For Immediate Release:
August 1, 2014

Christina Freundlich

Iowa Democratic Party Announces Proposals to Expand Caucus Participation

WASHINGTON – Iowa Democratic Party Chair Scott Brennan announced today the new proposals to expand participation in the Iowa Democratic Precinct Caucuses.  The proposals represent the latest step in a process begun earlier this year to examine the caucus process and determine what steps can be taken to give more people access to Iowa’s First in the Nation Presidential Caucus.

“The Iowa Caucuses are democracy in its purest form, and the ideas outlined will help make this great process even better,” said IDP Chair Brennan.  “We have engaged in an open and honest discussion with a wide cross-section of our grassroots and our Democratic leaders and activists, and these recommendations come directly from what we heard in more than 150 conversations.  I am proud to say that these proposals will create new opportunities for Iowans to participate, while ensuring the Iowa Caucuses will continue to be a neighborhood gathering where friends, neighbors and loved ones come together to have an open and honest discussion about the direction of our country.”

Below are the recommendations of the Iowa Democratic Party to expand participation in the Iowa Caucuses:

1.    Time-Off to Caucus Legislation – The Iowa Democratic Party will work with the legislature and Governor to pass legislation that will require employers to let non-essential workers take time off to attend their precinct caucus.  This step gives working men and women greater flexibility to participate.

2.    Caucus Accessibility Director – The Iowa Democratic Party will hire a Caucus Accessibility Director who will work directly with counties across the state to ensure that each caucus site is as accessible as possible, and to help implement the proposals outlined here.

3.    Supervised Activities for Children – Many county parties already provide some form of activity for children during the caucuses, allowing parents with children to participate. The Iowa Democratic Party will work with our county parties to expand these opportunities at caucus sites so that Iowans with limited access to childcare can participate.

4.    Satellite Caucuses – For those Iowa Democrats that cannot participate due to limitations of mobility, distance, or time, the Iowa Democratic Party will look to implement a satellite caucus system.  This option would be available to a group of Democrats who demonstrate a need to add an additional caucus site.  Those interested would have to meet certain yet-to-be-determined criteria, and petition the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee, which would have final approval.

5.    Military Tele-Caucus – The Iowa Democratic Party will create a statewide precinct for Iowans serving in the military and conduct a tele-caucus with those who participate.  This tele-caucus would be no different than a normal caucus.  Participants would still break into preference groups and allow for realignment.

These proposals were presented today during the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting, which is currently looking at rules guiding the 2016 presidential selection process. 

The IDP plans to build upon this framework to create concrete proposals that will be included in the IDP’s Delegate Selection Plan that will be presented to the DNC next year.

Below are Chairman Brennan’s Remarks as Prepared for Delivery:

Good Morning.

Thank you Chairs Miller and Roosevelt for giving me the opportunity to address this committee regarding the extensive work we have been doing in Iowa to propose expanding participation in the Iowa caucuses.  And, I would like to thank the members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee for their patience and support as we have embarked on this effort.

As many of you know, Iowans look at our caucuses as sacred events.  It doesn’t matter what your political persuasion, Iowans have always treated our caucuses with respect and there is nothing that we take more serious politically than our role in the presidential selection process.

That is why embarking on this work to examine ways we can expand participation in the caucuses was not a decision that we made lightly.  But, we recognize that the very nature of caucuses may prevent some Iowans from participating, and if there is a way that we remove some of these barriers and uphold our party’s long, proud tradition of expanding the franchise, then we should do it.

And so, since our last meeting, we have been hard at work.

We have had more than 150 conversations with individuals and groups of Iowans statewide.  We have talked with activists, former precinct chairs, county chairs, and just regular caucus goers.  We met with campaign operatives from previous presidential campaigns – both in state and throughout the country.  We talked with working men and women.  We have talked with young Iowans, and retired Iowans.  We have talked with representatives of many outside organizations.  We talked to journalists. 

