Iowa Caucus

Understanding the Process

Represent Iowa Organic at the 2016 Iowa caucuses! For more information on the Iowa caucuses or the “Caucus to Convention” process, please contact your registered party: 

What is a caucus and why do we do it? 
In presidential years (2016), thousands of Iowans show up at their local caucuses to hold a presidential preference poll, which formally begins the presidential nominating process for both major national parties. 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. Decisions made during the biennial caucuses can have a big impact on Iowa agriculture, so having representation from organic farmers is important. The grassroots of Iowa politics happens at the precinct caucus--this is where one is elected to a leadership position in one's county party, it's 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 in the caucus? 
Caucuses are held by the two major US political parties (Democrats & Republicans) and you must be registered to vote and be a registered member of the party’s caucus to participate. The individual must also be 18 years old by the date of the next general election, Tuesday, November 8, 2016  (17 year-olds may 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 of those two major parties in order to caucus. 

When is my caucus? 
Every precinct in Iowa will hold their own Republican and Democratic caucuses this winter.  The times and locations of these caucuses will be announced on Monday, February 1, 2016. Most of these local meetings are held in the evening, but call your precinct to find out if they have any early information. 

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 at farms.  Republican caucus locations and Democratic caucus locations are listed on their websites.

How does the Presidential Preference Poll work? 
The caucuses are administered by the political party, and the party governs 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. The Democratic and Republican caucus processes differ slightly in the presidential preference poll portion. 
Democrats 
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. Participants will then 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 at least 15% of people in the room are deemed "non-viable." Members of the non-viable groups have 3 options:  they can try to attract more people, they can leave their corner of the room and join a viable candidate, or they can remain “uncommitted”. The number of votes each candidate is determined by what percentage of that precinct's delegates will represent that person at the county convention. Because of this process, it is 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”. 
Republicans 
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. 

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 follow a grassroots policy development process. Every 2 years, the parties from the local to the national level develop platforms (statements of beliefs and policies they support or oppose). Depending on the tradition of your county, parties will either adopt very short and succinct platforms or long documents with lots of information. A platform plank is simply a policy statement or belief that you want your political party to 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 party’s platform. The Iowa Organic Association has a list of suggested planks for members and friends of organic to offer at their caucuses to ensure organic farming is considered in both party platforms.

What is the “Caucus to Convention” process and timeline? 
The term “Caucus to Convention” refers to 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 4 district conventions, one in each of Iowa’s 4 US congressional districts. District convention delegates elect members to state convention committees (rules, platform, credentials, etc.) and 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 TBA. Additionally, should no candidate running for Congress break the 35% 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. 

  • State Conventions 
    At the state convention, delegates debate the state party platform, elect Iowa representatives for the party’s national committee, elect Iowa delegates to the national convention, and also hear from many candidates and current officeholders. Should any statewide candidate fail to get 35% of the vote in the primary, the delegates will pick the 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 
    At the National Convention, delegates will officially nominate the party’s presidential candidate and his or her running mate for the November ballot.  National political conventions are held every 4 years, usually the summer before the November presidential election. Like the previous conventions, delegates will debate and adopt a platform, conduct other party business, and hear from lots of office holders and candidates.  The Democratic National Convention will be held in Philadelphia, PA from July 25-28, 2016. The Republican National Convention will be held in Cleveland, OH from July 18-21, 2016.
Disclaimer: Your local Republican and Democratic Party leadership will have the most recent and accurate local information.  

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