What's a Caucus? Iowa Explained

By Bruce Sullivan | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The Iowa caucuses begin Monday, as 2,142 precinct meetings convene across the state in schools, libraries, and firehouses in the first major event of the 2000 presidential campaign.

Unlike the first primary Feb. 1 in New Hampshire, the Iowa caucuses will have no voting booths. According to the Iowa Republican Party organizational director, Andrea Cerwinske, Republicans will cast secret ballots for one of six candidates - Texas Gov. George W. Bush, publisher Steve Forbes, Arizona Sen. John McCain, former UN ambassador Alan Keyes, family activist Gary Bauer, or Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Iowa Democrats will show support for either former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley or Vice President Al Gore by raising their hands. Each party will have its own facilities.

The main difference between caucuses and primaries, said Cerwinske, is that one is a political party affair and the other is an official state event.

"The difference between the Iowa caucuses and a primary is that ours is sanctioned through the state party - they are party elections - and a primary is called by the secretary of state, a government body," Cerwinske told CNSNews.com.

According to the Iowa caucuses Internet Website, there are 581,823 registered Republicans, 562,375 Democrats, and 631,187 Independent voters in Iowa. The Cedar Rapids Gazette has published a poll estimating that 200,000 Iowans will turn out for the 2000 Caucuses, which translates into approximately 100,000 for each party.

To participate in the caucuses, said Cerwinske one must be an Iowa resident. She added that voters are allowed to switch party affiliations on the night of the caucuses, but it is not possible to participate in both party caucuses.

"If you want to switch affiliations, you can. It mirrors a primary in that way," said Cerwinske.