First Democratic Primary

The first Democratic primary caucus in Iowa on February 3rd.

Image created by A. Kolla

The first Democratic primary caucus in Iowa on February 3rd.

The presidential election of 2020 is looming. The primary elections are underway, with the first taking place in Iowa on Feb. 3. 

Primary elections allow voters to choose the candidate they want to represent their party in the upcoming general election (which won’t take place until Nov. 2020). The Republicans have an incumbent (already serving) candidat–President Trump. Although he does have primary challengers, he is expected to easily beat them to be the Republican nominee. Democrats, however, are still making up their minds about who they want to run against Trump. Current front-runners include Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar as well as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigeig and former Vice President Joe Biden. Primary elections are considered important because the candidate chosen can “make or break” the party’s chances in the general election.

If you follow the news, you’ve likely heard quite a bit lately about the recent Iowa caucus. As of the writing of this story, the full results are still not in, but it appears that Pete Buttigieg won the largest percentage of state delegates, with Bernie Sanders very close behind and Elizabeth Warren placing third. You might be wondering, though–what exactly is a caucus?

A caucus is a bit different from a regular election. Firstly, it’s a lot more informal. According to NPR, a caucus is more like a neighborhood meeting than an election and it’s common for everyone to know who you voted for. Also, caucuses award delegates to each candidate in a system similar to the Electoral College. There is a caucus for every precinct in Iowa (1,683 of them) and due to the nature of caucuses, each one matters. In a caucus, the people from a precinct get together and split up into different groups based on each candidate. They can also make a case for each candidate to convince other voters to switch sides. Then, candidates with less than 15% support are eliminated and the voters for those candidates have to move to a different candidate. So only candidates with more than 15% support are left and each are awarded at least 1 delegate with more going to the candidates with more voters. All of the delegate numbers from each caucus location are added up along with the number of state delegates each candidate gets. The candidate with the most state delegates wins Iowa.

But why hold such a complex system? Why not just give voters a regular primary ballot?

Well, according to Politico, Iowans say that caucuses are superior to an anonymous primary ballot because candidates can be discussed. Since all of the voters from a precinct come together, voter concerns are heard better in caucuses compared to other types of voting. Also, it ensures that every voter gets a voice. Since there are so many precincts, candidates can’t have all of their voters concentrated in a few small areas or they will only win those precincts and likely not the whole state.

Caucuses do have a few problems though. Voters need to dedicate at least an hour to voting and can’t send in an absentee vote. This presents a problem for people without easy access to transportation.

The presidential election seems far away, and yet it’s closer than it seems. The election was seemingly forgotten with the controversy around Trump’s impeachment but now that the primaries are underway, attention may swing back. Over the rest of this month, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina will all hold their primaries. North Carolina will vote on “Super Tuesday,” March 3.