DNC Recommends Nixing Virtual Caucuses in Iowa, Nevada

(Bloomberg) -- Iowa and Nevada scrapped plans to add a virtual component to their presidential nominating caucuses, setting off a fresh round of complaints about the states’ reliance on in-person meetings to select presidential candidates.

The move came Friday after the Democratic National Committee made clear it wouldn’t approve proposals by the two states for what would have amounted to voting by teleconference amid concerns about security. The fear of breaches is heightened by the party’s painful experience in 2016, when DNC email accounts were hacked as part of a Russian election interference effort, and the threats of similar attacks in 2020 by foreign actors.

“There is no tele-caucus system available that meets our standard of security and reliability given the scale needed for the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the current cybersecurity climate,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez and the co-chairs of the DNC’s Rules and By-Laws Committee said after its security experts examined the states’ proposals and weighed broader cyber threats.

Iowa and Nevada are first and third on the 2020 calendar, giving them a central role in sorting the field of contenders. The attempt to add remote participation to the caucus system -- which traditionally requires voters to show up at a specific place and time, sometimes for long periods -- was partly in response to DNC demands that states make their processes more accessible to people with busy work schedules, disabilities or any other obstacle to participating.

Several states have jettisoned caucuses for primaries, but officials in Iowa and Nevada have defended their system by arguing it forces candidates to campaign in rural areas in addition to more densely populated regions.

Next Steps

Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price declined to speculate on how he’d work to make the Iowa caucus more accessible.

“We just don’t know yet,” he said at a press conference Friday in Des Moines. “I am confident we will find something.”

Perez and the rules committee chairs are recommending that the panel grant Iowa and Nevada a waiver from its rule on accessibility. The committee has seven days to hold a vote.

The DNC’s Rules and By-Laws committee raised concerns at a meeting last week in San Francisco that the virtual caucus wouldn’t be secure. Experts convened by the committee were able to hack into a teleconference system, though it wasn’t identical to the one the states planned to use in February. State party officials objected, saying the experts only found vulnerabilities and the systems used by the state parties were still being built and tested.

The DNC is particularly sensitive to concerns about hacking after Russians hacked internal emails that were published during the 2016 campaign, revealing that it favored eventual nominee Hillary Clinton over primary challenger Bernie Sanders, now a leading contender in the 2020 race.

Lack of Security

The DNC’s security chief, Bob Lord, and Chief Technology Officer Nellwyn Thomas said in a memo dated Friday that they had concluded “there is no tele-caucus system available that is sufficiently secure and reliable, given the magnitude and timing of the Iowa and Nevada caucuses this cycle.”

The Nevada Democratic Party “has long been committed to expanding access to the caucus process,” Chairman William McCurdy II said in a statement, pointing to the creation of caucus sites at workplaces and in-person early voting on the Las Vegas Strip.

Julian Castro was the first presidential hopeful to weigh in on the DNC’s announcement, calling it a “decision to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, and decrease turnout by up to a third, in the first-in-the-nation caucus state” that amounts to “an affront to the principles of democracy.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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