Why Caucuses Keep Iowa as First in the Nation

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DES MOINES, Iowa — After months of work to expand participation in the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic National Committee rejected the proposal of a virtual caucus, saying it would be too easy to hack.

Julián Castro is one of several presidential candidates upset over the announcement.

“I believe that the DNC needs to get its act together so that it doesn’t disenfranchise tens of thousands of Iowans who would participate in the caucuses,” said Castro.

That was the goal with the virtual caucus. “We want a process that is accessible,” said Iowa Democratic Chairman Troy Price.

So does the DNC. It mandated that caucus states find alternative ways for people to vote if they cannot physically be there.

“One of the biggest criticisms is you have to have the time to show up to a particular place and time sometimes for several hours,” said Kelly Winfrey, a political professor at Iowa State University.

Critics say this prevents people from voting. But in turn, absentee voting would also take away a key function of Iowa’s tradition of party building.

While Iowa Democrats are left to figure out an alternative, some are asking why Iowa can`t just switch to a primary.

“It’s unlikely Iowa would move to a primary because it would put in jeopardy first-in-the-nation status. New Hampshire state law says they have to be first in primaries,” said Winfrey.

Changing the caucuses could also be costly for lesser-known candidates. During a caucus, voters select their first, second and third choices. In a primary, voters only have one option.

“There’s an opportunity for candidates who aren`t big national names to get a foot in the door that a primary system doesn`t allow the same option,” said Winfrey.

It is a complicated system with complicated solutions.

“The challenge is finding a balance between a caucus that includes everyone who wants to participate and one that works and maintains first-in-the-nation status,” said Winfrey.

“We are going to move forward to see what we can do. We have five months left. We are still committed to making sure that this process is as accessible as possible,” said Price.

While a caucus appears to be Iowa’s only option, many other states are shifting away from it. Since the 2016 election, six states have scrapped their caucuses in favor of primaries, instead.


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