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Why the Iowa caucus matters and how it works

| Sunday, February 2, 2020

Iowa will host the first major vote of the 2020 presidential election cycle at the Iowa caucus Monday, Feb. 3. The results of the caucus will likely determine the party nominations, and coverage of the event will let voters across America know where candidates stand on crucial issues.

The Observer has two reporters at the caucus. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to see the reporting Editor-in-Chief Kelli Smith and videographer Gretchen Hopkirk are doing from the field.

This democratic caucus is unlike other state caucuses and primaries, where ballots are cast in secret. Iowa’s caucus allows for lively discussions and debates.

The Des Moines Register reported that only “45% of likely caucusgoers said that they could be persuaded to support someone else. 13% said that they had not yet picked a favorite candidate.” This leaves over half of the caucusgoers open to persuasion by the candidates. The candidates use the caucus as an opportunity to finalize their campaigns and to convince Iowans and the American public to give their support.

Historically, the Iowa caucus became famous accidentally, due to a venue error in 1972 and Jimmy Carter’s underdog win in 1976. According to The New York Times, after seeing two long-shot candidates solidifying their win in Iowa, other candidates — like George H. W. Bush — were inspired by McGovern and Carter, making Iowa’s caucus a determining factor in the presidential election cycle for years to come.

The caucus starts with the candidates stating their running platforms. After, the candidates stand in designated areas in the room, and the caucusgoers then physically move to one of the areas to confirm their support for that presidential candidate. Caucusgoers can also stand in an uncommitted space if they choose not to vote.

Next, caucus organizers tally the votes. All candidates that do not have 15% of the total participants in their group are eliminated from the caucus. Individuals from an unviable group (their candidate had less than 15%) now have the opportunity to join a viable group or the uncommitted group.

The caucus organizers count a second time. Now, candidates with a viable number of individuals win delegates.

The Iowa Democratic Party determines the “number of state delegate equivalents per candidate at all the caucus locations,” according to The Washington Post.

The democratic candidate with the most state delegates and thus DNC delegates wins, improving his or her chance to become the Democratic nominee for the 2020 presidential election.

The Iowa Democratic Party made a new rule this election season to increase transparency after the 2016 presidential election. According to The Washington Post, the American public is allowed access to the raw vote totals and the delegate allocations for the first time. By doing this, the Iowa Democratic Party intends to prevent disinformation.

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