Thursday, January 3, 2008

What is the Iowa Caucus?

Excerpted from Wikipedia, description of the Iowa Caucus.

  • The Iowa caucus is an electoral event in which Iowa residents elect delegates to the county convention to which their precinct belongs. 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 National Convention. The Iowa caucus is noteworthy for the amount of media attention it receives during U.S. presidential election years: Since 1972, the Iowa caucus has been the first major electoral event of the nominating process for President of the United States. It has served as an early indication of which candidates for President might win the nomination of their political party at that party's national convention. The next Iowa caucus is on January 3, 2008.
  • History

  • The Iowa caucus is commonly recognized as the first step in the United States Presidential nomination process for both the Democrats and the Republicans. It came to national attention in 1972, with a series of articles in the New York Times on how non-primary states would choose their delegates for the national conventions. Democratic operative Norma S. Matthews, state co-chair of the George McGovern campaign, helped engineer the early January start for Iowa. McGovern finished second to Edmund Muskie in the first early Hawkeye state caucus, but the momentum was palpable for an ultimate Democratic nomination in 1972 for McGovern in Miami. Four years later, the Iowa Republican Party scheduled its party caucuses on the same date as the Democrats...
  • Process

  • The Iowa caucus operates very differently from the more common primary election used by most other states (see U.S. presidential primary). The caucus is generally defined as a "gathering of neighbors." Rather than going to polls and casting ballots, Iowans gather at a set location in each of Iowa's 1784 precincts. Typically, these meetings occur in schools, churches, or public libraries. The caucuses are held every two years, but the ones that receive national attention are the presidential preference caucuses held every four years. In addition to the voting and the presidential preference choices, caucus-goers begin the process of writing their parties’ platforms by introducing resolutions...
  • Republican Party process

  • For the Republicans, the Iowa caucus follows (and should not be confused with) the Ames Straw Poll in August of the preceding year. Out of the five Ames Straw Poll iterations, 1987 is the only year in which the winner of the Ames Straw Poll has not gone on to win the Iowa caucus.
  • In the Republican caucuses, each voter casts his or her vote by secret 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.[1] The non-binding results are tabulated and reported to the state party which releases the results to the media. Delegates from the precinct caucuses go on to the County Convention, which chooses delegates to the District Convention, which in turn selects delegates to the State Convention. Thus it is the Republican State Convention, not the precinct caucuses, which select the ultimate delegates to the Republican National Convention in Iowa.
  • Democratic Party process

  • The vote is literally determined by where each voter stands.
  • The process used by the Democrats is more complex than the Republican Party caucus process. Each precinct divides its delegate seats among the candidates in proportion to caucus goers' votes.
  • Participants indicate their support for a particular candidate by standing in a designated area of the caucus site (forming a "preference group"). An area may also be designated for undecided participants. Then, for roughly 30 minutes, participants try to convince their neighbors to support their candidates. Each preference group might informally deputize a few members to recruit supporters from the other groups and, in particular, from among those undecided. Undecided participants might visit each preference group to ask its members about their candidate.
  • After 30 minutes, the electioneering is temporarily halted and the supporters for each candidate are counted. At this point, the caucus officials determine which candidates are "viable". Depending on the number of county delegates to be elected, the "viability threshold" can be anywhere from 15% to 25% of attendees. For a candidate to receive any delegates from a particular precinct, he or she must have the support of at least the percentage of participants required by the viability threshold. Once viability is determined, participants have roughly another 30 minutes to "realign": the supporters of inviable candidates may find a viable candidate to support, join together with supporters of another inviable candidate to secure a delegate for one of the two, or choose to abstain. This "realignment" is a crucial distinction of caucuses in that (unlike a primary) being a voter's "second candidate of choice" can help a candidate.
  • When the voting is closed, a final head count is conducted, and each precinct apportions delegates to the county convention. These numbers are reported to the state party, which counts the total number of delegates for each candidate and reports the results to the media. Most of the participants go home, leaving a few to finish the business of the caucus: each preference group elects its delegates, and then the groups reconvene to elect local party officers and discuss the platform.
  • The delegates chosen by the precinct then go to a later caucus, the county convention, to choose delegates to the district convention and state convention. Most of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention are selected at the district convention, with the remaining ones selected at the state convention. Delegates to each level of convention are initially bound to support their chosen candidate but can later switch in a process very similar to what goes on at the precinct level; however, as major shifts in delegate support are rare, the media declares the candidate with the most delegates on the precinct caucus night the winner, and relatively little attention is paid to the later caucuses.
  • Controversy

  • There is a debate over the effectiveness and usefulness of caucuses in Iowa. One criticism is that the caucuses are a step backwards from the right to a secret ballot. Caucus participants must publicly state their opinion and vote, leading to natural problems such as peer pressure from fellow neighbors and embarrassment over who his/her real pick might be. Another criticism involves the sheer amount of time these events take up. The Iowa caucus lasts two hours, preventing people who must work, who are sick, or must take care of their children from casting their vote. Absentee voting is also barred, so soldiers who come from Iowa, but must serve in the military lose their vote. The final criticism is the complexity of the rules in terms of how one's vote counts, as it is not a simple popular vote. Each precinct's vote may be weighed differently due to its past voting record. Ties can be solved by picking a name out of a hat or a simple coin toss, leading to anger over the true democratic nature of these caucuses. [Read all here]
I have posted this to let all o y'all in those other 49 states read and decide on whether or not it is relevent for this to be the deciding factor on how you should vote in your states caucus or primary and decide if this is democratically American.

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