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A reader writes in to explain how the Iowa caucuses really work:

What’s going on in Iowa is that four or five election cycles ago, Republicans decided that the best way to deal with the precinct caucuses for maximum media impact was to simply hold a straw poll at the start of the caucuses and report that to the press as the result. After that, the hard-core insiders would hang around for the actual precinct caucus — the delegate selection phase. The straw poll is non-binding, but there’s kind of a conspiracy of the press and the state party to report it as the result because it comes in earlier and the results are clearer.

I didn’t know that. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. That Des Moines Register piece that I linked to earlier, for example, describes the process this way:

  1. Pick a candidate.
  2. Votes tallied.
  3. Elect delegates.
  4. Elect alternates.

Tricky! I didn’t quite catch that “Votes tallied” really had nothing to do with “Elect delegates.” But apparently it doesn’t. You cast your vote, the tally gets reported to the press, and then if you feel like sticking around to elect delegates you can do that. Or not. But your vote doesn’t really matter unless you do.

Pretty good system for choosing a leader of the free world, isn’t it?

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