Iowa Democrats announce sweeping changes to 2020 caucus process

Iowa Democrats, in a bid to make the 2020 caucus process more accessible, announced sweeping changes on Monday, laying out what the chair of the party called the “most significant changes” since the caucuses’ inception in 1972.

The top change will be the creation of a “virtual caucus,” which will allow any Iowa Democrat to caucus virtually at specific times for six days leading up to the caucuses next February 3 instead of only in person on the traditional Monday night. The change comes after Democrats across the country have pushed for changes to caucuses in order to make them more accessible to people who can’t get free at one specific time, like single parents, shift workers and people with disabilities.

Troy Price, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, told reporters Monday that the changes are being made to make the 2020 caucuses the “most accessible, most transparent, most secure and the most successful” ever.

Price said there would be no excuse required to participate in the virtual caucus but those who register for it will not be allowed to caucus in person.

Virtual caucus results will not be released as they come in on the nights leading up to February 3, Price said, but will be made public with the broader pool of results from Monday night.

In a way, though, virtual caucus-goers will be treated separately from those who caucus in person. Virtual caucus attendees will be totaled and separated by Iowa’s four congressional districts, and each district will be awarded 10% more delegates based on the breakdown of the virtual process.

“If a congressional district in this state is slated to have 250 state delegates, it will then have an additional 25 delegates that will be awarded on the virtual caucus,” Price said Monday.

Another significant change will be to the process known as realignment. After attendees enter the caucus, they are asked to separate based on their top choices for president. Those candidates who do not reach a certain threshold, usually 15%, of the total number of caucus-goers at that location will be deemed nonviable and the Iowans who selected them will be given the chance to align with other candidates.

According to the new rules announced Monday, “only members of groups that are declared not viable shall be given sufficient time … to realign with a viable preference group or to realign with other members to form a viable preference group.”

Iowans, Price said, who initially aligned with candidates who were determined viable after the first count will not be allowed to realign under the new rules.

Price added that in a bid to be more transparent, the party will allow a clearer path to a recount and make raw vote totals more public.

The new plan lays out how candidates can call for a recount within 72 hours “if they feel that a recount will result in a change” of delegates, Price said, adding that the party will release caucus totals from both the first and second alignments.

The plan — titled the “Iowa Delegate Selection Plan” — is now open to a 30-day public comment before the party submits it to the state’s central committee and then the Democratic National Committee.

Price and other Iowa Democrats spoke with officials in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada about their changes, hoping to assuage concerns that Iowa was moving away from the caucus system in favor of a primary. Price said he and others had told these state officials, including New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, that they would remain a caucus system and believed that the changes would not merit subsequent changes to plans in the other states.

Price said Monday that Iowa Democrats had considered lowering the 15% threshold for candidate viability, but he added that once they looked at the math, a lower threshold would “break” the system and lead to “greater complication” in the caucus room.