DES MOINES -- An online option may be available for Iowa Democrats to participate in the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, the most significant changes since 1972.
The Iowa Democratic Party announced the proposed changes Monday. They are designed to improve participation and transparency in the process that kicks off the presidential nominating process every four years.
The changes appease national party leaders who called for more inclusion, and New Hampshire Democrats protective of their role as the nation’s first presidential primary state.
Iowa state party chairman Troy Price said the changes would be the most significant since the caucuses’ inception in 1972.
“With these proposals, there is no doubt that we are making the most significant changes to the Iowa caucuses,” Price said Monday on a conference call with reporters. “We do so not because we have to, but because we know that we are stronger as a party, we are stronger as a state, and we are stronger as a nation if everyone can participate in our political process.”
Currently, participants must physically attend Iowa’s Democratic presidential precinct caucuses, where individuals organize into groups to show support for a candidate. The multi-stage process yields delegates for each presidential candidate, who retains at least a prescribed level of support through the process.
That process can limit participation because people must attend and be willing to stand up in front of their peers. After the 2016 elections, the national party instructed caucus states to create a format that allows people to participate without having to make the time commitment to be in the room on caucus night.
The Iowa proposal would allow people to participate in one of six virtual caucuses, available online over a span of six days. Virtual caucus participants would rank up to five choices for president, and the combined total of the six virtual caucuses would account for roughly 10 percent of the state’s delegate equivalents.
“We are going to be able to give more Iowans a chance to participate in this process,” Price said. “This process will now give these individuals a voice in selecting the next president of the United States.”
Iowa Democrats walked a fine line between adding more participants and turning the process into a primary election, which would encroach on New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status and potentially threaten Iowa’s position atop the presidential nominating schedule.
Price said Iowa Democrats worked with New Hampshire and other early state Democrats, and New Hampshire’s state party leader gave his blessing to the Iowa proposal.
“We’re excited to see that Iowa is taking steps to make their caucus more accessible while keeping its spirit alive, and we appreciate their careful consideration of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status when making these changes,” New Hampshire Democrats chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement emailed to the bureau.
Iowa Democrats who wish to participate in the virtual caucus would register in advance and then log into an online program at one of six scheduled times: one apiece on the six days leading up to and including the Feb. 3, 2020 caucuses.
Online participants would make a first choice for president and then list up to four more preferences, which would be used if the first preference does not garner sufficient support.
Just as with the normal caucuses, only candidates supported by 15 percent of participants would remain in the running.
Participants in the six virtual caucuses would be divided by Congressional district, and the results would yield additional delegates in each district.
The virtual caucus results will yield roughly 10 percent of the state equivalent delegates regardless of how many people participate, Price said. Delegate equivalents are decided based on previous caucus results; since the virtual caucuses are new, party leaders discussed and settled on 10 percent.
Among other proposed changes, raw totals from the first, second and final alignments would be released by the state party. Previously, the party did not release that information, only the final calculation of the state delegate equivalents.
The proposal will go through a 30-day comment period, after which it must be approved by the Iowa Democratic Party’s state central committee and then the national party’s rules committee.