On What Makes A Caucus

This story was written by Lauren Skiba, The Daily Iowan
Iowans can chalk up its first-in-the-nation voting status to chance.

"It was totally an accident that Iowa ended up being first," said Cary Covington, a UI political-science associate professor. "They just wanted the state [convention] when it was warm."

Organizing Thursday's "Caucus Talk" in Burge Residence Hall, UI freshman Cianna Logie and the International Crossroads Community brought in Covington to discuss the state's coveted presidential role, its history, and how to participate in the Jan. 3 event.

"Many international students have heard about Iowa caucuses but don't know what it's about," Logie said. "That goes for many Iowa residents as well."

Covington explained in depth how the Iowa caucuses started and why Iowa is still involved in the process.

"It's old-fashioned," Covington said.

He said that 80 years ago, every state was involved in the technique. Only 19 states, including Iowa, still conduct caucuses, and all voters are strongly encouraged to attend.

Covington also spoke about the differences between Republican and Democrat caucusing. When an attendee walks into their designated voting facility, they are asked to declare their party.

The Democrat and Republican parties hold their caucuses on the same day, and Covington said that was for the benefit of both sides.

"It would be like Iowa State picking which Iowa quarterback would play in the game," Covington said. He added candidates were worried people would switch between political parties on the different days and vote for the weakest link.

Though he admitted the process is inconvenient, held on a cold night during winter break, being the first to caucus makes life interesting. This year, Iowans have seen more presidential-nomination hopefuls appear than any other year in the past. Even with states drawing closer to the starting date, Covington said it has not affected the importance of being the first.

Candidates stumping in Iowa was made popular by former President Jimmy Carter, who started coming to the Hawkeye State before any other of his competitors, who paid no attention to the state.

Iowa graduate student Sunday Goshit came to the meeting to see how Iowa caucusing would compare to his former voting experiences in Nigeria.

"Iowa caucusing is very different from Nigeria," he said. "We use primaries, and you must be a regular political party member before you may participate in them."

He said that his interest spawned from the idea that it takes commitment in the political process to be a part of the caucus.

"It's a very democratic system," Goshit said. "It gives a lot of opportunity to Iowans."

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