DNC recommends scrapping Iowa’s virtual caucus plan
Democratic National Committee officials said Friday they will recommend scrapping Iowa’s plan to hold virtual caucuses in 2020, citing substantial security threats.
“We concur with the advice of the DNC’s security experts that there is no tele-caucus system available that meets our standard of security and reliability given the scale needed for the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the current cyber-security climate,” DNC Chair Tom Perez and Rules and By-Laws Committee Co-Chairs Lorraine Miller and Jim Roosevelt said in a joint statement.
“For these reasons, we are recommending to the committee that virtual caucus systems not be used in the Iowa and Nevada 2020 caucus processes, and unless compliance can be met through other means, that the committee consider a waiver.”
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In a news release, the DNC cited a July report of the Senate Intelligence Committee which outlined Russian interference in U.S. elections.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price issued a statement shortly after the DNC’s formal announcement saying he remains confident that the 2020 caucuses “will be our best yet and set the standard for years to come.”
“While only five months remain before the caucuses, we will explore what alternatives may exist to securely increase accessibility from previous years given the time allowed,” he said in the statement. “We’re dedicated to expanding accessibility throughout the process so that no Iowan faces a barrier at their caucus. We are confident that this will be resolved in the coming weeks.”
Iowa Democrats plan to hold a news conference on the DNC’s decision Friday afternoon.
The recommendation, first reported by the Des Moines Register late Thursday, still must be approved by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee.
The virtual caucuses would be a massive change
In February, the Iowa Democratic Party unveiled the most substantial changes to the Iowa caucuses since their inception, proposing a series of “virtual” caucuses that would allow registered Democrats to participate over the phone.
It was an effort to accommodate rules from the DNC, which issued a mandate after the 2016 elections requiring caucus states to allow some form of absentee voting.
For years, critics have complained the Iowa process makes it impossible for people who cannot show up on caucus night at a precinct location to make their voices heard. Critics have also complained that the process takes too long.
State party leaders publicly embraced the changes, saying they want to make the caucuses more inclusive and accessible.
Iowa’s original virtual caucus plan was intended to meet the DNC’s mandate and also work with New Hampshire, which follows Iowa in the presidential nominating process and has long balked at any changes that make Iowa’s caucuses look too much like its primary.
‘It’s a really, really fine needle to thread’
New Hampshire law allows its secretary of state to change the date of its primary so that it precedes any other state’s primary by at least one week. As long as Iowa holds a caucus and doesn’t veer too far into primary territory, it can maintain its coveted position as “first in the nation” ahead of New Hampshire and other early-voting states.
“The problem is meeting both the DNC concerns and Bill Gardner’s concerns,” said Johnson County activist John Deeth, who has been helping to organize the precinct caucuses there. “It’s a really, really fine needle to thread. … It might not be doable.”
Dave Nagle, a former Iowa congressman and party chairman who has long defended Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, said that if Iowa is going to be first, “you have to be ready to fight.”
Nagle was the party’s chairman in 1982 when a fight between local party officials and national leaders escalated to a federal lawsuit that sought to nullify the 1984 contest.
“You can’t buckle. You can’t blink,” he said of warding off threat’s to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status. “And (then) you’ve got to relax because in four years you’ll have to do it again.”
‘Our process is under attack’
Though Nagle downplayed the effect of Friday’s news, insisting Iowa will remain first in the presidential nominating process, he acknowledged that this year’s fight is “different” than past ones.
“Normally it’s that states are trying to jump us, in terms of moving ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire in the calendar,” he said. “That’s normally where the battle is. This is the first time our process has been under attack. And, admittedly, we’re trying to make some sweeping and innovative changes to adapt to the times. Maybe we should have anticipated we’d meet resistance. Although I would have thought, in fairness to us, the DNC would have said something, like, six months ago.”
He said, however, he is confident the caucuses will survive and remain first.