WASHINGTON (AP) — The race for the White House officially begins on Monday, and despite some prolonged jockeying over the election calendar, the long primary season will once again begin in Iowa with a caucus process that has served as the lead-off voting event since the 1970s.
While Iowa has played an outsize role in presidential politics for generations, the details of how the caucuses actually work can surprise and mystify even hard-core political junkies. The Republican process this year is largely unchanged, but there are significant changes to the traditional voting schedule on the Democratic side. Much of what you think you know about the Iowa caucuses may no longer be applicable in 2024.
Since the contested Iowa caucuses of 2016 and 2020 may seem like a long time ago, here’s an update of what they are, how they work and why they matter.
What is a caucus?
A political caucus is a gathering of people with a shared interest or goal. The Iowa caucuses are a series of local meetings held throughout the state where participants conduct party business and usually indicate their preference for a presidential nominee to represent the party on the November ballot. It’s also the first step in a months-long process to select people to serve as delegates to the national party conventions this summer.
How are caucuses different from primaries?
One of the main differences between caucuses and primaries is the amount of time allotted for voting to occur and the methods by which people can vote. In a primary, people can show up at the polls and cast ballots throughout Election Day, from the early morning until polls close in the evening. They have the option of casting an absentee ballot if they can’t make it to the polls on Election Day, and in some states, people may vote before Election Day. The Iowa caucuses, on the other hand, are held in the evening and voters must attend in person in order to participate, except in a few isolated instances. Caucuses are run by political parties, whereas primaries are usually (but not
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