What’s a caucus or primary, anyway? | TheUnion.com

What’s a caucus or primary, anyway?

As states go through the process of selecting candidates for the Nov. 2 presidential race, some voters might get lost in all the ongoing election updates.

On Monday, Iowans supported their favorite Democratic candidate by using caucuses. And in about six weeks, Californians will have a primary. What do the votes mean? What’s the difference between a primary and a caucus?

In the following Q&A, The Union tries to clear it up a bit for California voters trying to keep tabs.

What is a caucus?

In Iowa, voters in each political party attend separate, small meetings, or caucuses, at the precinct level in schools, fire stations and sometimes even private homes. In the Democratic Party caucuses, votes for presidential contenders are cast by raising hands, through a sign-in sheet or by splitting into groups supporting each candidate. In the Republican caucuses, votes are cast by secret ballot.

However, the caucus votes do not directly determine which candidate wins the support of Iowa’s voters for the nomination. In fact, the caucus is just a first step in the process. Each caucus selects delegates to send to the 99 county conventions in March, then to district conventions and the state convention. (Republicans choose delegates to their state convention at the county conventions.) Both parties’ state conventions are in June, and only then are Iowa’s preferred presidential candidates determined.

Why is the Iowa caucus important?

It’s considered the first test of presidential strength, including fund-raising and organizational skills

Does California have a caucus?

No, we use primaries.

What is a primary?

An election held to nominate a candidate who will represent a particular party in an election for public office. Most states hold primaries in which voters go to the polls and cast ballots directly for a candidate. The winning candidate receives a percentage of that state’s votes at the national party convention. This year’s Democrat National Party Convention will begin July 26 in Boston.

When is California’s primary?

March 2.

Will Democrats in California pick from the same candidates seen in the Iowa caucuses?

No, the list will be slightly different. Also, between now and March 2, several of the early candidates likely will drop out and throw their support behind other hopefuls.

Who can vote in a primary?

Registered voters.

What happens after states complete their primaries and/or caucuses?

The major parties nominate their candidates for president and vice president in their national conventions traditionally held in the summer preceding the election. The names of the nominated candidates are then officially submitted to each state’s chief election official so that they might appear on the general election ballot.

Sources: Federal Election Commission, Iowa Secretary of State

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