Here’s a comparison of the 2008 Iowa caucuses to the 2007 Massachusetts caucuses used to elect state convention delegates.
Population: Iowa 2.9M Massachusetts 6.3M
Number of caucuses: Iowa 1,800 Massachusetts 600
Delegates elected: Iowa 13,485 Massachusetts 4,128
So we’re roughly twice as big, but they have three times as many caucuses. So the average MA caucus represents about six times as many people as the average Iowa caucus. So if you’re used to seeing thirty people at your caucus, the corresponding Iowa caucus would have five people (and since we have more Democrats than Iowa, their number would be more like four).
In both states, the average caucus elects about seven delegates.
If we used Iowa’s system, this is how it would likely work.
We’d have precinct caucuses instead of ward and town caucuses. This would expand the number of caucuses to 2100. In small towns and a couple of the cities this would not be a change, but in other communities the large town or ward caucuses would get broken up. For example, Brookline would have 16 precinct caucuses instead of one town caucus.
If we elected proportionally the same number of delegates as Iowa, this would be roughly 30,000, or about seven times as many as we do now. So Brookline would have about 330 delegates instead of 47, or roughly 21 per precinct. Or my hometown of Gloucester, which currently elects 20 delegates in five ward caucuses, would now elect 140 delegates in ten precinct caucuses.
Let’s take my own precinct, Gloucester Ward 5 Precinct 1 as an example. We’d have 14 delegates to elect. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that 30 people showed up at the local library branch for the caucus. Here’s what it would look like.
First of all, the 30 people would split up into groups based on who they support for President, including an “uncommitted” group. Any group smaller than 15% is not “viable” and won’t get to elect any delegates. In our case, this would be 4.5, which rounds up to 5. So then any group under 5 is given the opportunity to join with other groups, either to get the combined group up to 5 or more, or to add to the strength of an existing viable group. This is the deal-making stage of the caucus.
Once the deal-making is done, the delegates are allocated to the groups. A preliminary allocation is done by multiplying the size of each group by the number of delegates and then dividing by the number of attendees. In our example, a group of 6 would have an allocation of 6 x 14 / 30 = 2.80. This rounds to 3, which is the initial allocation. Once all of the allocations are calculated, there may be too few or too many delegates. If there are too few, then the remaining spots are given to the groups with the highest fractional part of their allocation that have not already been rounded up. The opposite happens if there are too many in the initial allocation, as delegates as taken away from their groups.
Now that each group knows how many delegates they get, they elect their delegates.
If there’s just one delegate elected in a precinct, there is no division into groups and the whole caucus elects the delegate.
The 30,000 delegates would proceed to county conventions several weeks later if we were following the Iowa model. Iowa has 99 counties which are viable political entities, unlike the non-functioning counties in Massachusetts. The most comparable level for us would be the state representative district.
This would produce 160 conventions, each with about 200 delegates, likely meeting in high schools throughout the state. Again, using Iowa’s scale, we’d have about 5500 delegates elected to the state convention, or roughly 36 from each state rep district. The election process essentially repeats the caucus method, with the delegates splitting into preference groups, looking for viable groups of 30 (15% of 200), and finally electing their delegates to the state convention.
Delegates to the national convention are elected at both the congressional district level and statewide. The district level delegates would be elected at 10 separate district conventions held on the same day with each delegate to the state convention attending the convention for his or her district. Once again, the grouping process is repeated and viable groups are formed. In our case, from 5 to 7 national convention delegates are elected in each congressional district level, for a total of 61.
Finally, the state convention meets about a month later to elect the last 20 delegates by the now-familiar process of grouping and viability.
One of the things that is notable about this process is that it is dynamic as candidates drop out of the race. For example, Dick Gephardt had about 10% of the delegates elected to the county conventions in 2004, but dropped out of the race before those conventions were held. The Gephardt delegates still could attend the county convention, but now had the choice to support another candidate or to join the uncommitted group. In 2004, the initial estimate was that the delegate totals would be Kerry 18, Edwards 15, and Dean 6. By the time that the district conventions met, the distribution of those votes was Kerry 23, Edwards 4, and Dean 2, while Kerry got all 10 delegates selected a month later at the state convention.
By contrast, the Massachusetts primary process is much simpler. The vote totals in the presidential primary serve the same process as the groupings at the congressional district conventions and the state convention in Iowa. So we knew the morning after the primary that the allocation would be Kerry 54, Edwards 7 at the congressional district level, and Kerry 16, Edwards 4 statewide.
Our actual delegates are elected in two processes. At the congressional district level, there are simultaneous caucuses held in each congressional district for each candidate that has won delegates on a Saturday in April. For example, the 6th district caucus for Kerry was held in Peabody and filled the high school auditorium, while the Edwards caucus was held in Rockport. The statewide delegates are elected by the state committee. At both levels, individuals submit their names as delegate candidates to the state party and then the presidential candidates have the opportunity to cut down the lists (but to at least twice as many candidates as will be elected).
Iowa Democratic Caucus Site
Massachusetts Plan Page