A Caucus for Dummies


Tomorrow, February 23rd, is the day of the Nevada Caucus. You have probably heard the term “caucus” many times before, but chances are you have often wondered what it really means. So, to clear your confusion, here is my explanation of how this puzzling process works.

An hour before the caucus begins, the caucus site’s (like a polling place) doors open. A caucus site is typically a public place. Some possible caucus sites include a high school gym, a church, or a school cafeteria. Unlike a primary election, a caucus takes place during one designated time throughout the entire state. Also, people can switch party affiliation or register to vote at the actual caucus, however this policy does not exist in many states, including Pennsylvania. Now, once everyone is inside the caucus site, the confusing part begins. Keep in mind that the two different parties have very different rules and procedures for their caucuses, so this article is divided into two parts.

The Democratic Party’s Caucus

Of the two types of caucuses, this type is much more confusing. Once all voters are in the room and the doors are closed, the leader of the specific caucus site, the precinct captain, counts all of the voters in the room. Then, voters stand in different corners of the room based on the candidate that they are supporting. The precinct captain gets the number of supporters for each candidate by simply lowering a voter’s hand after they have been counted. Using the total number of voters calculated at the beginning, the precinct captain checks to see if each candidate has at least 15% of the voters. If a candidate passes this test, they are considered to be “viable”, meaning they can proceed to the next round of voting. If a candidate fails to garner 15% of the voters, they are called “non-viable”. This is where it gets interesting. Supporters of the viable candidates have to recruit the supporters of the non-viable candidates. This process can get ugly because some voters are forced to choose between one friend’s candidate or another friend’s candidate, right in front of their whole community. After all non-viable supporters have either left the caucus or joined a viable candidate’s group, the voting is over. Finally, the precinct captain counts the supporters for each of the viable candidates. The candidate with the most supporters wins the number of delegates (like points) that are preassigned to each caucus site based on size of the community and, at the end of the night, the candidate with the most delegates wins the Democratic Caucus. Simple enough? Right?

The Republican Party’s Caucus

This procedure is much simpler, but can take more time. Like a democratic caucus, the voters are all inside a room at once. This caucus can be compared to the way UDHS conducts class officer elections. A supporter of each of the candidates or even the candidate him/herself gives a very brief speech about why they deserve your vote. Once the speeches have been delivered, all of the voters in the room simply write the name of the candidate whom they choose to support on a piece of paper. The precinct captain then sorts all of the pieces of paper and gets a total for each candidate. With potentially hundreds of voters at a caucus site, meaning hundreds of pieces of paper, this part can also be lengthy. Every caucus site’s papers are counted and the candidate with the highest total number of votes from across the state wins the Republican Caucus. Doesn’t that sound easy?

Now that you know what a caucus is, stay tuned for future information about many other political processes.


Leave a Comment