowa and thus 99 conventions.
These county conventions then select delegates for both Iowa’s Congressional District Convention and the State Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the presidential nominating conventions (the national conventions).
The Iowa caucuses operate very differently from California’s primary system. The caucuses are generally defined as “gatherings of neighbors.” Rather than going to polls or sitting at home and casting ballots, Iowans gather at a set location in each of Iowa’s 1,784 precincts.
Typically, these meetings occur in schools, churches, public libraries and even individuals’ houses. In addition to the voting and the presidential preference choices, caucus-goers begin the process of writing their parties’ platforms by introducing resolutions.
Participants in each party’s caucuses must be registered with that party. Participants can change their registration at the caucus location. Additionally, 17-year-olds can participate, as long as they will be 18 years old by the date of the general election.
Observers are allowed to attend, as long as they do not become actively involved in the debate and voting process. For example, members of the media and campaign staff and volunteers attend many of the precinct caucuses.
In the Republican caucuses, each voter officially casts his or her vote by ballot. Voters are presented blank sheets of paper with no candidate names on them. After listening to some campaigning for each candidate by caucus participants, they write their choices down and the Republican Party of Iowa tabulates the results at each precinct and transmits them to the media.
Depending on the location, there are variances on this system. In 2008, some precincts used a show of hands or preprinted ballots or had people physically move to designated candidate areas in the room. The non-binding results are tabulated and reported to the state party, which releases the results to the media.
The “Newsmaker of the Day” is heard each weekday morning on AM 1450 KVML at 6:47, 7:47 and 8:47am.