Iowa's first in the nation precinct caucuses are a function of the political parties. The Auditor's Office does not conduct the caucuses, report results, or play a direct role. However, since the caucus process involves voter registration, precincts, and choosing our nation's highest elected official, we receive many questions about the caucuses.
Delegates to the national conventions that nominate each party's presidential candidate are elected in a process that begins here in Iowa at the grass-roots caucus level. Each party will conduct caucuses in Iowa's 1,997 precincts, at sites ranging from rooms in public facilities to private homes. The attendance record was set in 1988, when 125,000 Democrats and 109,000 Republicans participated.
The caucuses are scheduled for January 19, 2004. The Democrats and Republicans have both scheduled the caucuses for 6:30 p.m., a change from the traditional 7:00 start time. (Under Iowa law, only the officially recognized parties hold caucuses. At present only the Democrats and Republicans have party status; the Greens lost party status following the 2002 general election. Details)
Iowa's first in the nation place in the presidential nomination process came about in the late 1960s and early 1970s at a time of opposition to the Vietnam War.
After the 1968 Democratic National Convention, during which there were intense protests of the war, the Democrats appointed a commission headed by Senator George McGovern to review the nomination process. New rules called for more meetings, better notification, lengthier procedures, and more participation and discussion.
In order to accomplish this and hold their state convention in June as required by state law, Iowa Democrats scheduled their 1972 caucuses in late January. This placed the Iowa caucuses ahead of the New Hampshire primary, which had been the nation's first presidential contest for many decades.
In 1972, McGovern ran for president and finished second in the Iowa caucuses. His unexpected strong showing was seen as a de facto victory. McGovern went on to win the Democratic nomination.
In 1976 Iowa Republicans for the first time held their caucuses on the same night as the Democrats. A little known former Georgia governor finished second to "uncommitted" in the Democratic caucuses. In the years since Jimmy Carter won the presidency, the Iowa caucuses have been the first significant contest in both parties.
Iowa's first in the nation caucuses have generated controversy. Critics say too much attention is paid to a relatively small state that does not represent the nation as a whole. Supporters say campaigning in Iowa is one-on-one with voters, and forces candidates to do more than just broadcast television commercials.
Past Caucus Results
In both parties, a caucus participant must be a resident of the precinct and be at least 18 years old as of November 2, 2004. Participants must actually attend the caucus in the precinct in which they live - there is no absentee voting. In addition, participants must be registered to vote with the party whose caucus they are attending. Both parties allow participants to register, update their registration, or change party on caucus night. The parties are then responsible for returning the voter registration forms to our office.
Guests may attend the caucus to observe but may not participate. Both parties have youth participation programs for persons who will not be 18 by November 2, 2004; contact the parties for details.
Both parties discuss issues and candidates, choose party precinct officers, and elect delegates to the party's county convention, usually held in March. County conventions elect delegates to congressional district and state conventions, which elect national convention delegates. The national conventions formally nominate the party's presidential candidate.
The number of county convention delegates elected from each precinct is determined by each party, based on how many votes the party's candidates received in that precinct in recent elections.
The two parties elect their county convention delegates differently.
Republicans conduct a straw poll for President by secret ballot in years when the nomination is contested. In 2004, the Iowa Republican party will not conduct a straw poll.
The whole caucus then elects delegates and alternates to the county convention.
Sample Republican Caucus (updated 1/14/04)
Democrats elect their county convention delegates by presidential preference group, rather than by the whole caucus. At the time delegates are elected, the caucus splits up into preference groups - supporters of each candidate gather in different parts of the room. There is no secret ballot and no straw poll.
A presidential preference group must have at least 15% of the precinct's total number of caucus attendees in order to elect county convention delegates.
Participants are allowed to regroup if their candidate has too few supporters to choose a delegate or if they decide to support another candidate.
More specific details on caucus procedure are at caucus2004.org, the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus web site.
Sample Democratic Caucus
After the caucuses are completed, county parties report their results to state party headquarters in Des Moines. The state parties then report their results to the news media. Republicans report a vote total from the straw poll (if one is taken). Democrats do not report vote totals and instead report numbers of county convention delegates elected.
As of January 19, 2004. All headquarters are closed, and many candidate websites are no longer active.
Less well-known candidates, possible candidates, and candidates of other parties may be found at politics1.com
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