By Satenik Karapetyan –12/31/11

What do you do at a caucus? It’s simple. You vote. But voters in the Hawkeye State won’t be heading to polls on January 3rd.  They will be heading to caucus locations all over Iowa’s 99 counties. These locations vary from homes to school cafeterias.

Iowa is the first-in-the-nation caucus. To participate, voters must be registered as either a Democrat or a Republican. Voters are allowed to register for either party at the caucus and can change their affiliation. The caucus serves 5 purposes, including electing officials to serve as delegates to the county convention, discussing issues for the county party’s platform and voting for the presidential candidates.

This is the major reason why voters caucus. The presidential nomination process is very different for the two parties. The Republican caucus is just a straw poll. Representatives from each campaign speak on behalf of their candidate, then a vote is taken on secret ballots. They write their choice on a piece of paper, and drop it in the ballot box.

The Democratic caucus is a bit more involved, and often times can get rowdy. It’s a unique opportunity for voters to have an open conversation. Generally, supporters of different candidates will set up and attempt to reach “viability.” That is a total of at least 15% of all the voters in the room.

This year the Iowa Democratic Party will hold caucuses even though incumbent President Obama is the only Democratic candidate. Voters will get a chance to hear from the President. They will watch a live feed where Mr. Obama will make a pitch to the voters. Then some will be able to ask him questions.

Other states have primaries, or a preliminary election, to appoint delegates. New Hampshire is the first in the nation to have a primary. It will be a week after Iowa’s caucuses on January 10th. Winning in Iowa doesn’t guarantee the party’s nomination. But, the Iowa caucuses help narrow the field.

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