Iowa Dems could upend caucus tradition, consider letting delegates vote by app or phone

DES MOINES, Iowa -- State Democrats here want to let caucus participants phone it in -- literally.

Under proposals being considered by Iowa party officials, they want to allow caucus delegates to cast their vote by phone or a smartphone app.

It's part of sweeping proposals for the first-in-the-nation caucus, an important early step for candidates on both sides of the political aisle vying for the White House.

Iowa party leaders said they want to make the caucus process more accessible and transparent.

“There have been people in the past who have not been able to participate,” said Troy Price, chair for the Iowa Democratic Party. “Folks serving in the military,  shift workers, working parents, who can't get childcare. We are creating this process that's going to allow them to participate remotely. We've set up six different times that people can participate.”

It would be the most historic changes to the state's caucus process since its creation in 1972. Iowans would be given various opportunities to vote remotely through a virtual caucus on February 3.

To participate, voters would be able to pre-register and select a date and time to cast their vote for their candidate of choice. Those who participate in the virtual caucus will not be able permitted to caucus in person the day of.

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“These changes are really going to make sure that the Iowa caucuses are the most transparent, inclusive, and accessible caucuses we’ve ever had,” he said.

But some have expressed concerns that voting remotely will have less influence than voting in person on the caucus date because the changes under consideration would limit the weight of those voting remotely to 10 percent of the overall vote, regardless of how many people call in.

“My concern about the proposed changes is that the powers that be in the Democratic Party are taking what is already a complex and confusing process and potentially making it even more complex and confusing,” said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University. “Complexity can breed confusion or sometimes it can solve a problem. At this point, we don’t know which way it will go.”

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For voters like Laura Brelin, she believes the proposed changes means that voting in-person would be the better option.

“If I were volunteering for a candidate, I would hesitate to encourage supporters to do a virtual caucus because it’s more likely that they will have a greater impact if they can be there in person,” she said.

Iowa Democrats State Central Committee and the Democratic National Committee must approve the proposal before they go into effect.

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If approved, Iowa Democratic state leaders are expecting tens of thousands more voters in 2020.

“We’re excited about the changes because we think our democracy works better if everyone has a chance to have their voice heard,” said Price.