A bill making its way through the legislature would give workers the right to ask for unpaid time off to attend the precinct caucuses held by Iowa’s two major political parties. But some lawmakers like Representative Mary Mascher are urging the two parties to go further and give Iowans the right to cast their presidential preferences by absentee ballot. "Many of us have been having discussions with our state party chair about how the Caucuses could and would be set up that would be less alienating," Mascher says. "There are many states that allow absentee voting and I think maybe that’s something that we should be looking at."
Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, supported Hillary Clinton in the January 3rd Iowa Caucuses and Mascher sides with Clinton’s contention that the Caucuses disenfranchised some voters because the Caucuses were held at a set time when some folks can’t get there. "We ought to have those discussions and at least identify where there are problems and what might be done to accommodate individuals who are struggling and not able to get there," Mascher says.
But Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, is among those who believe absentee voting would kill the Iowa Caucuses. "One of the reasons I think the Caucuses are worth preserving is because it allows citizens to come together for a brief amount of time, a couple of hours, in order to…restore a lost art, which is civil discourse," Danielson says.
Americans no longer have to leave their homes to do a wide variety of things, like watch a movie or shop, and Danielson argues that’s why it’s more important to preserve the Caucuses. "Those who would make recommendations that would in my view diminish the neighborhood value of a Caucus by either voting by mail or turning it into a primary process I would resist as an Iowan but also as somebody who thinks that that kind of a town hall meeting, an upper New England tradition if you will, is still important today and probably as important today as ever," Danielson says.
Iowa’s precinct caucuses are held every election year, but draw the most attention in the years when there’s a presidential contest. If Iowa were to conduct a primary, that would ensure Iowa’s presidential selection event is no longer first-in-the-nation as Iowa has been given the opening slot to hold a caucus.
A bill that would allow Iowa workers to get unpaid time off to go to the Iowa Caucuses has cleared the Senate and is under consideration in the House. It would allow managers to deny the request, however, if the employee’s time away would cause safety concerns or if the employee’s in a "critical position" and no one else could cover the shift.