Thursday 3 January 2008
Today will see the holding of the Iowa caucus. Party supporters will meet across the state to select their nominees for the candidacy of their party. Party meetings are held in each Precinct (the equivalent of a ward in the UK). These may be in 'public' buildings such as schools, public libraries or churches - or may be in a particular person's home. Each precinct contributes towards the county convention, of which there are 99. These county conventions then select delegates for both Iowa's Congressional District Convention and the State Convention—these eventually choosing the delegates for the National Convention.
The process for selecting nominees differs in each party. The registered Republicans who turn up for their meeting listen to arguments for candidates put forward by other caucus participants then write the name of their chosen candidate on a previously blank piece of paper - voting by secret ballot. The results are then sent to the Iowa Republican Party who release the final totals.
The Democrats have a more complex system. The evening begins with participants standing in a designated area of the building for each candidate - forming "preference groups". There is then about 30 minutes electioneering in which supporters of each candidate try to persuade members of other groups to leave and join their preference group. Once this initial period has ended party officials advise on which candidates are still "viable". This will require a candidate to have the support of at least 15-25% of the meeting backing them. There is then a second period of electioneering - where members (supporters of inviable candidates or indeed previous supporters of remaining candidates) are urged to "re-align".
At the end of this second period the numbers of supporters are added up and the results transmitted.
And so later tonight - or in the early hours of the morning in the UK - the results will be known, and the shape of the 2008 Presidential election will begin to form.
Iowa Democratic Party Website: http://www.iowademocrats.org/
Iowa Republican Party Website: http://www.iowagop.net/
Iowa Caucus 2008: http://www.iowacaucus.org/