The Iowa caucuses will provide the first opportunity for any Americans to give their say on who they want to be the Democratic or Republican Party’s nominee for president.
Iowa’s caucuses are not elections, but rather a gathering where people may publicly show support for a candidate, and are not as simple as just casting a vote on a ballot. The caucuses are run by the state Democratic and Republican parties, rather than the state as in an election.
Supporters may make speeches in support of their favored candidates, and in the Democratic caucuses people will move to different parts of the room their caucus takes place in. In a Republican caucus, a “straw poll” takes place where caucusgoers write in the name of their preferred candidate for president.
In order to participate in a caucus, people must be registered to vote with the party whose caucus they attend in the precinct of the caucus they are attending. People must be eligible to vote and turn 18 by the Nov. 3, 2020 general election in order to participate in a caucus. Potential caucusgoers can find out if they are registered to vote and where their caucus site is at iwillvote.com.
Maddie Anderson, chair of the Story County Democrats, said the party printed out voter rolls on Jan. 18, which could mean potential caucusgoers could have to fill out another form at the caucus site.
“If they did just register within the last week, that may not be reflected in the printed out rolls,” Anderson said. “We printed that out on the 18th […] so people who are registered or changed their registration […] may have to end up filling one out at the caucus.”
To register at a caucus site for the Republican Party of Iowa’s caucuses, caucusgoers must bring voter ID and proof of residence. Current Iowa State students can use the “Voter Reg Address” page on AccessPlus as proof of residence.
In order to participate in a caucus, caucusgoers must arrive and be in line at their caucus site by 7 p.m. Feb. 3, the night the caucuses are scheduled to take place.
“There may be significant wait times in student precincts if there are not enough volunteers,” Anderson said.
People interested in volunteering to help the Democratic caucus process run smoother in Story County can go to the county party’s website, storydems.org, and click the “volunteer now” button, Anderson said.
Judy Trumpy, the organization committee chair for the Story County Republican Party, said the party still needs volunteers for the caucus.
"There are spotty [precincts] throughout the county [...] particularly in precincts 4-2, 4-3, and 4-5," Trumpy said.
Those precincts either include or are near Iowa State's campus and include heavy student-voter populations.
Those interested in volunteering in the Republican Party of Iowa's caucuses can go to www.iowagop.org/caucusvolunteer.
Trumpy said if people are interested they can state they want to volunteer, give their address and they can be given a role to help run the caucus process.
For the first time in the 2020 caucus, Democrats will write the name of their favored candidate on a “presidential preference card,” sign it and their preferences will be tabulated.
If on the first round the candidate a caucusgoer supports is viable, they cannot change their preference to another candidate, though they may leave the caucus site, according to Iowa Democratic Party documents. In order for a candidate to be viable, they must generally receive 15 percent support from those present at a precinct caucus, though the exact percentage may vary based on the turnout at a precinct.
If the candidate a Democratic caucusgoer supports does not receive 15 percent support in the first alignment at the caucus, they may either join a viable group or attempt to combine support with other nonviable groups for a candidate to reach viability. There is only one realignment period, after which remaining caucusgoers will sign and turn in their preference cards for a second tabulation.
Reaching the viability threshold is necessary for a candidate to receive delegate equivalents at the precinct caucus level.
On the Republican side, delegates from Iowa are elected based on proportional representation and are bound to vote for a candidate on the first ballot of the Republican National Convention in proportion to the amount of votes the candidate received in Iowa's caucuses.
Turnout on the Republican side in the 2020 caucuses will likely be lower compared to the record-high turnout in the 2016 caucuses. Turnout is historically lower in contests for the incumbent party when the incumbent president is seeking re-election.
The re-election campaign of President Donald Trump issued a press release encouraging Iowans to participate in the Republican caucuses.
"By attending your caucus, you can show your support for the president and send a clear message to the rest of the country: President Trump’s America First agenda is working, and we want four more years so we can continue our historic progress," said Lara Trump, senior adviser for Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. in the press release. "President Trump and I are counting on you to be there on caucus night."
Trump faces only nominal opposition in his quest for retaining the Republican Party nomination — the incumbent regularly polls above 90 percent support among likely Republican primary voters nationally.
Anderson said the Democrats are prepared for a significant turnout, and that they are expecting a higher caucus turnout than in 2016.
Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell said she has “absolutely” noticed an uptick in student engagement ahead of the caucuses.
“We’ve had these incredible ISU Democrats — they have done a great job,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “They’ve changed the way we go door-to-door on campus because they know the territory, and we have had an incredible uptick which is great.”
Those attending the caucuses do not necessarily have to participate in the caucuses. People interested in attending but not participating can show up to a caucus site and sign-in and receive an observer button or sticker.
Anderson said when people arrive at Democratic caucus sites, they may be asked on-the-spot whether they are interested in volunteering to help the process and may receive on-the-spot training.
Sehba Faheem, senior in biological systems engineering and co-president of the College Democrats at Iowa State, said the precinct containing Maple-Willow-Larch and Union Drive Community Center are both missing “about 15 volunteers.”
“So there’s a lot of places that aren’t covered right now, and so it’s a little bit of a scramble” Faheem said. “We need to make sure we have those people there — that way when people come in to caucus they’ll have a place to go and that will run smoothly.”
Volunteers run the tables at the entrance to the caucus site and make sure caucusgoers are registered to vote as Democrats or help them re-register.
The line for participating in the caucus stops at 7 p.m., though those in line before that time can participate.
“They physically take a volunteer and put them into the line, that way they can stop it and [all the people ahead of them can go through] and be processed,” Faheem said.
Those in charge of organizing the process stressed the importance of volunteers.
“This is put on entirely by volunteers,” Anderson said. “We rely on volunteers contacting us ahead of time so we can make this a smooth process.”