We have also talked with members of this esteemed committee – including Artie Blanco of Nevada who traveled to Iowa for some of these conversations.  We even talked to Republicans.  All to ensure that we got the largest cross-section of views on ways we can expand participation.

And, while we heard a lot of different ideas, I can tell you that there is one thing we heard from everyone – The Iowa Caucuses work, and work well.

In 2008, nearly 240,000 Iowans participated in the Democratic Precinct Caucuses. This is more people than who typically participate in a highly contested Democratic primary – 100,000 people more.  2008 demonstrated just how strong our caucuses are.  Even with such a high number of people participating, our plans to train and educate Iowans on our process, as well as the infrastructure we built, was able to quickly and efficiently determine the results without challenge.

But what’s more, our caucuses are really the root of Democratic strength in Iowa.  Every four years, Iowans gather in schools, churches, courthouses, and even peoples homes to come and discuss the future of our country.  Our great senator Tom Harkin has said that if it wasn’t for the organizing of the Iowa Caucuses, he never would have been elected to the US Senate.  Democrats and Republicans for decades have pointed to the organization that happens as a result of the caucuses for their success.  The caucuses have made our party into what it is today, and there is no doubt that the strength of Democrats in Iowa is a direct result of the work that happens through the Iowa Caucuses.

Iowans did not want us to take any steps that would change what our caucuses are at their core – neighborhood gatherings of concerned and interested Iowans who want a say in the future of our country.

Hearing that, we engaged in an open and honest dialogue.  People recognized that there may be some steps we can take to bring new people into the process.  And throughout the hundreds of hours of conversation, we discussed many ideas, such as:

1.    Iowans were intrigued by expanded use of technology – would a Skype or Facetime-type system work?  After talking through the pros and cons – we determined that doing something like this just simply wouldn’t work.  One, we could not ensure adequate security for caucusgoers – was the person on the screen truly who they said they were; and two, while Iowa has made tremendous strides, the lack of strong broadband access in rural Iowa simply prohibits us from exploring such a system.  It is our hope that as broadband continues to reach new parts of the state that we may be able to look at this again in the future.

2.    We were very intrigued by the ideas of proxies, and spent considerable time exploring this idea.  We liked the idea that this would be a simple way to expand participation by allowing someone who was going to attend to carry a proxy for someone who couldn’t.  But, as we discussed it further, we quickly saw flaws in this idea.  1) Proxies create super caucus goers - one persons vote would be worth more than another persons vote.  We felt that this idea took away from the very democratic nature of our caucuses.  2) We could not ensure the security surrounding these issues.  We determined that challenges would exist around proving that the proxy a person carried was gathered legitimately.  We also feared that some folks may choose to give their proxy to one person, but then participate in the Republican caucuses.  We felt that the risks surrounding proxies greatly outweighed the benefits, and passed on this idea.

3.    We also explored the idea of having multiple caucuses throughout the day.  We liked the idea of giving folks a few different options to participate.  But again, we could not ensure that people did not choose to participate in our caucus, but then try to participate in the Republican caucuses later in the day.  The reward did not outweigh the risk.

4.    Finally, we looked at the idea of absentee ballots.  While this would be an easy way to record someone’s preference on caucus night, we discovered some significant flaws.  1) the logistical challenges of using these ballots would be difficult in the room on caucus night.  2) these ballots take someone away from participating in the room, and erodes the sense of community that makes our caucuses so special.  As a result, we ultimately decided not to go forward with this idea.

So, while we rejected some ideas, we did discover some unique ideas that together represent a framework for greater participation in the caucus process.  We intend to:

1.    Work with the state legislature and the Governor to pass legislation that will require employers to let non-essential workers take time off to attend their precinct caucus.  This will give shift workers and others greater flexibility to attend and make their voices heard.

2.    Hire a caucus accessibility director.  The Iowa Caucus is not just one event, but in fact nearly 1700 events statewide, each one of which is planned by the county party – with of course guidance and support from the state party.  The Caucus Accessibility Director will work directly with the counties to ensure that each of their sites are as accessible as possible, including ADA compliant or located in a location that is easy for the public to attend.  In addition, this position will help implement the following ideas.

