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DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa voters won’t be bound by one date and time in the 2020 Democratic caucuses with a new virtual option to cast their votes over the phone.

This is a significant change to the traditional way of caucusing, is designed to open the caucuses to more people, especially evening shift-workers and people with disabilities, whom might otherwise be unable to participate in the process.

The Iowa Democratic Party is still in “phase one” and is determining technological details for the process. But the party said that voters will use some variation of telecommunication to call a number given to them by the state party. Once dialed in, the participant will enter a security login credential given during virtual caucus registration.

Callers will then be read a list of candidates, and they can rank up to 5 preferences. The results will be calculated after the last round virtual caucuses, and delegates will be apportioned at the Congressional District Level.

Only registered Democrats can participate, and they must be registered by Dec. 31, 2019. There will be six opportunities to participate, taking place on:

  1. Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020, 7:00pm
  2. Thursday, Jan 30, 2020, 12:00pm
  3. Friday, Jan 31, 2020, 7:30am
  4. Saturday, Feb 1, 2020, 10:00am
  5. Sunday, Feb 2, 2020, 2:00pm
  6. Monday, Feb 3, 2020, 7:00pm

The Democratic National Committee previously expressed concerns over security and technological capability, but Iowa Democrats said these kinks will be worked out in trial runs.

Former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, Andy McGuire, said they tested this “virtual caucus” after the 2016 election and it was successful.

“We were worried when we did that pilot, but we had no issues,” she said. “It was very safe. And if it weren’t, we wouldn’t be doing it.”

McGuire said she is excited the party is offering this as an option to increase accessibility. She said she

“I’m very excited,” she said. “As Democrats we wants as many people to come and give us their opinion and thoughts as possible. We want them to come and be apart of our party.”

Arthur Sanders, who is a distinguished professor of politics at Drake University, said this will help decrease the number of disenfranchised voters who couldn’t caucus due to conflicts. However, he said if more voters do virtual caucusing than traditional, it will weaken party building.

“Virtual caucuses will not be very good for party building, so a lot of people will want to attend the actual caucus for the party building aspect of it,”  he said.

McGuire also said she hopes voters who can attend will still choose to physically caucus.

“There’s a time when we sit down with our neighbors and discuss things and we wanted to keep as much as that as we could in the virtual caucus,” she said. “It won’t be quite the same, but it will certainly have that flavor and I wanna make sure we keep that flavor because I think that’s unique to Iowa and really good for Iowans.”

The Iowa Democrats said they have not run a pilot for this election yet, but plan to in the fall after selecting a technology vendor.

Sanders said he is sure there will be some hiccups here and there, as there usually is when new systems are tested.

“There will be technical problems, what they will be I don’t know.” he said. “Will some people do it incorrectly? Yes. Hopefully they’ll have a fail safe in there.”

The party said if there are issues, they will communicate with voters and hopefully fix things by the next round of virtual caucuses.