TIME 2016 Election

Iowa’s Democratic Caucuses Will Be More Accessible to Voters in 2016

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks on June 21, 2014, during the Iowa state Democratic Convention at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks on June 21, 2014, during the Iowa state Democratic Convention at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. The Washington Post/Getty Images

The rules are changing for the first-in-the-nation caucuses

The Iowa Democratic Caucuses will be more accessible to voters in 2016, the state party chairman announced Friday, but obstacles to including military voters remain.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan presented a five-step proposal to increase accessibility to the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, including hiring a caucus accessibility director and instituting “satellite caucuses” to make voting more convenient for shift workers. At a meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, Brennan also announced a proposal to create a state-wide military tele-caucus to allow those serving out of state or overseas to participate in the caucus.

But the Iowa party rejected calls to institute absentee ballot or proxies for the caucuses to enable military voter participation.

“Iowans did not want us to take any steps that would change what our caucuses are at their core – neighborhood gatherings of concerned and interested Iowans who want a say in the future of our country,” Brennan said. In 2008, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton complained that her third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses was partly the result of people who worked nights being unable to attend the evening caucuses.

A number of committee-members raised concerns with the proposal, questioning why the accessibility proposal couldn’t be expanded to other voters and the logistics of enabling as many as 1,500 Iowa Democrats living overseas to hold a discussion on a conference call.

“I’d certainly like to be a fly on the wall as they go ‘what!'” said Elaine Kamarck, a committee-member from Massachusetts who has written a book on presidential nominating processes, of the Iowa Party’s proposed meetings with the Department of Defense.

The Iowa Republican Party is similarly considering efforts to open its caucus up to military voters, and is likely to follow a course similar to the Democratic Party’s plan.

At Friday’s meeting, the Rules Committee approved an amendment to the national party rules to require states to include a description of its voter accessibility efforts in its convention delegate selection plan.

The Iowa Democratic Party proposals:

1. Time-Off to Caucus Legislation – The Iowa Democratic Party will work with the legislature and governor to pass legislation that will require employers to let non-essential workers take time off to attend their precinct caucus. This step gives working men and women greater flexibility to participate.

2. Caucus Accessibility Director – The Iowa Democratic Party will hire a Caucus Accessibility Director who will work directly with counties across the state to ensure that each caucus site is as accessible as possible, and to help implement the proposals outlined here.

3. Supervised Activities for Children – Many county parties already provide some form of activity for children during the caucuses, allowing parents with children to participate. The Iowa Democratic Party will work with our county parties to expand these opportunities at caucus sites so that Iowans with limited access to childcare can participate.

4. Satellite Caucuses – For those Iowa Democrats that cannot participate due to limitations of mobility, distance, or time, the Iowa Democratic Party will look to implement a satellite caucus system. This option would be available to a group of Democrats who demonstrate a need to add an additional caucus site. Those interested would have to meet certain yet-to-be-determined criteria, and petition the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee, which would have final approval.

5. Military Tele-Caucus – The Iowa Democratic Party will create a statewide precinct for Iowans serving in the military and conduct a tele-caucus with those who participate. This tele-caucus would be no different than a normal caucus. Participants would still break into preference groups and allow for realignment.

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