Caucus 101

This information was gathered from a web site provided by a teachers’ union. These rules very from state to state, but you can get an idea of how the caucus system works from this example.

This material is normally taught in Civics, but is not required in most schools. Contact your local school board to demand Civics as a requirement in grade 12.

People need to understand how candidates for the Senate and Congress wind up on the ballot. If you don’t like the choices we are getting, you need to learn how to do something about it. Even if you don’t want to be a delegate, you need to show up to vote for delegates, and know who they are. If you know who they are, you can provide then with information and make sure they are up on current issues.

I have heard news commentators state Republican and Democratic candidates have become more radical because the base who elects them has become more radical. You can change that.

Everyone needs to participate in the caucus process to bring reason to the parties. Until the general public becomes educated on how this process works, we are not going to see “Real Change.”

Be careful of being lured away to a third party. Although their intentions are good, you may just be doing corrupt politicians the greatest favor of all: “United We Stand – Divided We Fall.”

Please keep in mind “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

– Edmund Burke

“If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

Who decides who’s on the ballot?

Have you ever looked at a ballot and wondered how you ended up with those choices? Let’s take a look at how the candidates got there.

Step 1: Caucuses

Once every two years voters gather according to party and voting precinct. These gatherings are called caucuses. At the caucuses people elect local party leaders and delegates for state and county conventions. Every state and political party have their own designated day when their caucuses are held.

Step 2: Conventions

Sometime in the spring, the delegates who were elected at the caucuses attend county and state political conventions, where they vote for candidates to represent their party in the fall elections. If one candidate for a particular office receives 60% (this may vary) or more of the delegates’ votes, that person’s name will automatically appear on the November ballot. If no candidate receives 60% of the vote at the convention, the top two candidates are sent to a primary election.

Step 3: Primary Election

In a primary election (usually in the spring), voters choose between two candidates from the same party to determine who will participate in the November election.

Step 4: General Election

When voters go to the polls on the first Tuesday in November, many of the important decisions have already been made. Voters are only able to choose from among the candidates that have made it through party conventions and primaries.

Most likely you can go to your County Clerk’s office and pay to get a list of every registered voter in your precinct. This list will tell you their name, address, what party they are registered with, or if they are registered but unaffiliated. This will help you if you want to do mailings or go door to door to prepare for a caucus.

Volunteering to help a candidate in your area is a good way to be known by all of your neighbors. This means going door to door to hand out flyers. This way your neighbors will know who you are, what you stand for, and if they agree with your principals, they are more likely to show up at a caucus and vote for you.

Why should I attend a party caucus and become a delegate?

By choosing the delegates who will attend county and state conventions, caucus attendees set the stage for all election races. By determining which candidates will represent their parties in the general election, party delegates have more influence over public policy than actual voters. Delegates generally have direct access to candidates during an election season. Politicians actually get worried when the delegates are unhappy.

Consider the following:

  • Since fewer people participate in caucuses and conventions than in a general election, your vote carries more weight.

  • Since party delegates tend to be more active in politics than the general population, they sometimes represent more extreme views. A higher general participation in party caucuses could mean that mainstream voters are better represented throughout the election process.

  • A large percentage of legislative races are in districts considered “safe” for a particular political party. In other words, the seat is always held by representatives from the same party. In these areas, the real race is over by May or June when the conventions and primary elections are completed. If you want a say in who represents you, it’s important to be involved in the caucus process.

Delegate responsibilities

Party delegates elected at neighborhood caucuses and mass meetings are expected to:

  • serve for a term of two years;

  • county convention, a state convention, or both
  • fulfill any commitments they made to caucus attendees regarding how they would vote;

  • vote on which candidates will represent the party in the general election;

  • elect county and/or state party officers (odd-numbered years);

  • help decide what is contained in the county and/or state party platform.

If you are elected as a delegate, BE A DELEGATE. Read the political mail you receive and carefully decide which candidates to support. Make sure to attend the entire convention. Many important decisions are made in the final hours.

