Learn how to caucus

Learn how to caucus Come prepared to make a difference at the 2016 Iowa caucuses.

Come prepared to make a difference at the 2016 Iowa caucuses!
For more information on the Iowa caucuses or the “Caucus to Convention” process, please contact the Republican Party of Iowa at 515-282-8105 or the Iowa Democratic Party at 515-244-7292.

Why do we caucus?
In presidential years (the next one is in 2016), the Iowa caucuses' most popular feature is the presidential preference poll. This is where hundreds of thousands of Iowans show up to formally begin the presidential nominating process for both major national parties. However, the Iowa caucuses are also held during mid-terms (2014, 2018, 2022, etc.), and while no presidential voting will take place, the business conducted is also still very important. The decisions made during the biennial caucuses can have a big impact on Iowa agriculture. The precinct caucus is the ultimate grassroots function of Iowa politics and it is where one is elected to a leadership position in one's county party, it is the first step to becoming a delegate to the county, district, state, or national conventions, and it is also where changes to the party’s platform (statement of beliefs and policy) can be introduced.

Who can participate?
To participate in an Iowa Republican or Iowa Democratic caucus, an individual must be registered to vote and be a registered member of the party’s caucus they are attending. The individual must also be 18 years old by the date of the next general election, which in this case is Tuesday, November 8, 2016. That means it is possible for 17 year-olds to participate at their local caucus as long as they will be 18 years old by November 8, 2016. He or she must also reside in the precinct that they are caucusing in. “No Party” registrants, or people who are not registered with either the Democratic or Republican Parties, will have to change their registration to one party or the other in order to caucus.

When is my caucus?
Every single precinct in Iowa will hold a Republican and Democratic caucus beginning at a time yet to be announced on Monday, February 1, 2016. However, these local meetings are usually held in the evening.

Where is my caucus? 
Caucus sites are normally in public buildings, such as churches, community centers, schools or libraries, but they can also be held in homes or even machine sheds. To find your individual caucus locations, you should contact your county Republican or Democratic organizations or call the Republican Party of Iowa at 515-282-8105 or the Iowa Democratic Party at 515-244-7292.  

How does the Presidential Preference Poll work?
Unlike primary elections which are administered by the State of Iowa, a caucus is administered by the political party, and the parties govern the rules for the event. Instead of the voting hours being available all day, as is the case with primaries or a general election, caucus voters have a specific time and location for the caucusing and voting to happen. While there are many similarities between the Democratic and Republican caucus process, there is some differences in the presidential preference poll portion.

  • Republicans
    The Republican presidential preference poll is relatively straight forward. Once you are in your precinct and your precinct meeting has been called to order, usually the chair of your caucus will invite anyone to speak briefly in support of their favored candidate. Once all speeches have concluded, each eligible voter in the caucus will be given a piece of paper to either write or mark their choice. After everyone has filled out their secret ballot, the votes are counted in the precinct and announced to the room. All the precincts of a county are collected by party leadership and then reported to the Republican Party of Iowa to tabulate the state results.

  • Democrats
    The Democratic process is a bit more complicated. In Democratic caucuses, after given an opportunity to speak on behalf of a favored candidate, participants physically move into different parts of the room to show which candidate they support. The size of candidate’s support is counted, and candidates who don't have enough support are deemed non-viable. The viability threshold is 15 percent of the participants in the room. Members of the non-viable groups can try to attract more people to their candidate, disperse and join other candidate groups, or remain “uncommitted”. The number of votes each candidate gets determines what percentage of that precinct's delegates will represent that person at the county convention. Because of this process, it becomes very important for Democratic campaigns to not only line-up supporters of their candidate but also try to identify the second choice of each caucus attendee in case their first choice is not deemed “viable”.

What is a platform plank? How do I submit one? Why should I do so, and what happens with it after submit it?
Both major political parties, like the Iowa Farm Bureau, have a policy development process that requests input from the grassroots. Every two years, the parties from the local to the national level develop platforms which are essentially a statement of beliefs and policies that they support, or in some cases, oppose. Depending on the tradition of your county or state, parties will adopt very short and succinct platforms and sometimes they will develop very long documents with lots of information. A platform plank is simply a policy statement or policy belief that you believe your political party should support and adopt. On caucus night, usually after the presidential preference poll is taken and other business is concluded, the chair of your caucus will ask anyone if they have any suggested platform planks to offer. At that time, you can submit your planks and they will be added with the other suggested planks for your county and put into the process for consideration at your county convention. At each step, from the county to the district to the state and all the way to the national convention, it is possible that your planks will be added to that level of the process’ platform. The Iowa Farm Bureau has a list of suggested planks that are good suggestions for Farm Bureau members to offer at their caucuses in order to ensure pro-agriculture policy is strongly considered in the platforms of both parties.

What is the “Caucus to Convention” process and timeline?
You might hear the term “Caucus to Convention” and that is merely the period of activity between the caucuses in the winter to the county and district conventions in the spring, and the state and national conventions held in the summer.

  • County Conventions
    After the precinct caucuses on Monday, February 1, 2016, each county Republican and Democratic Party convenes their county convention. At the county convention, parties discuss the county party platform, elect delegates to the district and state conventions, and hear speeches from officeholders and candidates for office. The dates and times for these county conventions for both parties in each of Iowa’s 99 counties will be announced at a later date.  However, usually these events are held in March.

  • District Conventions
    Several weeks after the county conventions, both parties will hold four district conventions. These districts are the same as Iowa’s four congressional districts. District convention delegates elect members to different state convention committees (rules, platform, credentials, etc.) and also elect members to the State Central Committee (the governing board of the state parties). Finally, delegates debate the district party platform and hear from officeholders and candidates for office. Both parties will hold their district conventions at a date, time, and location yet to be announced. Additionally, should no candidate running for Congress break the 35 percent threshold in their respective primary (held in June), these delegates will get together again shortly after the primary to pick a candidate for the November ballot. Last year, this was relevant in Iowa’s third district when Republicans ultimately selected David Young to be their candidate.

  • State Conventions
    At the state convention, delegates debate the state party platform, elect representatives to serve Iowa at the party’s national committee, elect Iowans to be delegates to the national convention, and also hear from many candidates and current officeholders. Also, should any statewide candidate fail to get 35 percent of the vote in the primary, the delegates will pick that nominee to represent the party on the November general election ballot. The dates, locations, and times for the Iowa Republican and Iowa Democratic state conventions have not yet been announced.

  • National Conventions
    National political conventions are held every four years, usually a few months before a November presidential election. Like the previous conventions, delegates will debate and adopt a platform, conduct other business of the national party, and hear from lots of office holders and candidates. However, perhaps most notably, delegates will officially nominate the party’s presidential candidate and his or her running mate for the November ballot. The 2016 Democratic National Convention will be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from July 25 to July 28. The 2016 Republican National Convention will be held in Cleveland, Ohio from July 18 to July 21.
Disclaimer: This page is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to provide a comprehensive listing or overview of all caucus and political convention information. Please contact your local Republican or Democratic Party leadership or contact the Republican Party of Iowa at 515-282-8105 or the Iowa Democratic Party at 515-244-7292. This page was last updated June 11, 2015 and may not necessarily reflect all the most recent information.

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