Courtesy: Randall Hill/Reuters

Courtesy: Randall Hill/Reuters

by Rachel Lamb, senior editor

The Iowa caucus was last week, and it brought lots of drama, success, and failure.  And with all the talk, and jokes about the Iowa caucus, what the heck even is a caucus and why should we care about Iowa?

While each political party run caucuses a little differently, the purpose of caucuses is to encourage discussion between citizens about the candidates before voting. Currently 19 states hold caucuses.  It seems like a pretty neat idea, except for the fact that in states where there are Caucuses, there are much lower voter turnout rates because caucuses are much more time consuming than primaries.

Iowa is considered one of the most important only because it “begins” the year-long race for the presidency.  The caucus can decide the fate of many candidates, and 4 candidates have already dropped out simply because of the Iowa caucus results.

So what does my vote mean?

Overall, Republicans have around 2,472 delegates, and Democrats have 4,764 delegates (a candidate has to get the majority of the delegates to be the nominee for their party). Yet in addition to these delegates voted by constituents, states also have uncommitted delegates or superdelegates.  Superdelegates cast their votes without regard for the primary or caucus, and can make up substantial numbers of delegates at the national convention (where the voting happens).  In close elections, superdelegates can make or break the election.  And in some states even delegates who represent voters can  change their vote because technically the party leaders choose the candidate in the primary, not the people. Also, the actual people who are delegates are decided by the parties through extremely varying guidelines.  And states may get additional delegates if they have recently supported the party. Overall, kind of messed up, but that DOES NOT MEAN YOU SHOULD NOT VOTE.  Voters still make or break elections, and delegates pretty much always follow the voters when making decisions.

So I dragged myself to a caucus, what happens?

Caucuses are often held in school gyms, town halls, or even a barn.  When voters walk in they divide themselves between candidates, and undecided people form their own group.  Participants will then speak on behalf of their candidates. In Democratic caucuses,voters then have the opportunity to switch, or choose sides.  Then the people are counted, and delegates distributed based on number of people in each group.  For democratic caucuses, delegates the delegates distributed based on percentages.  Meanwhile in Republican caucuses, voters fill out a ballot and often the winner takes all the delegates.

What about Texas?

TEXAS HAS A CAUCUS! Kind of… Texas and Arizona are unique in that they have a mixed caucus.  In Arizona, the Republican Party has a primary election followed and a caucus to divide delegates.  In Texas, Democrats hold a caucus where 30 percent of delegates are decided through a caucus, and 70 percent by primary, while Republicans hold a primary.