Since the first Iowa Caucus in 1972, you’ve had to be present at your precinct meeting site to participate, but in 2016 the Iowa Democratic Party is creating an electronic precinct. Iowans who are living in another country as well as Iowa soldiers who are out of the state on military duty will be able to use their phone or Skype to participate. Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire says Tele-Caucus participants have until January 6 to register on the party’s website.
“We will confirm that these people are registered to vote in Iowa as a Democrat and if they are not, let them know they will need to register,” McGuire says. “A week before the Caucuses, verified participants will receive a PIN number…that they will need to use when they call into the Tele-caucus.”
The Tele-Caucus will start at 7 p.m. on Monday, February 1 — at the same time all the precinct meetings in Iowa will start.
“From that point on, the Tele-Caucus will run nearly identically to our precinct Caucuses,” McGuire says. “Participants will be able to align with a candidate or to an uncommitted group by pressing a number on their phone and there will also be a realignment process, much like a regular Caucus. At the end, two state delegates will be awarded.”
Ashleigh Bull is a Grinnell College student who will be leaving in January to study in Denmark.
“So when I found that I would be able to participate in the Caucuses, even though I would be studying abroad, I was absolutely ecstatic,” she says. “…I know many of my classmates will feel the same way.”
The Iowa Democratic Party is reaching out to students in study-abroad programs at other Iowa colleges and universities, to let them know they can Caucus electronically.
On Caucus Night, each precinct has a chairperson who runs meeting and Danny Homan, the vice chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, will be the chair of the Tele-Caucus. Homan has only missed one Caucus, back in 1972 when he was a military base in Missouri, preparing to go overseas.
“I’m certainly not the only Iowan over the years who have missed a caucus because he or she was serving out of state,” Homan says. “And it’s been a concern of the party throughout that time.”
Party officials don’t know how many people may dial in. The contractor hired to manage the event says the program can handle “tens of thousands” of participants. Earlier this year Iowa Democrats announced they would hold satellite caucuses in places like nursing homes and manufacturing plant break rooms. Potential caucus participants must file a petition with the party for such a meeting.
“We want as many people as possible to be able to participate in this Caucus,” McGuire says.
Iowa Republicans are not changing their Caucus Night rules. You must be present at your precinct meeting in order to participate in the GOP’s Caucuses.