Caucus for your Candidate

SYDNEY HAUER, Executive Editor | [email protected]

Caucus season is upon us. For politically involved students on campus, the Iowa caucuses can be one of the most exciting times to be an Iowan. On Feb. 1 at 7 p.m., Iowans will report to their caucus sites and fight for their preferred candidate.

“The most difficult part of caucusing can be making the commitment to go,” said Donna Hoffman, head of the political science department at UNI. “It’s not quick like voting, because it’s not voting. It’s a meeting that will take at least an hour, but it’s an important part of the [election process] that each party governs itself at the grassroots level.”

Young voters and first-time caucus goers can be unsure about the process, possibly even intimidated by it.

Hoffman said the potential apprehension and confusion stems from all of the technicalities involved, such as figuring out your precinct, ward number, registering to vote and where you go to participate in the caucus.

According to Hoffman, the first thing that you need to know in order to participate in the Iowa caucus is that you must be a registered Democrat or Republican; if you are registered as a no party-affiliate or anything else, you must change your registration. You can do this at your caucus site, as long as you have an ID ready and get there early.

To know where your location is, you have to find out what precinct you belong to. You can find this information by going to the Iowa Secretary of State’s website and typing in your zip code and address. It will give you your precinct number, as well as a complete list of precincts and locations. For example, Democrats living in the immediate area around campus will be in the West Gym or in Maucker Union on the UNI campus, and Republicans at Peet Jr. High and Holmes Jr. High both in Cedar Falls — depending on their precinct number.

Some students are ahead of the curve and have already located their caucus site, like Zack Martin, junior philosophy major.

“I have no real concern [about the caucus procedure],” Martin said.” I am 25 and was old enough eight years ago to caucus for Barack Obama, so I know the process.”

The Caucus process is different for each party, but both processes lead to the election of delegates to go on to the county convention, the next stage in the election process.

Many voters think the caucuses involve casting a ballot, but this is not the case. The point of the caucus is not to vote for a candidate but instead to select representative delegates for each candidate from each precinct.


For the Democrats, caucus-goers will split into different groups of supporters for the candidates involved. In this case there will be three: one for Bernie Sanders, one for Hillary Clinton and one for Martin O’Malley. Caucus-goers who are undecided will eventually have to pick a side, and the citizens that make up each group will then be counted.

Each group has to reach a certain number of supporters, called a “viability number,” and if a group of supporters does not reach the viability number, the group will not be counted among the final results.

Those in the disqualified group must split up into the remaining groups that reached the viability threshold, or not participate at all. At this time the process becomes highly interactive, as supporters can attempt to persuade people from other groups to come to their side.

Once the still viable groups have officially decided, each group collectively elects the delegates. These can be anyone in the group. The elected delegates then go on to the county convention. The number of delegates each group has depends on how many supporters are in each group. The caucus results for the Democrats are in the form of delegate strength and not hard numbers.


The Republicans’ process is different and much more private because you don’t publicly discuss the candidate of your choice unless you choose to. Once the caucus begins, there will be time to speak on behalf of the candidate of your choosing, but that is not mandatory.

Following this, a preference poll using anonymous ballots will be conducted. The results of the straw poll are reported to the media in hard numbers rather than delegate strength.

“If you want to have a voice, you ought to be active and get involved this early on in the process. If students don’t participate, their issues won’t be heard,” Hoffman said.

According to, four percent of eligible voters under 30 turned out to caucus in 2012, and 13 percent in 2008 (the last time both parties had meaningful caucus numbers).

Christen Brodbeck, senior communication major, said he doesn’t plan on caucusing because she doesn’t yet see a candidate that aligns with her moderate politic views. But were she to caucus, she said, she’d feel confident in the process because she attended NISG’s mock caucus on Jan. 25.

“I sometimes believe younger people have gotten the idea that we can’t make a difference in politics,” Brodbeck said. “Like it’s all a big system.”

She said this was unfortunate and urges those who have chosen a candidate to caucus, no matter who they support.