Primary or Caucus — What’s the Difference?

The 2016 Presidential Caucuses and Primaries have begun – but what’s the difference between them?

Michael Bakshandeh, Technology Editor

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The IOWA Caucus: What’s the hype and significance?

The candidates for the 2016 presidential race are at the starting line! Candidates take your marks. On your mark, get set, GO! The Democratic and Republican caucuses and primaries have begun. The first caucus, the famous Iowa caucus, was held on February 1st. There were some big surprises. On the Republican side, many had predicted Donald Trump to win the Iowa caucus but Ted Cruz had other plans. In addition, Marco Rubio finished a very close third to Donald Trump. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton were in a dead heat all night. The winner was Hillary Clinton, who won by a coin toss. On Tuesday February 9th, the first primary will be held in New Hampshire. So this raises the question. Primary? Caucus? What’s the difference and how do they work? Why do some states have primaries and others caucuses?

Most of us are familiar with how a primary works. It is very similar to an election. Voters vote at the poll, casting their ballot anonymously. The votes are tabulated and after the polls close and all votes are counted – voila – a winner! A caucus, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Both are processes by which the delegates are chosen to represent the voters at the national convention, but the caucus is a much older system and has been replaced in most states by a primary process.

The primary function of a caucus is to get people together to vote for representative to go to the state convention. Caucuses can occur at the most obscure places, ranging from local schools to libraries. These representatives then go on from the state to the national convention where the eventual nominee of the party is elected.

The caucus is different from a primary since it is more of a meeting than a closed cast vote. A caucus is held in a closed room, and various supporters group together based on their alliances. The officials then will start the caucus process. A caucus is like a game for participants in which the one that gains the most supporters is victorious. Participants try to gain alliances for around half an hour. At the end of this process, the votes are taken.

The registered voters of the precinct then determine the total number of delegates. These delegates are divided according to the percentage of votes cast for a particular candidate. The only caveat here is that there must be at least 15% of votes cast for a candidate for them to receive a delegate. Otherwise these voters have to pick one of the other candidates.

The crazy thing about these caucuses is that a tied vote can be settled by a coin toss. This year the democratic voting was so close that Hillary Clinton apparently was tied in 9 of the 99 caucuses. The winner in these caucuses was determined by a coin toss. She won 6 of the 9 coin tosses to win the one extra delegate and win the total. The odds of this happening are 1/64. Talk about good luck!

Interestingly, only the Democrats have a caucus-type of arrangement. Republicans have a straight vote by closed ballot and the delegates are divided according to the percentage of the vote.

Some states have primaries and not caucuses. There are two types of primaries: open and closed. In the open primary, any person is allowed to vote for A CANDIDATE FROM EITHER PARTY, regardless of how they are registered. In some states, unregistered voters can show up at the primary, register, and vote at the same time. In the closed type of primary, the registered voter can only vote for a candidate who is running with the same party.

The votes in primaries can be cast for the delegates or for the candidates. The delegates, however, have to state who their candidate is. This is a new modification since the delegates previously had the option to change their candidates at the national convention. This does not happen very often at this time.

Since the Iowa caucus is the first caucus in the election year, it typically gets a lot of attention. Believe it or not, statistics state that the Iowa caucus picks the eventual nominee from either party 50% of the time. With that said, the greater significance of the caucus is that it weeds out the candidates that have no chance of winning a general election. Up next in the race towards the White House is the New Hampshire Primary. Things are only getting more interesting as we near the 2016 election!