Do you even know what a caucus is? We all should be familiar with a primary election. The process there is much like the general election. You go to your voting precinct (or mail in ballot or such), fill in the punch card/electronic machine taps/bubbles on a card/etc. for your candidates of choice. From there some machine counts your vote, results are tallied and a winner is declared. A caucus is TOTALLY different, but with the same end goal and results, a preferred candidate chosen by the people for the general election.
I hate the phrase “grass roots”. It is overused and often will turn people off from the get go. But, I cannot think of a more appropriate way to describe a caucus. But, even if you, like me, hate the words, read on for a minute.
My caucus experience is limited to what I have done here in Colorado. I have to assume there are little differences for each state and each precinct within a state even. First off, if your kids are old enough to understand what’s going on, bring them with you to caucus. Show them our government in action and how people influence it. They won’t have a vote, but they can observe and ask questions. (if your state doesn’t caucus, bring your kid with you to the voting booth, let them see that too)
The caucuses meet in your stereotypical election places, in my case, the middle school cafeteria. We had several precincts in the same place, but we each had our own private-ish spot in the room. Precincts are based on geography, so you will see your neighbors here. You will discuss politics here. It’s ok. They are there to discuss politics as well. Since caucuses are based on political party, you will have some common ground for discussion and will likely still be friends afterward.
We discussed potential party issues and candidates. The group did some talking for a bit, we asked each other questions. We talked politics. We talked about the future of our country. We talked about the legacy we leave for our kids.
The group asked for volunteers to help with the organizational aspect of the evening, collecting and counting votes and such. The “voting” here comes in many forms. With our group we scribbled the name of our preferred candidate on a scrap of paper and spoke of our preferences too.
Candidates or their reps can stop by your caucus, answer questions about the candidate, speak to your group if you’d like (or not if you don’t like I suppose) and so on. They don’t have to, and the likelihood of say Romney stopping at Mountain Ridge Middle School on caucus day is rather slim. But, the local folks will often stop by or send someone to see how they can help get your “vote”. You are caucusing for more than your President; any race with more than one bona fide candidate with the same party affiliation can be caucused at this time. There is not the same 100 feet rule (is it 100?) that you have for standard distance of campaigning that you have for “voting”.
In the end our precinct came to a consensus on the candidate to choose. Actually, in the paper vote all but one voted for the same candidate and the holdout agreed to the consensus. (Three guesses on who the odd one out was?)
In addition to a chosen candidate to represent the party in the general election, state delegates are chosen from volunteers. I hear that in most precincts anyone that volunteers goes, in mine we actually had to do voting, we had more volunteers than we had delegate spaces. The delegates agree to vote at the state convention to represent the group they are from (meaning if your caucus chooses Candidate A, as a delegate at the state convention, you must also choose Candidate A, even if you voted differently).
These state delegates often become national delegates and attend the full-party convention to represent their states.
This is about my personal experience and I am in no way official anything on elections and this is my 4-years old recollections. Below are a couple of links to more official sources than I.