What are the Iowa caucuses?

Iowa isn’t the only state that caucuses but–as the first in the election cycle–it’s the most famous, and most able to make or break a candidate. Need more funding? Better do well in Iowa. Need voters to consider your candidacy viable? A win in Iowa can be the difference maker.

how they work

There are 1,682 precincts around the state of Iowa where voters meet, usually in school gymnasiums or churches, where large numbers of people can get together.

There, the physical space is divided up according to candidate. So, Elizabeth Warren’s group might be along the back wall; Joe Biden’s in the bleacher on the left. You check in, find your candidate, hang out in his/her area, indicating your support.

first alignment

At a specified time, a count is taken. This is the first alignment: how many people are aligning with X candidate? For example, let’s say there are 15 voters in the Warren area; 18 for Biden, etc.

This number, statewide, will be reported this year. It’s almost like a popular vote: how many people had, as a first choice, this candidate?

Now, these “first alignment” numbers are crunched according to “viability.”

If a candidate, say, Joe Biden, has 15% of the people in the room standing in his area, he’s a viable candidate.

If a candidate, say, Amy Klobacher, has only 11% of the people in the room standing in her area, she’s nonviable.

The numbers are calculated for all the candidates, separating them into viable and nonviable.

the second alignment

Now, at a specified time, your neighbors can walk around and try to lure additional voters to support their candidate. In our example above, maybe Amy Klobacher’s supporters (all or just a few) move to the Biden group. Or maybe they convince Yang voters to join them.

Time is called, a head count is taken. This is a second alignment. If a group now has 15% of the voters it’s viable.

state delegate equivalents are chosen

Delegates are distributed to the viable candidate with the greatest number of voters after the last second alignment.

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