How the Iowa Caucus Works, and Why it Matters

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Currents News Staff

During the caucuses, people eager to help pick the Democratic nominee for president will gather at various sites. 

Voters will physically walk to areas designated for supporters of each candidate, and stand in those areas to indicate their preference. This is the first vote. 

Once everyone has settled, they are counted, and each candidate’s percentage of the vote is calculated. The math will vary depending on the size of the caucus. In larger ones, if any candidate gets less than 15 percent of the overall  crowd, he or she is declared “unviable” and effectively knocked out of the running for that caucus. However, the people who chose that candidate can still be in play.

Each caucus goer will then receive a card on which they will list their first choice. If that candidate has been pushed out, then those voters can flip the card over and make their second choice. This frequently comes amid a good deal of discussion, wrangling and talk with people and the other groups.

In the final vote, those people whose candidates are unviable can move their support to a viable candidate, or they can combine with others like them to create another viable candidate. 

If your candidate is viable from the start, meaning he or she has at least 15 percent of the overall vote, the voters who selected that candidate cannot change. They are stuck with their first choice. 

If your candidate is unviable, you do not have to rely on them. You can simply go away if you want to. In any event, after the final vote, everyone will be counted again.

The cards will be collected to create a physical record of how many people stood for each candidate on each vote. Then through a series of mathematical calculations, all those people at all those caucuses all over the state will be turned into a delegate count. 

Some candidates will get more delegates than everyone else, and will likely declare him or herself the winner of the Iowa caucuses.