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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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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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