Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus status in jeopardy
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The Democratic National Committee will reject Iowa’s plan for virtual caucuses — a decision that both complicates the Iowa Democratic Party’s implementation of the 2020 presidential caucuses and threatens their very existence going forward.
The decision was confirmed to the Des Moines Register late Thursday by two sources close to the conversations. It follows a meeting of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee last week in San Francisco, where members voiced concerns about the security of the Iowa plan and the potential for hacking.
Neither representatives for the DNC nor the state party immediately responded to requests for comment Thursday evening. The Associated Press reported late Thursday that DNC officials were considering the same decision for the Nevada caucus.
In February, the state 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 that 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.
But the virtual caucus plan also was intended to 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.
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.
Now, though, Iowa’s party officials may need to present a new plan to accommodate the DNC’s mandates. The DNC has said it will act on each state’s plan by Sept. 13.
If Iowa can’t come up with a plan for people to participate without being physically present that differs substantially from a primary, the future of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status could be thrown into question.
Meanwhile, both the state party and the presidential campaigns that have flooded the state have already begun moving forward with the expectation the virtual caucuses would be implemented.
The state party has begun offering training sessions for the campaigns and for volunteers, investing time and energy into the process. The campaigns have begun strategizing and organizing around the virtual caucuses, asking potential supporters whether they would commit to caucus in person on Feb. 3, 2020, or virtually on an earlier date.
With the caucuses now just five months away, the campaigns and the party are facing an ever-shrinking window during which they can adjust their strategies.
A February Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll suggested the virtual caucuses could expand participation by nearly a third. But a June Iowa Poll showed the process remained a mystery, even for those who say they hope to participate in it.
Brianne Pfannenstiel is Chief Politics Reporter for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.
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