Iowa Caucus 2020: What is a caucus and how does it work?

The Iowa caucuses – What you need to know

The first votes of the 2020 presidential nomination will be cast Monday in Iowa as the state holds the Iowa caucuses to determine who the voters will back for president in November.

Voters will meet at caucus sites in Iowa, a state in which since 1976 only one presidential candidate – Republican Sen. John McCain in 2008 – finished outside the top three vote-getters and went on to win their party’s nomination.

What is a caucus and how does it work? Here’s an explanation.

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What is a caucus?

A caucus is a gathering of members of a political party to discuss and vote on who they want to represent their party in the presidential election.

When does it start?

Caucusing begins at 7 p.m. local time (Central time).

Where do people caucus?

There are 1,679 precincts in which people caucus in Iowa. People caucus at schools, churches, government buildings and other places.

This year, the Democrats are doing something different by holding “satellite” caucuses. Sixty will be in Iowa, 24 will be across the country and three will be international – in Paris, Glasgow, Scotland and Tbilisi, Georgia.

The satellite caucuses are held for registered Iowa Democrats who cannot get to a caucus to participate in the voting.

Who participates in caucuses?

To participate in the caucus, voters must be 18 by Election Day and registered to vote. Same-day registration is available in Iowa.

Is there a difference between the Democratic and Republican caucus?

Yes, the two parties caucus in a different way. Democrats will separate into groups in the caucus precincts, depending on the presidential candidate they support – in other words, they stand in a portion of the room designated for the candidate they wish to support. In a Republican caucus, participants simply cast a vote to indicate their support.

Then, the people in each group are counted. If the number of people in a certain group makes up at least 15% of the number of people in the room, then the group is considered “viable.”

If your candidate is viable, you fill out a Presidential Preference Card, sign it and turn it in. You cannot vote again.

If your candidate is not viable, meaning the candidate did not reach 15% in the first count, voters for that candidate may join a viable candidate group, or try to earn support for their candidate group by getting other supporters whose candidate did not get 15% to join with them to get their candidate viable.

Republican caucuses are different. Republicans cast a vote for the candidate they support for president. The votes are counted and then the number of delegates who will be elected by the precinct to attend the county convention is determined.

The delegates who will represent Iowa at the Republican National Convention are then divided proportionally according to the statewide vote for each Republican candidate.

What time will results be announced?

In the past, results from Iowa caucuses have come at various times. Sometimes voters have an answer by around 10 p.m. on caucus day. In other years, it’s taken days to determine a winner.

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2020, file photo, people cheer as democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign rally in Sioux City, Iowa. Iowa's Democrats will arrive at their 2020 kickoff caucuses on Monday, Feb. 3 with a emotions and one urgent mission: voting President Donald Trump out of office in November.
FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2020, file photo, people cheer as democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign rally in Sioux City, Iowa. Iowa's Democrats will arrive at their 2020 kickoff caucuses on Monday, Feb. 3 with a emotions and one urgent mission: voting President Donald Trump out of office in November. (John Locher/AP)