The unique system of state caucusing

One of the big topics of a heavy week in politics were the Iowa Caucuses. The first state primary of the 2020 presidential election, Iowa’s caucuses are viewed as an early indicator for the remainder of the primary.

After nearly a week of controversy, the state’s Democratic Party announced late Sunday that Pete Buttigieg has officially won Iowa. According to the Associated Press, Buttigieg won 26.2% of the vote, narrowly defeating Bernie Sanders, who collected 26.1%. Sanders was followed by Elizabeth Warren (18%), Joe Biden (15.8%), Amy Klobuchar (12.3%) and Andrew Yang (1%). All other candidates finished with less than 1% of the state’s votes.

On the Republican side, President Donald Trump received 97.1% of the vote over Bill Weld (1.3%) and Joe Walsh (1.1%).

However, how we got to these numbers, and what exactly they mean, is about as complicated as compiling the results was.

The process of a caucus in the Democratic Party is something unique to politics. While the republicans conduct a secret ballot, the democrats have a detailed process.

Everyone shows up to their polling place, much like elections in Pennsylvania. However, the 1,679 precincts in Iowa don’t simply fill out a ballot and leave. The idea behind caucusing is grouping together with those who are voting for the same candidate. When everyone has grouped, the votes are counted … but that’s not all.

If your candidate has less than 15% of the vote at your precinct, you either leave or join another candidate’s group. 

The votes are counted again and reported to each party’s respective state authority. The process typically takes a few hours to complete, as each precinct has to hand count their votes and then report them to the state party. However, an application that the Iowa democrats were using to report totals had crashed, causing almost a week of speculation as to who won the state.

Previously, the republican’s simple ballot has also had issues in Iowa previously. In 2012, it was reported that Mitt Romney had won the state. However, it was later revealed that Rick Santorum had won by just 34 votes.

On the democratic side, it’s not just a vote system. The votes are calculated at a precinct level, and each precinct awards a certain amount of delegates based on a mathematical formula.

This year, Buttigieg received 13 delegates to win the state, with Sanders (12), Warren (8), Biden (6) and Klobuchar (1) following behind in the official result.

With Iowa finally figured out, the candidates move to New Hampshire for the Feb. 11 state primary, followed by another caucus in Nevada Feb. 22. 

The incident in Iowa has called to question the caucuses. Whether you support the process or not, it is undeniable that the existence of caucuses is unique in a world where technology is king.