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DES MOINES — An online option would be available for Iowa Democrats to participate in the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, the most significant changes in 50 years.

The Iowa Democratic Party announced proposed changes Monday that would allow people to participate in the caucuses virtually by telephone or smart devices. 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.

Party Chairman Troy Price said the changes would be the most significant since the caucuses began in 1972.

“There is no doubt that we are making the most significant changes to the Iowa caucuses,” Price said Monday. “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.”

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.

Currently, participants must attend Democratic precinct caucuses, where individuals organize into groups to show support for a candidate. The multi-stage process yields delegates for each “viable” presidential candidate.

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.

Democrats walked a fine line between adding more participants and turning the process into a primary election, which would encroach on New Hampshire’s status and potentially threaten Iowa’s position atop the presidential nominating schedule.

Price said New Hampshire’s state party leader gave his blessing to the Iowa 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 Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement.

Democrats who wish to participate in the virtual caucus would register in advance and then log on to an online program at one of six scheduled times 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 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.

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State house reporter for The Courier/Lee Enterprises.

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