Staff Editorial

New and improved Iowa caucuses

State Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) talks to the Democrats' precinct caucuses at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
State Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) talks to the Democrats' precinct caucuses at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Both major political parties in Iowa are taking steps to ensure next year’s caucuses are fair and accessible.

Last week, a Democratic National Committee panel approved Iowa’s plans to host satellite caucuses as part of the 2020 nominating process. National party leaders previously rejected Iowa’s proposal to host virtual caucuses by telephone, citing concerns about cybersecurity and potential election interference.

The goal of the satellite caucuses, like the now-canceled virtual caucuses, is to promote participation among people who are not well served by the traditional caucus process.

The Iowa caucuses are a treasured state tradition, but that tradition is sustainable only if political onlookers agree the system is fair.

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The traditional process requires voters to attend in person to a specific location at a specific time.

The newly approved plan is part of a national effort by Democrats to make proceedings more accessible.

Under the new plan, voters who can’t attend a designated caucus site may propose an alternative site for party officials to consider. Satellites might even be hosted outside Iowa to accommodate military personnel, seasonal travelers and college students.

It will be important for Iowa Democrats to clearly and widely communicate the process for requesting a satellite caucus. They also must ensure the site selection committee’s work is fair and transparent.

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This is not a perfect solution — many people will still find it difficult to physically visit an alternative site — but it is the best Iowa leaders could do with limited time after their first plan was thrown out.

Republicans, too, are making their caucus process more open.

President Donald Trump faces three challengers for the nomination. GOP leaders in Iowa say they plan to host preference polls at next year’s precinct caucuses, and report the full results.

Fair caucuses have not always taken place in years when parties are set to renominate sitting presidents. Republicans did not hold a poll in 1992 or 2004. Democrats did not report detailed results in 1996, but did so in 2012.

While elected Republican and party staffers are openly supportive of Trump’s re-election campaign, they deserve credit for committing to count the votes at a time when GOP governing bodies in several other states are canceling their primaries and caucuses in deference to Trump.

The Iowa caucuses are a treasured state tradition, but that tradition is sustainable only if political onlookers agree the system is fair. With these important updates, Iowa political organizers are helping secure the caucuses’ future.

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