Becoming a delegate

Are you interested in becoming a delegate? Follow these important steps:

  1. Plan now to attend your precinct caucus or mass meeting.

  2. Tell your friends and neighbors that you are interested in becoming a county or state delegate.

  3. Encourage your friends and neighbors to go to the caucus meeting and to vote for you. Remember: only registered voters living in your precinct can vote at your caucus meeting. In most states only registered Republicans can vote at Republican caucus meetings. Democratic meetings are more likely to be open to all registered voters.

  4. Check with your county party for any specific rules applying to delegate elections in your area. (In some areas, precinct party officers also fill delegate positions. In these areas, you may want to run to become a precinct chair, vice-chair, etc.)

  5. On the night of the meeting, take friends and neighbors to the meeting with you or remind them to attend.

  6. At the meeting, announce your desire to become a delegate and have someone nominate you.

  7. Be prepared to answer questions about why you are running.

Party Caucus FAQ

Q: I’ve never been very political. Why should I attend a party caucus or mass meeting?

A: Many voters do not consider themselves to be part of a particular political party or movement. Most of us are regular people who choose to focus our attention on our families, our careers, and making ends meet. Our personal and family goals are far more important to us than the partisan divisiveness we see on the evening news. Voters in this state of mind may bristle at the thought of attending a “party caucus.” It sounds so…well, political. Why would we want to step into that world?

The fact is, a party caucus is the place where an ordinary person can make the most impact on county and state government. We tend to think of November elections as “decision time.” However, many of the important decisions about how our government is run are not made at the ballot box in November; they’re made at caucus meetings and in the spring and summer at party conventions. This is where priorities are set. This is where candidates are chosen. This is where we as a people determine the future direction of our communities — and, of course, our public schools.

Q: What is the difference between a “neighborhood (or precinct) caucus” and a “mass meeting”?

A: The State Republican Party holds neighborhood or precinct caucuses throughout the state. At these meetings, often held at a home in the neighborhood, voters assemble by voting precinct. The State Democratic Party holds mass meetings at which voters gather according to legislative district. During the meeting, participants break into smaller groups to conduct precinct business.

Q: When do precinct caucus and mass meetings take place?

A: Call your local Democrat or Republican party. Better yet, join a meetup group, so you can collaborate with like minded people.

Q: What happens at a neighborhood caucus or mass meeting?

A: At precinct caucuses and mass meetings, participating voters organize the party within their precinct by electing officers such as precinct chair, vice chair, etc. More importantly they also elect delegates to participate in the party’s county and state conventions. Those delegates’ votes will determine which candidates for office will be presented to voters during the primary or general election. Delegates also determine party officers and make important decisions about the party’s platform.

Q: Who can participate in a neighborhood caucus or mass meeting?

A: The rules for participation are set by the respective party. The Republican Party requires voters to be registered as Republicans in order to participate in a neighborhood caucus, party convention, or primary election. The Democratic Party mass meetings, conventions, and primary elections are open to all registered voters.

Q: How do I know if I’m registered with a particular political party?

A: Check your voter information card or contact your County Clerk’s Office.

Q: How do I register with a political party?

A: When you register to vote, you have the option of affiliating with a particular political party. To change your party affiliation, simply fill out a new voter registration form. Your voter record will be updated with the new information. For more information on registering to vote, check with your state elections office.

Q: How do I find the meeting for my precinct?

A: Caucus locations are usually published in local newspapers a few days before caucus night. You will need to know your precinct number in order to locate the correct caucus meeting. Call your county Clerk’s Office to get this information. You can also get information by contacting party headquarters.

Joining a meetup group can help you organize with other people for caucuses. You may also meet people who have gone through the process before, and they will be able to give you tips on how the process works in your area.

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You may want to join a Barack Obama meetup group, but I forewarn you, there’s something amiss with someone who voted for the Reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

Q: Can I attend a caucus outside my own neighborhood?

A: In order to participate in a party caucus, you must attend the meeting for your voting precinct.

Q: What if I’m not registered to vote?

A: You can register to vote at your County Clerk’s Office.

If you attend a caucus and are elected as a Delegate, you will needed to become familiar with Roberts Rules.