Iowa Democrats are in a tough spot as they continue to seek ways to meet a Democratic National Committee mandate for reforming the caucus process.
The DNC, and many Iowans, worry that the traditional caucus format, requiring Iowans to show up at precinct meetings on caucus night, excludes many with disabilities, work schedules or other barriers to in-person participation. But Iowa’s initial plan for a phone-in “virtual” caucus was nixed by the DNC over cybersecurity worries.
So now, with just less than five months to go before the Feb. 3 caucuses, Iowa Democratic leaders are searching for an alternative.
Although it seems likely that no matter the result of that search, the first-in-the nation caucuses will go on being first in 2020, Iowa’s status in the future could be jeopardized.
We share the goal of creating a far more accessible caucus process. And we believe there are ways to get there without damaging what makes Iowa’s caucuses special.
If cybersecurity is the main concern, some sort of paper absentee balloting would be one good answer. If the logistics of such a major change are a stumbling block, perhaps Democrats should launch a series of pilot protects or practice runs in 2020 with an eye on future caucus cycles. Maybe a “virtual caucus” can be built in such a way that mitigates security worries.
But it seems the biggest barrier to Iowa’s balloting experimentation is New Hampshire, where Secretary of State Bill Gardner is on high alert for any threat to his state’s status as the first-in-the-nation primary. It’s possible, perhaps probable, that any move by Iowa to introduce balloting into its process could be seen by New Hampshire as too primary-like. Gardner has the power to move his primaries to a date before Iowa if he sees such a threat.
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That one elected official can yield that much power over two states’ political processes is a flaw, not a feature, of our nominating system. But New Hampshire should be a partner, not an adversary, in Iowa’s search for an accessibility solution. The two states have long presented a united front against calendar changes, and breaking that bond now could jeopardize New Hampshire’s primary in the future.
New Hampshire should embrace Iowa’s efforts, not stand in the way.
There’s still time for Iowa Democrats to, at the very least, put Iowa on a path to a modernized, accessible caucus process.
Iowa’s coveted first-in-the-nation status is hanging in the balance. But, more importantly, removing barriers to participation in such an important process is the right thing to do.
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