The caucuses are administered separately by each major party, and Republicans and Democrats have quite different rules. This year, the GOP contest is simple: after some opening rigamarole at their caucus sites, an ordinary secret ballot vote on presidential candidates will be conducted, and the totals will be tallied statewide.
The Democratic caucuses are far more complicated — they're rowdy hours-long, public affairs, with back-and-forth debate among attendees who have to go physically stand with other supporters of their preferred candidate. "It's kind of like a carnival, where the candidates' supporters say, 'Come over to us, to our group!'" says Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford.
There's no secret ballot, and if a Democratic candidate doesn't get enough supporters in a precinct (15 percent of attendees), he or she is eliminated, reality-show style. Here's a video showing how one precinct's caucus went down in 2008:
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