Presidential election 2024: What is a caucus and why does Iowa have one?

The caucuses begin at 7 p.m. Monday.

As Republican candidates braved sub-zero weather to crisscross Iowa seeking support, citizens of the Hawkeye State prepared to cast their ballots in an unusual ritual that sees voters gather in groups to choose the person they hope to see as the party’s nominee.

Former President Donald Trump comes to Iowa with a commanding lead. According to the latest Des Moines Register poll, Trump is the first choice of 48% of likely Republican caucusgoers, while former United Nations Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is at 20% with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sitting at 16%.

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So what will happen Monday when Iowans head to their caucuses? Here’s a look at what a caucus is, how it’s conducted, and how what happens after the votes are counted.

What is a caucus?

In Iowa, voters gather together in groups at polling places to decide on the candidate they want to support for their party’s nomination. Caucuses differ from the primaries that most states hold in that voters gather at a specific time in their precincts and cast votes.

When are the caucuses held?

The caucuses begin on Monday at 7 p.m. CT. They go until they are finished, there is no set end time, but they generally last about an hour.

Who can vote?

To participate in the GOP caucuses, you:

  • Must be registered to vote and be a registered member of the party. You can register to vote up to and including the day of the caucuses.
  • Must have turned 18, the legal voting age, by the time of the general election on Nov. 5, 2024.
  • Must live in the precinct in which you are caucusing.

How does the process work?

Iowans will go to vote in one of 1,657 precincts in the state’s 99 counties, and once there, the precinct meeting is called to order and the precinct chairman/woman will invite anyone who wishes to speak about the candidate of their choice.

After the speeches of support are done, each eligible voter will be given a piece of paper. On the paper, they will either write a candidate’s name or make a check by the name of the candidate of their choice. The ballots are secret.

Once the choices are made, the slips of paper are counted and the totals are announced to those present. Those results go to the county Republican leadership which sends them to the state Republican leadership to tabulate the state totals.

How many Republican convention delegates are awarded?

There are 40 Republican delegates up for grabs: 25 at-large delegates, 12 congressional district delegates and three RNC members.

Candidates receive the number of delegates equal to their share of the statewide vote.

A total of 2,429 Republican candidates are to be awarded before this summer’s convention. The winning candidate will need 1,215 of them.

What about the Democrats?

There is no in-person caucus for Democrats this year. The Democratic National Committee dropped Iowa from its early lineup in favor of South Carolina.

The party instead, opted for mail-in ballots listing incumbent President Joe Biden, Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, Marianne Williamson and an option for “uncommitted.”

All cards must be postmarked by March 5. March 5 is Super Tuesday, a date when more than a dozen states hold their primaries.

What about the weather?

Iowa will have its coldest caucuses ever according to the National Weather Service. An Arctic blast has hit the central US and Iowa could see wind chills as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Will it hurt turnout? It’s likely to keep some people home, but Iowans are a hardy lot and many have told media outlets asking about the weather that they will throw on an extra coat and show up to cast their ballots.

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