After more than a year of talking, debating, and campaigning, voting finally starts tonight in the Democratic presidential primaries. However, it doesn’t start with a primary but a caucus night, and in Iowa that has its own unique characteristics. To keep track of everything that’s happening — and then making sense of the results — Townhall and Hot Air are partnering with Decision Desk HQ tonight, starting at 8 pm ET as the caucuses begin, to track results as the night progresses.

The DDHQ staff put together this primer for tonight’s festivities. Unlike past cycles, this time we’ll get raw totals for each “alignment” to see how the caucuses are shifting:

“First alignment” is the first round of voting where caucus goes may vote for any candidate. Candidates who fail to reach 15% support in the precinct vote are eliminated and their voters are then able to support another candidate in the second round.

“Final alignment” is the second round of voting after supporters of candidates who did not meet the initial support threshold move to their second choice candidate or can elect to remain uncommitted.

It’s the results from this “final alignment” round that are used to calculate county convention delegates and then “state delegate equivalents” and ultimately, national convention delegates.

We will be reporting all three sets of results throughout the course of the night. Our call of the “winner” of the Caucus will be based on “state delegate equivalents” as that is what determines the national delegate allocation.

You’ll definitely want to keep a close eye on those results in the post that Allahpundit will have up at 8 pm ET. Stay tuned!

Forget secret ballots and anonymity — and forget about sticking with one choice, as ITV’s Robert Moore explains to his British audience in this video. Unless the rules force you to stick with that choice:

Moore’s pretty stoked about the primary process. WCVB in Boston gives a more visual representation of the process. They also include a new non-poaching rule regarding supporters from “viable” candidates’ pools of caucusers:

That non-poaching rule sounds like a recipe for all sorts of technical challenges during the evening. On one hand, it does make some sense in terms of ensuring that the “viable” tag is reliable, but … are Democrats arguing that a Biden caucuser can’t change his mind, or a Sanders caucuser switch? Or are they arguing that their surrogates can’t make their arguments to all caucusers? Does that include even casual conversations? That sounds like a nightmare to enforce, as well as an impediment to an informed choice.

Not that it matters all that much, Philip Bump writes at the Washington Post. Despite all of the hyperbole surrounding this event, it doesn’t usually have definitive outcomes, and it predicts little about the rest of the primaries that follow:

It’s worth pointing out that, in addition to a revised system in which the Iowa Democratic Party will literally release multiple data points that could allow multiple campaigns to claim victory, recent caucus results have proved to be both unpredictable beforehand and not particularly predictive of future outcomes. In other words, the caucuses are important because they come first but may not tell us much about where things are heading. Yes, they also help winnow the field, but in the way lions winnow a pack of wildebeest: it’s not the strong ones who succumb. …

So what about this year? The pattern over these elections on both sides has been that late surges before Iowa can indicate where candidates will land. In the current Democratic contest, there are only subtle hints to that effect. Things have been fairly static for several weeks.

Things are also complicated by the size of the field. No candidate has the support of as much as a quarter of the state, an important factor in a process that mandates a 15 percent threshold for support in most caucus locations. Coming into Iowa in 2016, Trump was above 25 percent, in a slightly smaller field, though that didn’t translate into victory.

All of which goes to reinforce the original point. It’s hard to say what will happen in Iowa and what those results, whatever they may be, will mean moving forward. Iowa serves a bit like a cross-a-state line on a long drive. It’s something you look forward to as a marker of your progress, but once you reach it you realize how much farther you have to go.

Tell that to the candidates. They will be making every effort to wring as much good press out of tonight’s results as possible, no matter where they land in the voting, before fleeing the state for New Hampshire at the earliest possible time. The results do matter in that sense, and so keep your eyes on Townhall Media Group and Hot Air tonight.