Caucusing isn’t exactly like voting. It can take hours. And the process rewards candidates who can organise volunteers, and those who attract older voters who like to socialize at these events. So here’s how it works.
Tonight at 7 pm Central Time, about 130,000 Republicans will gather into different 1,774 precincts across Iowa. A precinct could be in someone’s living room, a school, or in a town hall.
Usually there is chatting about how the process works and who people plan to vote for. Crucially, voters have lots of time to look at the pins and signs other people are carrying and take a guess at who is leading in their caucus room before anyone votes.
That means participants have a chance at switching their vote to block someone from winning. If it looks like Mitt Romney will win a room before the vote starts, Perry and Bachman supporters can throw their weight behind Rick Santorum to try and stop him. That is why Iowa results have a strong chance of not-aligning with the polls.
First the caucus selects a chairman and a secretary to organise the rest of the proceedings. The participants then elect representatives to attend a county convention late this month which will actually select the delegates. There are 99 counties in Iowa, thus 99 conventions. Those meetings select people to attend the State Convention. And in turn, the State Convention held late in the year actually selects the delegates who will represent Iowa in Tampa at next summer’s Republican National Convention. They will select delegates based on the proportion of tonight’s vote.
After the county-conventions business is concluded there may be some discussion about the party’s platform – like toughening up a pro-life plank, or adding one about the judiciary and same-sex marriage. Sometimes the precinct will move right to the nominating process.
There will be time for a representative of each candidate to make a speech to everyone at the precinct. Sometimes campaigns appoint people to be their “precinct captains” – and try to prepare them with a persuasive final speech. All reports indicate that tonight Ron Paul has the most volunteers and the best prepared ones.
Then votes are done by secret ballot. Some precincts will use blank sheets and people will write down their favourite candidate, others have pre-printed ballots. And it is one man, one vote. Once the votes are tabulated, the results are called into Des Moines, Iowa where the state party officials are headquartered tonight.
Democratic caucuses tend to be more exciting because if a candidate fails to achieve a certain threshold of voters, they have to switch their support to another candidate. This can create quick alliances. It explained why Barack Obama surged ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa four years ago even though some polls had her leading in the state by 9 points the day before the Caucus.
Buckle up – it can get bumpy from here on out.
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