Insider’s Guide to the Iowa Caucus

Hal Goetz leads caucus training in Knoxville, Iowa

Not long ago, I went to an Iowa caucus training. A caucus is first of all, a meeting. It’s not a primary. It’s a meeting run by a political party and funded by the party. It’s a meeting to select the party’s nominee for election and to work on the party’s goals and principles–the platform. It’s an expensive undertaking. Here is information about the caucus. Here is the platform of one party and of the other.

A caucus will have an attendance of 5-500 people, depending on where you live in the state. It is a place to register people to your party, register people to vote, and to elect delegates for candidates running for president. Each county has a specific number of delegates based on how many people voted in the last 2 elections and how many candidates from that party received votes. A caucus is paid for by the party but works with the elected official–the auditor–to get this information. There are no official candidates at this point, although many have been vying for the nomination. A caucus can elect “undecided.” However, based on your number of delegates, only so many can move forward as “viable.” A candidate may have supporters, but not enough to win a delegate. If this happens, the supporters have the chance to move to their second choice candidate. As you can imagine, there’s math involved and some rounding.

Since there were allegations of fraud in the last caucus–which turned out to be a Russian hoax–the caucus will be less meeting- like next year. Instead of counting people in preference groups and having people win over delegates, we need to collect cards. And people must sign the cards and declare who they are for early in the process. This is a departure for folks like me, who show up not knowing who they will be for and hoping to discuss things at a meeting. I for one feel that the interference in the past election, starting with the caucuses, was a serious threat. There’s a difference between free speech and perpetuating fraud.

In the past, the chair counted the people in each preference group and the results were verified with name and signature by a delegate for each candidate. The card adds an extra layer. Plus, I have to save the cards in case there is an audit. Here’s a look at the card:

The new preference card, because layers of verification wasn’t enough

I volunteered to be a temporary chair for the next caucus. My goal will be to sort people into their candidate preference groups, elect delegates to the county convention (they represent their candidate preference), adopt platform resolutions, and elect people to leadership roles. I had to have a training and will need to pass a quiz.

The Iowa caucus will be on Feb. 3, 2020. It’s the first test of a candidate’s appeal and organization. The locations will be announced, but any entity supported by state taxes in any way must permit their location to be used at no charge.

Once the caucus is over, I hope to relinquish my leadership role. I have a new book coming out, after all.