rock the vote keyboard

An Iowa Caucus Via the Internet?

Democrats are mulling using online voting to expand participation in the 2016 caucuses.

rock the vote keyboard

Iowa Democrats are mulling the idea of permitting online voting as a way to boost voter participation in their next presidential caucuses. 

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Iowa Democrats are mulling a slate of ways to boost participation in their next presidential caucuses, including permitting Internet voting, a controversial method that would mark the first time in history the web is utilized to cast an official ballot preference for president.

Hawkeye State Democrats are in the midst of surveying how to most effectively expand access to those who would like to participate in the unique caucus process, but cannot due to residency or military service overseas or age or physical restrictions that keep them in hospitals and nursing homes. It could also enfranchise participation among blue-collar workers who have shifts during the evening hours when caucuses are held.

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Scott Brennan, Chairman, Iowa Democratic Party, speaks at the Farmer's Union summit in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan floated the loose proposal during Friday’s Democratic National Committee rules meeting at a hotel near Capitol Hill in Washington. He said the state party has conducted hundreds of informal conversations and 50 formal interviews on the topic and will next attempt to measure wider appetite for such a significant change and study how to put it to work in practice. One option: Creating an additional at-large precinct for all of those who can’t show up in person.

“Everything’s on the table,” said Brennan.

Traditionally, caucuses are multiple hour affairs conducted in churches, schools and homes where neighbors make a public case for their candidate of choice and try to persuade others to join their camp. Allowing those to participate without having to show up in person could change the spirit of a caucus, which is a more collaborative, interactive and public process than a primary, in which voters simply cast private ballots.

The DNC first allowed the Internet as a method of voting in 2008, but there’s no knowledge of a state using the option, according to a party spokeswoman.

A co-chair of the committee noted that the DNC would likely need to amend the existing rule to permit caucus states to exercise the Internet option. Currently the existing rule only applies to party-run state primaries.

“I didn’t even know the damn thing was there,” remarked DNC committeeman Harold Ickes about the Internet option. The remark prompted laughter in the ballroom, but the implications of online voting would be serious.

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Risks include the potential for hacking and fraud, in addition to the inevitable technical hurdles and snafus. A close contest decided by a few hundred or thousand votes could further complicate certifying the result. How to decide who exactly is allowed to participate via the web could also become a cumbersome process.

Elaine Kamarck, a DNC member from Massachusetts, expressed doubts about allowing select caucusgoers to simply point and click.

“I can’t quite see how Internet voting is going to apply to a traditional caucus state,” Kamarck said.

When the Iowa caucuses occur, “it’ll be 3 a.m. in Afghanistan,” she added, laying out a possible logistical pitfall.

Brennan said Iowa Democrats would reach a final decision on the issue by this fall, but Kamarck pressed for clarity as soon as possible.

“We need to deal with it sooner rather than later,” she said.