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The Gazette KCRG
Posted February 4, 2011
How the Iowa Caucus works

Republican voters await the beginning of the Iowa Caucus at the Holiday Inn in Coralville, Iowa, on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008. (Jonathan D. Woods/The Gazette)

Q: What is a caucus?

A: Iowa precinct caucuses are meetings where members of political parties gather to make policy decisions, elect leaders and select candidates.

Q: When are the Iowa caucuses?

A: The 2012 Iowa Caucuses are scheduled to take place on February 6, 2012.

Q: Where do the caucuses meet?

A: Each of Iowa’s 1,784 precincts has its own caucus — one for the Democrats, one for the Republicans. The locations for Eastern Iowa caucuses are listed inside this section and on political party Web sites.

If you don’t know your precinct number, you can check with your county auditor. Or you can find your precinct number by going to the Iowa secretary of state’s Web site (www.sos.state.ia.us); click on “Voters/Elections”; click on “Find Your Precinct/Polling Place”; and then input your address. NOTE: Your caucus site may not be the same place as where you vote. Check the list inside.

Q: Who can participate in an Iowa caucus?

A: Participants must be U.S. citizens; residents of Iowa and the precinct in which they wish to caucus; registered members of the party (you can register, or change your registration, the night of the caucus); and be eligible to vote in the Nov. 4 presidential election. (At Democratic caucuses, participants must be registered or in line to register by 7 p.m.) Observers are allowed at caucuses as long as they are not disruptive.

Q: What happens at a caucus?

A: The attention will be on presidential preferences, but the purpose of a caucus is to elect delegates to each party’s 99 county conventions and begin the debate on party platforms.

At Republican caucuses, those attending will indicate their presidential preferences in what is essentially a straw poll. Voting can be done by a show of hands or by paper ballots.

The process at Democratic caucuses is more involved.

Beginning no earlier than 7 p.m., Democrats divide into “preference groups” based on which candidate they support. “Undecided” can be a preference group. Generally speaking, a candidate group must have 15 percent of the number of participants to be “viable.”

Caucus participants have up to 30 minutes to join a preference group. After the caucus chairman determines which groups are viable, participants have another 30 minutes to realign or join a different caucus group.

Throughout this process, members of a preference group may attempt to persuade other caucusgoers, especially members of non-viable groups, to join their preference group. Non-viable groups may merge to gain enough members to meet the viability threshold. Or members of non-viable groups may choose to join the uncommitted preference group. Or they can choose not to join any group.

When the preference groups are set, the caucus chairman will determine the number of county convention delegates each preference group is entitled to elect. When those numbers are totaled at the state level, the “winner” of the Democratic caucus is the one with the most delegates.

The results of the caucuses are not binding on either Republican or Democratic delegates to the county convention. However, delegates often feel an obligation to follow the sentiments expressed at their precinct caucuses. Therefore, the initial caucus results provide a good indication of which candidate the party’s delegates to the national convention will back.

After the presidential preference choices, caucusgoers begin the process of writing their parties’ platforms by introducing resolutions — basically, statements on issues that show a party’s goals or philosophies. Resolutions may be voted on and adopted or rejected or, in some cases, forwarded to a county platform committee for further consideration. Resolutions introduced at the precinct level can become part of the national party platform that is adopted at each party’s national convention.

Q: What if I’ve never caucused before?

A: Relax. A number of first-time caucusgoers are expected at this year’s caucuses. There will be plenty of experienced people giving directions the night of the caucus.

Q: Where can I find out more about caucuses on the Web?

A: Republican Party of Iowa: www.iowagop.net

Iowa Democratic Party: www.iowademocrats.org

State of Iowa: www. iowacaucus.org

SourceMedia Group: www. iowacaucus.com

Q: Where can I find out more about the candidates?

A: Check inside this section for brief summaries; check their Web sites or call their campaign offices. Go to GazetteOnline’s caucus Web site — www.iowacaucus.com

Compiled by James Q. Lynch, The Gazette

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