3.    We know that child care issues can be a hindrance to participation for some.  That is why we will work with our county parties to expand supervised activities for children at caucus sites.  Many of our counties already do this.  This is a best practice that we would like to see throughout the state.  We know that this can be a logistical challenge, and that is why our Caucus Accessibility Director will work with the counties to develop these programs.

4.    We want to explore the possibility of creating satellite caucus sites throughout the state. 

For those Iowa Democrats that cannot participate due to either limitations of mobility, distance, or time, we would like to try and bring the caucuses to them.  These sites would be regulated by the state party. 

Democrats who are interested in having a satellite caucus site would petition the State Central Committee, and have to meet certain requirements, such as: 1) would this site be open and accessible, 2) does the site manager approve, 3) is there a high density of potential democratic caucus goers, etc.

To give you an example, if a large number of Democrats at a factory in Waterloo would be interested in having a caucus at their facility, they would petition the Iowa Democratic Party, and if they meet some yet to be determined criteria, the party could then approve a site at that location.

We believe that this step would eliminate some of the barriers to participation for some, and allow shift workers, those in care facilities, and others a chance to participate.

5.    Finally, there is another group that we believe should have the chance to participate– our men and women in uniform.  Because those who fight for our country should have their voices heard in our process.

We debated many ideas.  We looked at preference cards.  We looked at using technology to bring them into the caucus sites themselves.  But in the end, we decided that the way to expand participation to this group is in fact one of the simplest – we will hold a statewide Telecaucus.

This telecaucus would be open only to those who are in the military.  Our current thoughts are that this would be one statewide precinct for military personnel.  This telecaucus would be no different than a normal caucus.  We would have speeches from representatives of different campaigns, people would be able to form preference groups, and if a group is unviable, would be able to realign.

We have a lot of details to figure out on this proposal, but would work to make sure that proper security procedures are put in place to protect the integrity of the process, such as a pre-registration and pre-screening process.

The one caveat to this is that our plan would have to work within any parameters set by the Department of Defense, and subject to their approval.  Those are conversations that we will begin immediately.

These five ideas are what we believe will help us achieve our goal of expanded participation while preserving the very things that make our caucus process so unique to Iowa.

Now, I want to be clear, these steps will not ensure that everyone can participate. But, it does move us closer towards the goal of expanding participation.
Going forward, our plan is to continue to expand upon these ideas and turn them into concrete proposals.  You will see these proposals in our Delegate Selection Plan early next year.

In closing, I want to say this. 

For anyone who has questions about the Iowa Caucuses -  come to Iowa and see the caucuses for yourself.  The Iowa Caucuses have never held themselves out to be a primary.  No, they are a gathering of friends and neighbors, loved ones, the man you see in the grocery store or the woman you see at the bank.  These meetings are one of the few places in this country where it doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, you can come and have an open and honest discussion about the direction of our country and who you think is the best person to lead for the next four years.  The Iowa Caucuses are democracy in its purest form, and these ideas I outlined today will help make this great process even better.

Thank you again for giving me this opportunity today.


RPI statement on IDP caucus proposals

DES MOINES—Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff Kaufmann released the following statement today in response to the Iowa Democratic Party proposals to the Democratic National Committee today on changes to the Iowa caucuses.

“I recently had a productive phone conversation with Iowa Democratic Party chairman Scott Brennan,” Kaufmann said. “We agreed that there will be strong, bipartisan cooperation to do anything it takes to protect Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses.”

“Chairman Brennan and I have agreed to sit down as soon as possible this month to have in-depth, face-to-face conversations about the Democrats’ proposals and Republican ideas to strengthen the caucuses. In the spirit of good faith negotiations, I will withhold any specific comments on the Iowa Democrats’ proposals on the caucuses,” Kaufmann said.