If you want to feel sad about what passes for democracy in America, read Talking Points Memo's explanation of how the Iowa Caucus works. The best part? Fewer than 200,000 people are picking with presidential candidates are viable tonight:
Also keep in mind that turnout will probably not be very high. In the 2008 Republican caucuses, only just under 119,000 people voted. As such, tonight’s much-awaited result is likely to only represent a small number of voters, who will likely winnow out some of the weaker candidates, and give a big victory to another — in order to launch a potentially longer nomination process for the other states.
Before the vote, each campaign is able to have an official representative deliver a short speech on behalf of the candidate (usually a local supporter, volunteering for the task).
The votes are in fact all write-in votes — caucus attendees are each given a blank piece of paper, onto which they write the name of the candidate of their choice. Afterwards, the local precinct will count up the votes, with campaign representatives allowed to observe the process. (The state GOP tells TPM that close misspellings will be counted.) The results are then announced to the local caucus, and in turn communicated upward to the state GOP headquarters.