The Iowa caucuses for the Democratic and Republican parties will be held Monday, Feb. 3, 2020.
The caucuses begin at 7 p.m. at most locations (you have to be in line by 7 p.m. to participate). This year, some Democratic satellite caucus locations begin earlier.
So just how does the caucus process work? Read on for a detailed description of both the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
What is a caucus?
A caucus is a gathering of party members to discuss presidential preferences, elect local party leaders and talk about policy positions that make up a party’s platform.
There are major differences between the Democrats’ and the Republicans’ way of caucusing in Iowa. The key one is that at a Democratic caucus participants separate into groups based on which presidential candidate they support. In a Republican caucus, participants simply cast a vote to indicate their support.
A caucus begins with a call to order, and other general business, including election of a chair for the night’s proceedings.
In both parties’ caucuses, candidates or their representatives may speak to caucusgoers before the preference selection begins.
How is a caucus different than a primary?
A primary resembles a general election in which registered voters cast a vote by secret ballot for their preferred candidate.
The Democratic caucus
1. PICKING A CANDIDATE
Caucusgoers show their president preference by standing in a section of the room devoted to their candidate.
2. BECOMING VIABLE
The people in each of those groups are counted. If the size of the group is at least 15% of the people attending, that group is considered viable and people in that group must fill out a Presidential Preference Card, sign it, and turn it in. After they fill out that card, those in a 15% group can leave or watch the rest of the caucus. They cannot vote again.
Those in candidate groups that did not reach 15% in the first count can select a candidate again, either by joining a viable candidate group, earning support for their candidate group or another non-viable candidate group, or joining an uncommitted or other candidate group.
4. FINAL COUNT
After realignment, the groups’ size will be counted again. That will be the final count.
5. DETERMINING DELEGATES
After the final count, delegates are awarded to the candidates, based on how many supporters those groups had.
Changes in the 2020 Democratic caucus
Two counts: In previous cycles, caucusgoers could realign multiple times. Starting this year, there is only one realignment and people who supported a viable candidate cannot vote again.
Satellite caucuses: For the first time in 2020, Democrats have allowed caucuses at dozens of satellite locations, both in Iowa and in other states and three other countries, to allow people who could not caucus at 7 p.m. at their assigned precinct in Iowa to participate.
Reporting results: Democrats will make public the raw vote numbers from the first and second alignments, as well as the delegate strength candidates have. In previous years, the party only reported the delegate strength.
View the final delegate totals as well as the first and second alignment vote numbers at USATODAY.com on Monday.
The Republican caucus
1. PICKING A CANDIDATE
Participants are asked to cast a vote for their preferred candidate for president. The delegates that will represent Iowa at the Republican National Convention will be divided proportionally to the statewide vote.
2. TALLYING VOTES
The votes are counted and the chair announces the number of delegates to be elected by the precinct to attend the county convention.
3. SELECTING DELEGATES
The delegates are nominated based on the candidates receiving the most votes and confirmed by all caucus participants.
Where are the caucuses held?
A caucus is usually held at a school or other public building in a precinct, depending on expected turnout. Churches, union halls, fire stations, businesses and private homes also serve as caucus sites. Some locations will host caucuses for multiple precincts on caucus night.
Who can caucus?
You must be eligible to vote in the state of Iowa; 18 years old by the date of the presidential election, Nov. 3, 2020; and registered as a Democrat or Republican.
You can register to vote or change parties on caucus night. No specific identification is required.
Other caucus business
Results: Once the presidential preference proceedings are done, the results are reported to the state party, where they will be verified, then reported to the media and the public.
Additional business: Caucus participants conduct additional committee elections and discuss the party platform to help prepare for the county convention.
After the caucuses: Conventions
The delegates elected during the caucuses will attend county conventions in March. Participants at county conventions select the delegates to represent a candidate at district conventions in April that then select delegates for the state conventions in June.
Delegates are further narrowed to attend the party national conventions in July and August. There, the national delegates select which candidate will be the party’s nominee for president.
Sources: Republican Party of Iowa, Iowa Democratic Party, Des Moines Register research