Iowa Democratic Party outlines “virtual” caucus, improvements for 2020

MOLINE, Illinois-- The 2020 caucus is less than a year away. Dozens of presidential candidates have already thrown their hats in the ring, making their first trips to Iowa.

But as candidates focus on their campaigns, Iowa party leaders are focusing on making caucus the best yet.

Iowa Democrats are introducing "virtual" caucuses for the first time this year.

"If anyone's been in a large national organization or group that does conference calls or seminars on something, it'll be a virtual tie into that," says Elesha Gayman, corresponding secretary for the Scott County Democrats.

Gayman was part of the Iowa Caucus Review Panel, helping come up with ideas to improve the transparency and accessibility of the caucus.

"(A virtual caucus has) been talked about for years and we finally have a plan in place that incorporates it," she says.

Right now, the Iowa Democratic Party is planning six virtual caucuses, one each night from January 29 - February 3, 2020. Gayman says people will have to submit a request to participate in the virtual caucus before the end of 2019. It would be similar to an absentee ballot request.

"We don't want to have duplication," Gayman says. "We don't want to have people sign-up for the virtual caucus and show up on caucus night and are counted twice."

People taking part virtually will call into a group call like a teleconference and talk with other voters about the candidates and their qualifications. Then they'd cast their vote and have delegates to represent them at the Democratic National Convention. Gayman says the party is still deciding which type of software and method to use to conduct the calls.

It's all in an effort to let as many people as possible to participate in the caucus.

"People are busier and busier. People are working multiple jobs, busy with kids or family, taking care of loved ones. So I think it's going to be the way of the future," Gayman says. "A lot of young people, a lot of people who work, people who are homebound, unable to get out on caucus night, they're looking for ways they can participate."

Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann says voters won't be seeing virtual caucuses for Republicans this year.

"I really don't think we're going to push the envelope on the non-present participation," he says. "I'm not hearing it from our republicans and I'm certainly not hearing from the RNC."

Kaufmann says it could be an option in the future. He says Iowa Republicans are focusing on helping the disabled get out to caucus locations to vote and helping people in the armed services vote remotely.

As for Iowa Democrats, Gayman says they could also see an electronic sign-in process at their caucus location in February. That would help speed things up and get the caucus underway more quickly. She also says technology will be tweaked and improved to help ensure vote counts are as accurate as possible.

Gayman also says the party has been in touch with party leaders in New Hampshire to ensure the virtual caucus element doesn't qualify it as a primary, which could clash with New Hampshire's state law to be the first primary in the nation.

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