A presidential caucus is a type of presidential selection system that is different from a general primary election in that most people in attendance can see how an individual votes and may even be able to try to influence that person's vote. Though most are familiar with the Iowa caucuses because they are the first in the nation, other states also have caucuses. Each may run a caucus slightly differently, but the general format is the same.
Simply put, a caucus is a meeting of registered voters belonging to a certain party. Thus, Democrats attend caucuses for Democrats and Republicans attend caucuses for Republicans. Independents may be allowed to go to either meeting, but are generally not allowed to participate; it varies by state. States having caucuses include Iowa, Nevada, Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington, Hawaii, Maine, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Louisiana, Montana and Idaho. They are also held in the District of Columbia. Some parties may hold caucuses in these states and others may operate primaries.
A caucus is one of the few times where candidates or their representatives will be able to campaign at the voting site. Each representative will usually get a chance to explain why his or her candidate is the best for the job. The voters will then meet with each other, discuss the issues, and vote. Often, the vote is open, with party members signifying allegiances by standing in a certain spot.
The one thing all candidates have to be concerned about is reaching a point of viability, or minimum support. In Iowa, for example, candidates must have 15 percent of the vote. Any candidate that does not reach viability will not be counted and his or her supporters will be asked to choose a different candidate or abstain from the process.
Once party members have voted for a viable candidate, the votes are then tallied. The winners are announced precinct by precinct and called into state party headquarters. There, the party will announce the results. It should be noted that caucuses only are used in primary seasons where parties are sorting out who will run on the ticket in the general election.
Once the presidential preference has been determined, those attending the meeting will often then work on the state party platform. Party members will be allowed to offer their opinion on what the state party should focus on, both in terms of state issues and national issues, for the next four years.
Though the caucus system has been in effect in the United States for quite some time, some say it is unfair. Not only does it suppress minority votes with its viability requirement, but the only way people can vote is if they attend a meeting. There is no way to vote by absentee ballot and those who are required to be at work during the scheduled meeting time have no other option.