Caucusing 101

'Caucus' is not a dirty word
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By Danny Turkel, Digital Coordinator, NCLR

While the word “caucus” is thrown around a lot during presidential primary season, it’d probably be difficult to find someone who can explain how a caucus works. We know they’re important. We know they’re part of the process. But how do they differ from primaries? How do they work and how can you participate?

Caucuses and primaries are both methods for choosing a party’s presidential nominee. More specifically, caucuses and primaries determine how many delegates will be sent to a party’s convention on behalf of a specific candidate. By taking part in a caucus or voting in a primary, the people confirm the level of support a candidate will receive at the convention, which will then determine whether or not that candidate becomes the party’s nominee.

There are no federal laws that mandate whether states use primaries or caucuses, nor what form the caucuses can take. Because of this, caucus rules and procedures are determined primarily by the political parties. At their most basic, caucuses are simply local meetings where voters gather and decide which candidate to support. What happens next depends on the party.

Republican caucuses can be understood as miniature primaries. Caucus-goers gather at their predetermined caucus location where they listen to presentations by representatives of the various candidates on why they should support a candidate. Attendees then vote for their preference by paper ballot, the result of which determines the distribution of convention delegates.

Democratic caucuses more closely resemble the caucuses of early American elections. Representatives for each candidate will present their side’s arguments, hoping to win voter support. Participants then divide into groups based on who they plan to support, including a group for undecided voters. Caucus organizers then mathematically determine if each candidate has received a minimum threshold of support, called viability. If any candidate is determined not to be viable, their supporters will then be asked to realign with any remaining viable candidates, whose supporters will have another chance to sway them, along with any who are still undecided. Once only viable candidates remain, the delegates are awarded based on total support for each, and that number is reported to the state party headquarters.

Caucusing is as close to direct democracy as many Americans will experience in their lives. It is an opportunity to engage with others in the common goal of choosing the next president of the United States. The philosophical principles at play in caucusing are some of the very ideals upon which our country was founded.

Happy caucusing!

2016 caucus schedule:

February 20:
Nevada Democratic caucus

February 23:
Nevada Republican caucus

March 1 (Super Tuesday):
Alaska Republican caucus
Colorado Democratic and Republican caucuses
Minnesota Democratic and Republican caucuses
Wyoming Republican caucus (delegate count will be determined at county conventions on March 12)
American Samoa Democratic caucus

March 5:
Kansas Democratic and Republican caucuses
Kentucky Republican caucus
Maine Republican caucus
– Nebraska Democratic caucus

March 6:
Maine Democratic caucus

March 8:
– Hawaii Republican caucus

March 12:
District of Columbia Republican caucus
Wyoming Republican County Conventions
Northern Mariana Islands Democratic caucus

March 15:
– Northern Mariana Islands Republican caucus

March 19:
Virgin Islands Republican caucus

March 22:
Idaho Democratic caucus
Utah Democratic and Republican caucuses
American Samoa Republican caucus

March 26:
Alaska Democratic caucus
Hawaii Democratic caucus
Washington Democratic caucus

April 9:
Wyoming Democratic caucus

May 7:
Guam Democratic caucus

June 4:
Virgin Islands Democratic caucus

June 5:
Puerto Rico Democratic caucus

June 7:
North Dakota Democratic caucus


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