Leading Iowa Democrats say changes in how their precinct caucuses are run will make participation in the nation’s first presidential nominating caucuses more open in 2020 than it was in 2016, when confusion existed over how caucus night delegates supporting Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were selected.

The Democratic National Committee has recommended that states like Iowa give party members who cannot attend a caucus in person the chance of voting by absentee ballot, that the state party release raw vote totals for the first effort to form viable groups for candidates, and that caucus night results do not get changed later.

Iowa’s Democratic Party is holding listening sessions around the state to gather input and present to the national party a plan for running its 2020 presidential precinct caucuses.

“We want to make sure that it is easier for people to participate,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in an IowaWatch Connection radio report that aired this past weekend.

“I’m very confident that we’re going to see a very robust caucus in 2020 and its going to be far more inclusive everywhere. And, that excites me because I think that’s good for Democrats and it’s good for democracy.”

Iowa’s Democratic presidential precinct caucuses came under fire in 2016 because how close Clinton and Sanders support was but also because of rules the party uses to settle ties when meeting in a room to amass a viable group of caucus-goers supporting candidates. The rule attracting much of the nation’s attention was the use of a coin flip to break the tie.

Iowa fights after each election cycle to keep its first-in-the-nation status for presidential precinct caucuses and does so in conjunction with New Hampshire, which fights to preserve its first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

However, former Iowa Democratic Party chairman Dave Nagel said the national proposals put Iowa at potential odds with New Hampshire because Iowa cannot be seen threatening New Hampshire’s status by voting. Nagel suggested, for example, that Iowa release raw totals but after New Hampshire’s primary as a way to avoid conflict with the Granite State.

New Hampshire’s presidential primaries are run by the state. Iowa’s caucuses are run by the political parties, to select delegates who will support candidates at county conventions. In the Democratic Party, those delegates are selected by personally caucusing on a designated night in groups that support a particular presidential nominee. Republicans have a straw poll to gauge support for its presidential nominees.

Republicans at a Des Moines precinct caucus count votes in the preference poll Monday night, Feb. 1, 2016. Credit: Brittany Robb/IowaWatch file photo

Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said his party joins forces with Democrats when pushing to keep Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct status and that he was rooting for Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price to succeed in keeping that party’s caucuses ahead of others.

Having the first caucuses brings to Iowa attention, and income in the form of advertising, lodging, food and other goods and services used by political campaigns. Republicans have fewer worries than Democrats for 2020, Kauffman said, because President Trump is keeping a pledge to maintain Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus status in the GOP’s nomination process.

“Now, Troy Price and I, the Democratic Party chair and I, have to make sure that we run our caucuses run smoothly. We have the national glare on us,” Kauffman said. “We must have a strong relationship between the two parties.”

Price said Iowa Democrats are in listening posts until spring. He said he is keeping Democrats and state election officials in New Hampshire up to date on what Iowa is planning for 2020.

“We will continue to work with them and make sure that, you know, as we’re going through this process, we keep them up to date and, you know, if there are any land mines or challenges that might be further down the road that we’re not seeing, make sure that we’re keeping folks in the loop on that.”

Reporting from Jeff Stein interviews. Additional background and writing from Lyle Muller.


This IowaWatch story was republished by InDepthNH under IowaWatch’s mission of sharing stories with media partners.

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