The Iowa caucuses are seen as the official kick-off to the primary election season. For the 2016 presidential election the Iowa caucus occurred on Feb. 1.
Unlike in primary elections, where people just go to their local polling locations and fill out a ballot, caucusing Iowans must attend public meetings in schools, community centers, places of worship, libraries and coffee houses during the evening. Citizens partake in this time-consuming process to choose their preferred candidate.
The caucuses begin at seven p.m. central time. Caucuses generally begin with speeches in support of candidates before the actual voting goes underway. Each party handles their caucuses differently. Republicans cast secret ballots while Democrats gather in candidate groups and then reshuffle if some voters stood for a candidate who does not have enough support.
The Iowa caucus does not have a poll closing time like regular elections, so the caucuses can take as long as needed. The bulk of the caucuses are usually reported to the media by nine p.m. central time.
Finally, the state results are used to determine how the parties’ convention delegates are divided up among the candidates. The official candidate for each party will not be determined until around July.