DNC to Recommend Scrapping Virtual Caucus Plans

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Democratic National Committee will recommend scrapping state plans to offer virtual, telephone-based caucuses in 2020 due to security concerns, sources tell The Associated Press.

The final choice whether to allow virtual caucuses in Iowa and Nevada is up to the party’s powerful Rules and Bylaws Committee. But opposition from DNC executives and staff makes it highly unlikely the committee would keep the virtual caucuses, leaving two key early voting states and the national party a short time to fashion an alternative before the February caucuses.

The state parties had planned to allow some voters to cast caucus votes by telephone in February 2020 instead of showing up at traditional caucus meetings.

Iowa and Nevada created the virtual option to meet a DNC mandate that states open caucuses to more people, but two sources with knowledge of party leaders’ deliberations say there are concerns that the technology used for virtual caucuses could be subject to hacking.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose internal party discussions.

DNC leaders are particularly sensitive to hacking concerns after the party was hacked by Russian operatives during the 2016 election cycle. One Democrat familiar with deliberations said that several presidential campaign representatives expressed concerns about hacking and whether the public would trust results.

Iowa and Nevada’s Democratic Parties announced in July that they would allow voters to cast caucus votes by telephone in February 2020 instead of showing up at traditional neighborhood caucus meetings. They were trying to meet a national party mandate to increase participation in the caucuses, especially evening shift workers and people with disabilities, whom critics of the caucuses have long said are blocked from the process.

National party leaders, including Chairman Tom Perez, have praised state parties for their efforts to work to expand participation. But rolling out a new voting system ran the risk of confusion and technical troubles. The state parties said they planned to work with DNC security experts to develop and test their tele-caucus systems this fall.

Both state parties would have required Democrats to register online before their virtual caucus and verify their identity with “multifactor authentication.” Voters would receive a PIN they would have to enter when they call in to participate.

Iowans would have had six times to participate by phone; Nevada would have offered two days of telephone-based voting.

The wrangle comes months into the process of the DNC’s considering delegate selection plans from all 50 states and seven territories. But it’s the virtual caucuses in Iowa and Nevada that have received the most scrutiny because of their high-profile status as early voting states and the national party’s command that caucus states do everything they can to expand participation.

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee gave conditional approval to the plans in June, but withheld final approval, and there was a closed session of the committee last week in San Francisco at the DNC summer meeting during which concerns were aired.

“There was, at least by my perception, a lot of uncertainty, both from the standpoint of the Iowa officials and the standpoint of some of the technical people at the DNC that Iowa’s proposal did not offer appropriate and sufficient protection from hacking and other disruptions and other attempts to affect the outcome,” said Don Fowler, a member of the committee and former national party chairman under President Bill Clinton.

Jim Roosevelt, the Rules and Bylaws Committee Chairman, confirmed to The Associated Press that there are security concerns about the virtual caucus proposals. But he stopped short of saying there’s no way Iowa or Nevada will be able to allow some kind of remote participation, even if it’s not what the states have submitted so far.

The question is whether the states could overhaul their proposals and have the DNC approve them in a reasonable time frame to explain the process to voters and allow the campaigns to prepare their turnout strategies.

Roosevelt said he expects “in the next 24 to 48 hours” to schedule a telephone meeting of his committee to take the next official steps, and the meeting could take place a week later under party rules.

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