Caucus 2012 voter's guide: How to caucus


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In 22 days, it will all be over for Iowa.

On Jan. 3, 2012, Iowa Republicans in all 99 counties will fill 1,700 precincts as part of the country's first presidential-nominating contest.

Bob Anderson, the head of the Johnson County Republicans, said Iowa is fortunate to be the first state to caucus.

"It's important to Iowa that we have an early part in the process," Anderson said. "Candidates meet and interact with the citizens of Iowa and have a chance to put their viewpoints and personalities forward so that choice can be made."

Ryan Gough, caucus coordinator for the Iowa GOP, said being the first to caucus is a critical opportunity.

"Being first in the nation is a great responsibility," he said. "We get a chance to ask the candidates tough questions."

Caucus-goers do not have to be registered to vote before caucus night. Any eligible voter in the state can register or change her or his party affiliations at their caucus precinct. Caucus precincts are based on voters' residence location. Voters can find their caucus locations on their political-party website.

The Democratic Party will hold caucuses in Iowa as well, even though incumbent President Obama is the uncontested Democratic candidate.

After all people are registered or checked off, "housekeeping" is taken care of, including the pledge of allegiance.

Afterwards, the candidates or surrogates of the candidates speak, and a secret ballot is taken to choose delegates for the specific candidate.

Finally, delegates are elected for the county convention and the delegates move on to the district, state, and finally the national convention in August where the respective candidate is officially chosen.

Even though the candidate is announced at the national convention, the public often knows who the candidate will be prior to the convention, said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science.

"Some think of [the national convention] as more of a coronation," he said. "But this time, we will have to see; the process is a little bit different."

Other states have primaries — a preliminary election to appoint delegates. New Hampshire is the first state to have a primary, a week after Iowa's caucuses.

"As distinguished from primaries, the reason a lot of states had caucuses were to take the power away from the party bosses and give it to the people," Hagle said.

Many people said having a caucus limits participants from attending because it is one night.

"Some people complain about the caucuses, some cannot attend and it creates a low turnout," Hagle said. "However, it also brings the voters in the state who are better informed and pay attention; they take the job very seriously."

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