The caucus is used by political parties to narrow a field of candidates to a single candidate that will represent the party on the ballot in an upcoming election.
While a caucus can be held for congressional candidates, the most well-known are the caucuses and primaries held in each state every four years to choose who will represent the party in the presidential election.
The Iowa caucus is historically the first one held in the country, normally taking place in January or February of a presidential election year.
The Republican caucus is currently scheduled for Jan. 3, 2012. The Democrats will not caucus for a presidential candidate because President Barack Obama is eligible for re-election.
Any voter that can prove residency in Iowa and is registered as a Republican or Democrat can participate in their respective party's caucus.
A gathering is held in each of Iowa's 1784 precincts on caucus night. Registered party members show up and vote for a declared presidential candidate. The method differs by precinct, but votes can be determined by a show of hands, by dividing themselves into groups or by paper ballot. The results are reported to the state party. The precinct chooses a delegate that will go on to the county convention. The results of the caucus are not binding and the delegate is free to vote how they wish at the county convention. But, most delegates feel an obligation to represent the results of their precinct.
Delegates from the precinct caucus go on to the county convention. At the county convention, delegates are chosen for the district convention, and then on to the state convention. Delegates elected at the state convention will go on to the national convention where the final decision is made regarding who will represent the party as a presidential candidate.
Results from the precinct caucuses are used by the media to project the potential composition of Iowa's delegation to the national convention.
The caucus locations are determined by the County Chairs of each political party. For the location of the caucus in your precinct, contact your county chair.