I will admit that I find the U.S. election process very confusing – primaries, caucus’, delegates, voting. With the Iowa Caucus’ last night I actually learned something I didn’t know before – that Democrats and Republicans hold their caucus’ in very different ways. Democrats actually physically move around the room until there are viable candidates (those with over 15% of the vote) where as Republicans do secret-balloting and the percentage of votes for each candidate determines how many delegates they receive. I found this great article that helped me understand things a little better – “Caucus math: An NBC Primer” by Carrie Dan and Mark Murray.

Basically, in a nutshell, here’s what happened last night at the Iowa Caucus’. At least I think….I could still have some misunderstanding, I admit.

Democrats:At each caucus site, Democratic attendees physically went to their candidates ‘corner’ to show their support – i.e. O’Malley corner, Clinton corner, Sanders corner and an ‘uncommitted’ corner. Attendees can speak out and try to convince others to come to their side, and after all the debate and moving about, a final count is taken for each candidate. Based on the total number of attendees, a percentage for each corner was calculated, and if any candidate did not have at least 15% (making them a viable candidate), then that candidate was out, and their supporters could move to either of the other candidates or go to the uncommitted corner, and new percentages calculated. Based on all the caucus sites, the number of delegates awarded to the candidates is their percentage times the number of available delegates. So, according to the results last night, Clinton and Sanders had a virtual tie, with Clinton getting 49.9% and Sanders 49.6%, and O’Malley only .6%. This means Clinton gets 22 of Iowa’s 44 delegates, Sanders gets 21, and apparently the last delegate is “uncommitted”.

Republicans:At each caucus site, there is a set number of delegates being fought over that adds up to the total Republican delegates for the state (there are 30 Iowan Republican delegates). A secret ballot is cast, and a simple formula is used to determine how the delegates are divided up for that site/district. Basically, the formula is: #of votes for each candidate at the site x ratio of delegates for site/30. There is rounding done and each candidate ends up with a portion of the available delegates, which then, when all sites report, give a grand total for each candidate. Last nights results for the Republicans are as follows: Cruz, 8 delegates; Rubio, 7 delegates; Trump, 7 delegates; Carson, 3 delegates; Bush, 1 delegate; Paul, 1 delegate; and everyone else, 0.

Here are some graphs that are more visual represented:

But this is just a small blip in the overall race to get delegates, which then determines who eventually becomes the official candidates running for President for each party. It is a long, confusing process but interesting! And then we have the race for presidential votes and the electoral college after that….. **My point here is look at all the math!?! **And it’s real-world, and it’s happening right now and has an impact on students lives, so it’s relevant and interesting and can be a great source of real-world application and learning in your math class. Why not today in your classes (or sometime this week), hold a mock class-caucus? One the Republican way, and one the Democratic way. See who the winners are based on your class results. Discuss the process – is it fair, unfair? What’s the math? And as each primary/caucus comes along, involve your students and do the math.

I just want to plant a seed. Explore with your students some of the math involved in the election process, no matter what age/grade you teach. Getting students involved in our country’s electoral process in a way that lets them apply what they are learning and feel a part of the world around them can only be a good thing. Hopefully, down the road, it will help them become interested, informed and voting citizens.