Recapping the 2011 Ames Straw Poll
Iowa State Daily
By Daily Staff
Total votes: 16,892
(In 2007: 14,000—and in 2003: 24,000)
Bachmann: 4,823 (28.5 percent)
Ron Paul: 4,671 (27.6 percent)
Pawlenty Votes: 2,293 (13.6 percent)
Santorum: Votes: 1,657 (9.8 percent)
Cain: Votes: 1,456 (8.6 percent)
Romney: Votes: 567 (3.3 percent)
Gingrich: Votes: 385 (2.3 percent)
Wikipedia – Format of the Iowa Straw Poll
The poll takes place among attendees of a fundraising dinner benefiting the Iowa Republican Party. Before the vote, each candidate is given a chance to make a short speech to the attendees.
The poll has been described as a cross between a political convention and a county fair, where Iowa voters have a chance to mingle, eat barbecue and have a little fun. The party divides the venue into sections and auctions each to the candidates, who can then set up booths to present their case to the voters. The larger areas and those closest to the entrance often fetch the highest price. In 2011 bidding started at $15,000 and ranged to as high as $31,000 (bid by Ron Paul). 
Non-Republicans are allowed to vote in the Ames Straw Poll. However, all voters must be at least 16 1/2 years of age, be legal residents of the state of Iowa or a student attending an Iowa university/college, and purchase a ticket priced at $30, however some campaigns pay the fee for their supporters. Voters have their hands stamped or their thumbs dipped in ink when entering the voting area so that they cannot vote twice. Ballots are put into electronic voting machines.