Monday, February 1 is the date for the 2016 Iowa caucus. The caucus begins at 7 pm and in order to participate you must be inline or signed in by 7 pm. Speaking from experience you may want to plan on getting there early as the lines may be very long. Even though the Republican and Democratic caucus are strictly party functions, the Johnson County Auditor receives so many questions that Auditor has compiled a lot of very useful information about the caucus. The two parties differ in how they caucus. www.uspresidentialnews.com has a good explanation of how they work.
Party chairs in the ninety-nine Iowa counties are explicitly charged with issuing the “call” to caucus, setting up caucus locations, and identifying temporary chairs for each of their caucuses. Unlike a primary election, the costs of the precinct caucuses are borne by the parties, not the state. One result is that one of the first activities of any precinct caucus is to “pass the hat” to raise funds for the county and state party. But also unlike a primary election, vote counting is done by the parties, not government officials.
The Republicans begin the presidential straw poll. In most precincts this will be carried out via a paper ballot (the state party’s preference), which may be simply torn pieces of paper or a more formal ballot prepared ahead of time by the temporary chair. Those in attendance are asked if anyone wishes to speak on behalf of a candidate. Speeches are usually short, and are of the type “why I support candidate B and why you should too.” Following the speeches, ballots are cast and then collected by the chair, who next assigns someone (perhaps the secretary) to count them, report the results to the caucus, and record them on a form provided by the state party. More information is available from the Republican Party of Iowa.
The Democratic presidential preference rules are far more complex. This complexity comes because national party rules require proportional allocation of delegates at every level of a caucus-to-convention nomination system. The viability threshold requirement adds to this complexity, but the system may well end up giving more candidates a chance and more voters a choice, and bring about more sincere voting. Party rules require that “preference groups” not be formed until half an hour after the caucus opens, so the time is usually filled by reading letters of greetings from elected officials, and passing the hat to raise money for the local and state parties. Once the appointed time arrives, things shift into gear. More information is available from the Iowa Democratic Party.
The location of your caucus site may not be the same as where you vote. You can find out your site by using this link if you are going to caucus as a Democrat or if you are going to caucus as a Republican. You will need to know your precinct if you are caucusing as a Republican. Use this link to find your precinct.