Democratic National Committee recommends not to approve virtual caucus

Just five months out from the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic National Committee rejected Iowa’s plans to hold a virtual caucus, citing security concerns.


Jenna Galligan

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price discusses the Iowa caucuses in an interview for The Daily Iowan at Prairie Lights on Friday, May 5, 2019. (Jenna Galligan)

Caleb McCullough, Politics Reporter

The Iowa Democratic Party’s plans for a virtual caucus have been axed five months ahead of the Feb. 3 caucus date, prompting party officials to search for a new way to increase access to Iowa’s caucuses.

The Iowa Democratic Party announced in February its plans to hold a virtual caucus. This would give voters who would be unable to physically attend the caucus the opportunity to express their candidate preferences by phone in the days leading up to Feb. 3. 

Concerns arose around the security of the virtual caucus systems at a Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting on Aug. 22. On Friday, the DNC recommended not to approve the virtual caucus plan. 

“Based on our review process and the recommendation of security experts, we have concluded that currently, there is no tele-caucus system available that is sufficiently secure and reliable, given the magnitude and timing of the Iowa and Nevada caucuses this cycle,” the DNC said in a statement Friday.

Despite the DNC’s decision, the Iowa Democratic Party remains confident they will be able to find a way to allow for a more accessible caucus, although they haven’t proposed a specific plan to make that possible.

“We’re dedicated to expanding accessibility throughout the process so that no Iowan faces a barrier at their caucus,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said in a statement Friday. “We are confident that this will be resolved in the coming weeks.” 

In an interview with The Daily Iowan in May, Price stressed the importance of early training to prepare for the changes in the process, saying the plan would have to be put in place in early September. 

RELATED: Iowa Democratic Party Chair: Early training will be key to implementing Iowa caucuses

Although the process of remote caucusing is still in question, the Iowa Democratic Party is ahead of previous years when it comes to caucus preparation, Price said. 

“Almost 80 percent of our caucus locations are locked,” Price told reporters in a conference call on Friday. “We have almost 600 people in the pipeline right now to be trained for leadership. This puts us ahead of pace of where we have been in previous years.”

While Iowa has the first candidate selection process in the country, New Hampshire law dictates that they be the first primary. If Iowa’s caucus becomes too similar to a primary, with something like mail-in absentee voting, there are concerns that New Hampshire could schedule its primary earlier than the Iowa caucus.

Iowa City organizer John Deeth said in a tweet on Friday that if New Hampshire changes its primary date to precede the caucus date, Iowa’s caucuses will have to remain on the scheduled date because caucus sites are almost entirely booked, he said.

“We need to stick with the 2/3/20 date, even if New Hampshire cheats and jumps us,” Deeth said. 

Still, Price was confident the caucus date would remain first in the nation. 

“We will be first,” Price told reporters Friday. “There will be a caucus, and we will be first.”

County Democratic chairs around Iowa are having to adjust to the change as well. Linn County Democratic chair Bret Nilles said he is hopeful the Iowa Democratic Party will be able to come up with a solution, but it’s going to be challenging. 

“The challenge is, how do you implement something within the next five months across 99 counties with 1600 precincts that is secure [and] allows people to participate in some type of virtual caucus,” Nilles said. 

Nilles said the decision won’t affect the training process in Linn county in the coming months. 

“Our training is in regard to the caucus on February 3,” Nilles said. “At this point in time we didn’t have enough details to worry about what training for the virtual caucus would amount to.”