DES MOINES — Top Iowa Democrats approved a plan Thursday to stage satellite presidential caucuses for Iowans unable to attend an official caucus in February.
The proposal to expand accessibility was approved 40-0 by the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee. It will be presented to the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and By-Laws meeting today.
“This is a solid plan, and it allows us to meet the goals that we have set as a party,” said Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price.
“Satellite caucuses allow us
to expand participation, knock down some of the barriers to participation and meet the goal of giving more people a voice in our party,” he added. “This system can be implemented in the time allowed. It does not affect the calendar, it does not use technology and can be implemented with the resources we have available to us.”
Iowa officials spent the past two weeks considering options after the DNC rules panel rejected the state party’s plan to let some people participate by telephone in the Feb. 3 caucuses, citing cybersecurity concerns.
Satellite caucuses would let voters who can’t participate in person propose alternative sites such as workplaces or senior centers if party officials agree there is a need.
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The DNC decision in August to reject the virtual caucuses idea left Iowa Democrats “basically between a rock and a hard place,” said David Redlawsk, chairman of the University of Delaware’s political science department. He is the author of “Why Iowa?” a book that supports Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status.
“I do think IDP would like the caucuses to be more accessible. I think over the last several cycles accessibility to the caucuses has become a thing,” Redlawsk noted. “But the problem they face is there’s only four and a half months to go, and there just are not a lot of good solutions.”
Iowa officials hope satellite caucuses — an idea that got its genesis in 2016 when four such locations were approved — will satisfy a DNC directive that caucus states make the process more accessible.
Price said the satellite option was favored over alternatives that included absentee ballots, proxies, a modified virtual caucus plan or asking DNC officials for a waiver to the accessibility rule.
The Iowa caucuses require participants to go to designated venues to choose candidates through a viability process of elimination and persuasion. The satellite process would modify a system that can be time-intensive and difficult for people who work night shifts, have other responsibilities or are challenged by disabilities, party officials said.
State Central Committee member Ken Sagar, head of the Iowa Federation of Labor, applauded the work of party officials in finding a “viable alternative” after the DNC “yanked the rug out from under us.”
The state party was limited in the possible solutions because some of the more obvious choices — like using mail-in ballots — would make the caucuses too much like primary elections, incurring the objection of New Hampshire — site of the first presidential primary in the nation.