Staff Editorial

Changes to Iowa caucuses inevitable - and welcome

A precinct caucus guide lies on a table during Iowa City Democratic precinct caucuses at City High in Iowa City on Feb. 5, 2018. Attendance was high at Democratic caucus sites despite heavy snowfall throughout the day. (KC McGinnis/The Gazette)
A precinct caucus guide lies on a table during Iowa City Democratic precinct caucuses at City High in Iowa City on Feb. 5, 2018. Attendance was high at Democratic caucus sites despite heavy snowfall throughout the day. (KC McGinnis/The Gazette)

Caucuses in Iowa are run and governed by the political parties, although their cultural and economic ramifications affect us all. For that reason, we hope all residents pay close attention to changes on the Democratic side.

The national Democratic Party pushed state leaders to make some admittedly long overdue changes. The Democratic caucuses, the first-in-the-nation, lead the presidential nominating calendar, but were discriminatory by design. Because they are held on a single night at precinct locations throughout the state, all participants had to be at certain locations for the duration of the portion of the meeting important to them. And, when dealing with presidential preference groupings, the duration could be lengthy. Circumstance often left those with health concerns, work or young children unable to participate.

Iowa Democrats were told to make changes to address these issues, as well as to provide more accountability and verification measures. The new plan, years in development, was unveiled on Feb. 11 for a 30-day comment period.

Although political wonks will find a host of small changes, the public will likely be most interested in three significant changes for the 2020 caucus:

Virtual Caucuses — Registered Democrats may preregister for one of six virtual caucuses, held on or before the official Feb. 3 date. However, virtual caucus attendees, regardless of overall number or percentage of participation, are limited to 10 percent of state delegates.

Presidential Preference Cards — Candidates will be able to request a recanvas through use of cards, signed by participating Democrats to indicate presidential support.

Locked Support — Democrats in a viable preference group will no longer be allowed to switch support; however, those Iowans may leave the caucus site after the first count without compromising their support.

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While no changes to the caucus process was going to meet with unanimous support, there is a great deal to like about the Iowa proposal. It meets the national accessibility and transparency mandates while continuing the traditional caucus structure that will, hopefully, maintain Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status. Drawbacks — primarily for party activists and those who still believe the purpose of the caucus is party building — must be carefully weighed against the alternative of losing it all. We encourage those who believe the scales have tipped too far to take advantage of the comment period.

The silver lining is delegate selection plans and policies can be updated each caucus season. Policies put in place for 2020 need not automatically apply to 2024 or beyond. There will be further opportunities to shift and tweak.

In terms of accessibility, however, change was not only inevitable but necessary.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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