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Published November 19. 2007 9:13AM

What happens at a caucus?

The attention will be on presidential preferences, but the purpose of a caucus is to elect delegates to each party’s 99 county conventions.

At Republican caucuses, those attending will indicate their presidential preferences in what is essentially a straw poll. Voting can be done by a show of hands or by paper ballots.

The process at Democratic caucuses is more involved.

Beginning no earlier than 7 p.m., Democrats divide into “preference groups” based on which candidate they support. “Undecided” can be a preference group. Generally speaking, a candidate group must have 15 percent of the number of participants to be “viable.”

Caucus participants have up to 30 minutes to join a preference group. After the caucus chairman determines which groups are viable, participants have another 30 minutes to realign, or join a different caucus group.

Throughout this process, members of a preference group may attempt to persuade other caucus-goers, especially members of non-viable groups, to join their preference group. Non-viable groups may merge to gain enough members to meet the viability threshold. Or members of non-viable groups may choose to join the uncommitted preference group. Or they can choose not to join any group.

When the preference groups are set, the caucus chairman will determine the number of county convention delegates each preference group is entitled to elect. When those numbers are totaled at the state level, the “winner” of the Democratic caucus is the one with the most delegates.

The results of the caucuses are not binding on either Republican or Democratic delegates to the county convention. However, delegates often feel an obligation to follow the sentiments expressed at their precinct caucuses. Therefore, the initial caucus results provide a good indication of which candidate the party’s delegates to the national convention will back.

After the presidential preference choices, caucus-goers begin the process of writing their parties’ platforms by introducing resolutions — basically, statements on issues that show a party’s goals or philosophies. Resolutions may be voted on and adopted or rejected or, in some cases, forwarded to a county platform committee for further consideration. Resolutions introduced at the precinct level can become part of the national party platform that is adopted at each party’s national convention.

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