The 2016 election cycle has been one of confusion and consternation for much of the American voting populace. Cries of disenfranchisement, obstruction, and suppression have haunted delegate selections on both sides of the aisle, with perhaps no process in the American electorate less understood than the caucus. So I am here today, my fellow Americans, to help you better understand, and be more comfortable with, the caucus. It may be less confusing than you think!
"Gee, that sounds swell, mister! Say... what IS a caucus, anyway?"
Caucusing is a method of voting that allows a more open, free-form discussion on the issues, and gives people the chance to scream at their peers or play a human shell game with weary and overwhelmed pollsters, in hopes of exerting more influence over the voting process. It is truly the spirit of American politics in its purest, distilled form. And while each state elects delegates to their party's national convention in their own ways, some basic principles hold true.
First, you and anyone else eligible to vote in your district, plus any ringers that candidates have bussed in, will gather at a predetermined public meeting place. As the first order of business, a president and secretary will be elected. It is these individuals' jobs to understand and conduct the caucus per the rules of their party's state-level governing body, or at the very least improvise in such a way that no one is able to confidently question them. Once these individuals have been determined, the alignments can begin.
The president of the caucus will begin playing the song of his choice over a PA system, although up-tempo contemporary party music is preferred. Caucus attendees will have until the music stops, which must be a reasonable amount of time in accordance with national convention bylaws, to congregate in to groups depending on which candidate they support. If any caucus attendee remains unaligned when the music stops, they will be gathered in to the center of the room, blindfolded, and spun around no less than 10 times. Once disoriented, they will be let loose, still blindfolded, and will align themselves by default with the first group that they stumble awkwardly into.
With all caucus attendees thus aligned, a short break will be permitted to allow any previously unaligned attendees to lie down and/or vomit, while the president explains how each group's viability will be determined. Prior to alignment, the president determined how many attendees a candidate's group must contain in order to be considered "viable," typically a percentage of attendees based on how many delegates your precinct is electing. A hard count of the now separated groups is performed, and any group falling below this threshold is "shamed."
Shamed groups are lined up against the nearest wall with sufficient capacity, to be taught the error of their non-conformist ways. A captain selected from each viable group will retrieve a set of red rubber kickballs, donated by the local middle school, and attempt to hit any available shamed attendee. Once struck, that attendee must join this captain's viable group, and swear their undying, blind loyalty to their presidential preference. If an attendee is struck by two captains simultaneously, a potato sack race will be held to break the tie. When all remaining conscious shamed attendees have been fully distributed in this "second alignment," true democracy can finally take shape.
The president of the caucus will take these final group counts and determine how many of their available precinct delegates each group will receive. This is done by squinting for an uncomfortable amount of time at a mathematical formula printed in very small font somewhere in a daunting ream of election procedure paperwork. It will look something like this:
(# of members within a presidential preference group) x (# of delegates elected from that precinct caucus)
(Total number of eligible precinct caucus attendees)
Once sufficient time has passed to seem as though genuine calculations have occurred, the caucus president will give up and assign proportional delegates to each group by eyeballing it and just doing what seems about right, with establishment candidates receiving an automatic +1 bonus if no one is paying too much attention. As an aside for Colorado caucuses, if math actually is performed, and there is a computational error, you are also only obligated to notify the establishment candidate. No, really, it's cool, just go with it.
Delegate allotments now in hand, each preference group elects who among them shall be the physical embodiment of said delegation, the pillars upon which our country is built.
"And they get to help elect our next president in the Electoral College?"
Oh heavens no. These are precinct delegates, who, in most systems, will now travel to the county caucuses to represent all of the fine, hard work you have just done in your local gathering.
"Oh, so they now carry the will of our people into the next stage!"
Um... well, actually, through some more screaming, oddly lumpy envelopes, and/or office chair jousts, all of the precinct delegates' preferences are typically considered non-binding, and they will be given a chance to realign themselves using a procedure very similar to what was described above, although at the county level they use medicine balls, not kick balls. And you don't even want to know about the state level.
"Wait... state level?"
Yes! The will of democracy marches on, as the delegates ultimately selected to represent each county are passed in to a state convention, where they are given another chance to rethink their life decisions or leverage for a sweet gift bag by changing their mind, if they even show up at all!
"Some elected delegates don't even bother going?"
To be fair, it was laundry day. But all precincts and counties send alternates, who are then also eligible to change their minds, if they were even of the same preference at all. In fact, just this year, one, possibly two states have changed columns based on who did and did not show up at second-tier meetings.
"So... did our first caucus even matter at--"
Yes, democracy is what makes our country great, and by better understanding--
"You didn't answer my--"
--the processes that make our grand representative machine work, you can feel more confident that--
"I don't feel more confident at all! This is kind of lunacy, right? If my group's delegate goes off the plantation, then my voice--"
--everyone's voice will be heard, and counted!
"That's it! I'm just going to take up a collection and buy the loyalty of a delegate!"
And now you understand... Caucusing And You!