Q & A: Iowa caucuses

~with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

Q: Why are the Iowa caucuses so significant?

A:  For more than four decades, presidential candidates have come to Iowa to test the electoral waters. That’s because the Iowa caucuses serve as the first contest in the nation on the road to the White House.

On Feb. 1, Iowans will be the very first citizens to cast a vote in the presidential nominating process. It has become a crucial test of strength for candidates to do well at the Iowa caucuses. A strong showing helps to build momentum in the states that follow.

Before the first vote is cast, more than a dozen presidential candidates have blanketed our state, working to meet with voters, get out their message and mobilize grassroots supporters.  Meeting face-to-face with Iowa voters give candidates an unfiltered understanding of what’s really on people’s minds.

Likewise, retail politicking gives voters the opportunity to look candidates squarely in the eye and take full measure of their candidacy.

It’s no surprise to me that Iowans take this civic responsibility very seriously. Here in Iowa, we have an engaged, astute electorate who have high expectations for accountability and accessibility to public officeholders. In fact, I have prioritized my time to meet with Iowans in every county, every year since my first election to the United States Senate. It gives me the benefit of listening and learning how public policy, the tax code and red tape directly impact Iowans, for example. And it helps me to bring Iowans’ voices to the policymaking tables each time I cast a vote.

Q: How do the caucuses work?

A: To participate, Iowans must be registered to vote, including first-time voters who will be age 18 by Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016.  Same-day registrations for Democrats and Republicans are available at each political party’s respective caucuses, which will take place in 1,681 electoral precincts across the state.

Caucus-goers will meet in local schools, churches and community centers to conduct presidential polling and party business. Doors open at 5 pm on Feb. 1 and caucuses begin at 7 pm. Iowa’s electoral process represents authentic grassroots activism that’s strengthened by engagement and education with voters. Consider that caucus-goers come out on a wintry Monday evening to spend a couple of hours with their neighbors. A caucus agenda includes listening to precinct captains make a pitch for their candidates, casting a ballot and conducting party business, such as electing delegates to the county conventions and voting on party platforms. Iowans may learn where their precinct caucus is located by visiting the Iowa Secretary of State’s website: https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/voterreg/pollingplace/search.aspx.

Q: What’s new for the 2016 caucuses?

A:  For the first time, precinct chairs for Republicans and Democrats from across the state will use a new technology tool to securely report results directly and immediately to their respective state headquarters. From here vote counts will be reported to the public and the media.

The Republican caucuses conduct polling by secret ballot. Then, the ballots are tallied in full view of everyone in attendance.

The Democratic caucuses are conducted a bit differently. Here, caucus-goers align with their preferred presidential candidate by dividing into groups of support. After reaching a specified threshold that establishes a viability of support for a presidential candidate, delegates to the county conventions are elected.

Also new for the 2016 GOP caucuses, Iowa’s national convention delegates are bound by the results of the votes cast at the caucuses. So, in the event there’s a contested nomination in July in Cleveland, the Iowa delegates will be bound to vote proportionately based on the results tallied on Feb. 1 in Iowa.

As Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator, I take pride in Iowa’s historic, first-in-the-nation caucuses. I encourage Iowans to take advantage of this opportunity to exercise your right to vote and give voice to your views in our participatory democracy.

Electing the next leader of the free world is a right and responsibility of citizenship. Let’s not forget that America’s sons and daughters in uniform put their lives on the line to uphold and defend our freedoms and liberties, including the right to elect those who serve “we the people” in our system of self-government.

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