The official starting gun of the 2020 elections will be fired Monday night at firehouses, gymnasiums, churches and libraries across Iowa.
About 200,000 Iowans — give or take 50,000 or so — are expected to brave chilly conditions and a slight chance of snow or ice to head to their precinct caucus at 7 p.m. Central to pick their preferred candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In Iowa, voters must arrive at a specific time. And because of caucus rules, it’s possible the candidate they choose in the initial vote will be eliminated, and they’ll have to pick someone else.
Here’s everything you need to know about how the process works — and how to watch the results like a pro:
How It Works
When the candidate-preference portion of the caucus begins, attendees are asked to move around the room for the “first alignment.” They walk to a designated area of the room for their favored candidate, who are represented by “precinct captains.” Then organizers tally the number of people for each candidate. There’s also a section for “uncommitted” — people who choose not to pick a candidate.
Then comes the cut. In the vast majority of districts — all but those small precincts that have a tiny number of delegates up for grabs — the viability threshold is 15 percent. Any candidate above 15 percent is deemed viable, and their supporters are locked in. (That also applies to “uncommitted,” by the way. Caucus-goers who want to see the first alignment goes before picking their candidate may need to strategically line up with a non-viable campaign in order to remain eligible to switch.)
For voters who have picked a candidate who doesn’t meet the threshold, they can either switch to a viable candidate or hope to recruit enough people to make their candidate viable. That might be possible if they are between 10 percent and 15 percent, but it’s unlikely if they are significantly lower.
After all the switching comes a second count, known as the “final alignment.” Each candidates’ supporters are tallied, and any candidate at 15 percent or above is eligible to earn delegates to the state convention later this year. The number of delegates at stake is fixed going into the caucus — it’s based roughly on the performance of recent Democratic candidates in the precinct — and the chairperson uses the final alignment count to calculate the equivalent number of delegates each candidate has won from that precinct.
The Vote (and Delegate) Count
In past caucuses, the state delegate equivalents were the only numbers provided to the public. But after a near-photo finish between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016, reforms were adopted aimed at increasing transparency. Now, the state Democratic Party will be releasing all three metrics: the raw votes from the first and final alignments, and the state delegate equivalents….
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