October 1, 2014

Democrats consider allowing absentee voting in 2016 Iowa Caucuses

Leaders of the Iowa Democratic Party are opening a discussion about how absentee voting might be allowed during the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.

“At least starting a process to consider whether it’s even feasible to expand some access,” Iowa Democratic Party chairman Scott Brennan said during an interview with Radio Iowa.

Under the current rules, you must be present at your precinct on Caucus night in order to vote in the event which serves as the kick-off for the presidential nominating season. Critics say that disenfranchises Iowa soldiers who are on active duty and older Iowans who don’t want to venture out on a cold winter evening, plus Iowans who cannot get time off work to attend the Caucuses.

“Everything’s on the table to talk about,” Brennan said. “If there’s a way to enhance access and do it in a manner that keeps the spirit of the Iowa Caucuses and still lets peoples’ voices be heard, that’s what we want to do.”

Brennan has asked Norman Sterzenbach, the party’s former executive director, to conduct a “listening tour” to talk to “hundreds, if not thousands” of people about how absentee voting might be incorporated in the Caucuses.

“A major tenant in the Democratic Party has always been expanding access to voting to more and more groups of people and make it easier for more people to participate in the process,” Sterzenbach said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “But, at the same time, the spirit of our Caucuses is that neighborhood gathering that takes place on Caucus night and so the main purpose here is to to figure out if we can find a way to bridge those two things.”

Absentee voting in the Iowa Caucuses has been discussed in the past, but abandoned for several reasons. For one, Iowa Democrats don’t just cast a straw poll ballot at the beginning of the Caucuses like Iowa Republicans do to determine which presidential candidate wins. Democrats calculate how many delegates the candidates win and delegates are chosen based on a formula. A candidate who lacks at least 15 percent in each precinct are declared “non-viable” and his or her supporters in that precinct must cast their lot with another candidate in a second round of voting.  If someone casts an absentee ballot, they would not be present for that second round of voting.