The Iowa caucus system is completely absurd — and that's great news for Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz

Only the most committed — and oldest — voters have this kind of time to spare

Thanks, Iowa.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Jim Young)

The Iowa caucuses take place on Monday, so we have only a few days left before this first and most ridiculous part of the primary process comes to a close. Like Lawrence of Arabia crossing an endless desert of frozen corn, the candidates have steeled their hearts and trudged through the state's 99 counties, with no diner or living room too small to receive their desperate supplications. If you look at the polls, it's easy to get confused: Some say Hillary Clinton is ahead of Bernie Sanders, while others show the reverse. On the Republican side it's the same. Is Donald Trump leading, or Ted Cruz? There's an answer, one that bodes well for Clinton and Cruz — and shows how ridiculous Iowa can be.

Before we get to those polls, let's take a look at what goes on in Iowa. While the idea of voting as a communal act requiring you to gather with your neighbors in order to fulfill your democratic duty has a certain archaic charm, what it is most of all is a huge pain in the behind. It's a little more reasonable on the Republican side, where voters come to the caucus site, spend some time listening to local apparatchiks talk about the party's business for a while, and then are finally allowed to vote with a secret ballot. Democratic caucuses, on the other hand, are a more complex enterprise, where representatives of the candidates make speeches, then everyone arranges themselves into different corners of the room depending on which candidate they support, then the supporters of candidates who don't meet a threshold of 15 percent support in that caucus have to find a new team to join. What ensues is then a period of fevered negotiation, until everything finally gets sorted out and the votes can be tallied. It takes hours.

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