DES MOINES — Responding to calls to increase participation and transparency in the first-in-the nation presidential caucuses, the Iowa Democratic Party proposed Monday the most significant changes in nearly a half century — including holding “virtual” events.
The changes are meant to appease national party leaders who want more inclusion and at the same time New Hampshire Democrats protective of their state’s status of holding the first presidential primary.
Iowa state party Chairman Troy Price said the changes would be the most sweeping since the Iowa caucuses’ inception in 1972.
“With these proposals, there is no doubt that we are making the most significant changes to the Iowa caucuses,” he said 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.”
In the aftermath of the historically close Feb. 1, 2016, Democratic caucuses — when Hillary Clinton narrowly defeated Sen. Bernie Sanders — Iowa Democrats formed a review committee after hearing complaints about the process.
As it is now, participants must physically attend Iowa’s Democratic presidential precinct caucuses, where individuals organize into groups to show support for a particular candidate.
The multistage process yields delegates for each presidential candidate who retains at least a prescribed level of support through the process.
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That process can limit participation because people must attend and be willing to stand up and declare support for a candidate in front of their neighbors.
After the 2016 elections, the national party instructed caucus states including Iowa to create a format allowing people to participate without having to be in the room.
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.”
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.
Iowa Democrats walked a fine line between adding more participants and turning the process into a primary, 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 plan.
“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.
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Iowa Democrats who wish to participate in the virtual caucuses would register and then log into a program at one of six times: one apiece on the six days leading 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 typical caucuses, only candidates supported by at least 15 percent of participants would remain in the running.
Participants in the virtual caucuses would be divided by congressional district and the results would yield additional delegates in each district.
The virtual caucus results would yield roughly 10 percent of the state equivalent delegates regardless of how many people participate.
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 all that information — only the final calculation.