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Iowa Democrats Propose "Virtual Caucuses"

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price

The first major changes to the Iowa Democratic caucuses were proposed Monday. Iowans who take part in the first-in-the-nation presidential nominating process would be able to do so virtually if the proposal is approved by a central party committee and the Democratic National Committee.

Iowa Democrats have had to physically attend the caucuses to declare their choices since 1972. Critics have said the process excludes people who can’t attend because of work or disability. State party leaders unveiled plans for next year to allow Democrats to use a phone to participate.

“They literally just have to call in at the prescribed time and express their presidential preferences,” Iowa Democrat Party Chairman Troy Price said.

There would be six virtual caucuses, beginning on January 29, in the week leading up to the traditional event on February 3rd, 2020. Democrats would have to register for the virtual caucuses in advance. 

Drake University Political Science Professor Rachel Payne Caufield said a more inclusive change is something people have been looking for but it will be a logistical challenge to figure out how it will be done while preserving the integrity of the process.

She also said the nature of virtual participation is not yet well-articulated in terms of the user experience.

“When you introduce a big change like this there will be some level of confusion and some level of difficulty just in navigating what the options are and making sure you can participate in-person or virtually,” Payne Caufield said.

Clay Masters is a reporter for Iowa Public Radio and formerly for Harvest Public Media. His stories have appeared on NPR