We know the Iowa Caucuses will be held next Tuesday. A week after that, New Hampshire will hold its primary. What's the difference?
Very funny. Not counting that.
A caucus is a meeting of people from the same precinct held at a specific time in a specific place.
Under the GOP rules in Iowa people will go to a site representing one of 1,774 precincts; will check in to ensure they are really registered Republicans in that precinct and not members of the "Occupy the Caucuses" thugs, will listen to people speak on behalf of one candidate or another, and will write the name of the candidate they are supporting on a piece of paper which will be collected in some approved manner.
The precinct chairman will count the slips of paper, announce the results and through electronic means transmit same to the GOP State Party counting location in Des Moines.
The State Party will, at some point in the evening, announce the results and people like me will get black and blue elbowing each other out of the way to get in front of cameras pretending to know what it all means - with great authority.
The Iowa Democrats' system is much more complicated but only President Obama is on the ballot so we may cover their system in more detail in 2013.
Other states' caucuses have slightly different rules but the main point is you have to get a supporter to that place at that time to have his or her vote count.
A huge premium is placed on "organization" in caucus states. Four years ago, the Obama campaign understood the need to have organizations in each caucus state including Texas which has a combination of a primary and caucuses.
The Clinton campaign didn't understand this difference and had a battle plan for each state which was about the same, whether it was a primary or a caucus.
The result was Obama - I believe this is correct - won every caucus state; a result which provided his margin of victory for the nomination.
A primary is a whole different kettle of chad. In many states voting begins a week or more before the actual election day in a process known as "early voting." There will also likely be a huge effort to get people to request and return "absentee ballots."
Early and absentee voters cannot ask for a do-over, once they have voted that's it, so last-minute attacks are of somewhat less value in primary states where the campaigns have mounted large-scale advance voting operations.
You can't vote in advance in a caucus state. If you have to be out of town, you don't get to play.
Election day - depending upon where you live - might allow someone to vote any time between six AM an nine PM - a fifteen hour window. That gives campaign workers ample time to get reports from polling locations updating their lists of which of their supporters have actually shown up and which have not; plenty of time to send drivers to pick up tardy supporters and haul them to the polls.
In a caucus state it is very difficult to send people out to pick up people who said they were going to support your campaign, but didn't show up because the caucus may only last an hour.
The best thing about caucuses is they don't cost the taxpayers anything - or at least not much.
A primary requires the expenditure of non-existent state funds to run a real election: Machines have to be transported, poll workers have to be hired, trained, and paid; official state election officials have to make decisions, and state facilities are required to pronounce a winner.
All that to choose the nominee of a political party. If I were an independent I might file a suit to forbid my tax dollars to be spent on a partisan - essentially a private - activity in which I am, by law in most states, forbidden to participate.
We should revolt and insist the parties either pay the cost of running their partisan activity or go to a caucus system which requires nothing more than keeping the lights on at Hillside Grade School for an extra three hours one night every four years.
See you in Iowa.