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FILE PHOTO: Voters gather to caucus at the Republican caucus at the 7 Flags Event Center in Clive, Iowa February 1, 2016. ...

DNC to recommend scrapping virtual caucus plans in Iowa and Nevada

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Democratic National Committee will recommend scrapping state plans to offer virtual, telephone-based caucuses in 2020 due to security concerns, sources tell The Associated Press.

The final choice whether to allow virtual caucuses in Iowa and Nevada is up to the party’s powerful Rules and Bylaws Committee. But opposition from DNC’s executive and staff leadership makes it highly unlikely the committee would keep the virtual caucuses, leaving two key early voting states and the national party a short time to fashion an alternative before the February caucuses.

The state parties had planned to allow some voters to cast caucus votes over the telephone in February 2020 instead of showing up at traditional caucus meetings.

Iowa and Nevada created the virtual option to meet a DNC mandate that states open caucuses to more people, but two sources with knowledge of party leaders’ deliberations say there are concerns that the technology used for virtual caucuses could be subject to hacking.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose internal party discussions.

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DNC leaders are particularly sensitive to hacking concerns after the party was hacked by Russian operatives during the 2016 election cycle. One Democrat familiar with deliberations added that several presidential campaign representatives also had expressed concerns about hacking and whether the public would trust results.

Iowa and Nevada’s Democratic Parties announced in July that they would allow voters to cast their caucus votes over the telephone in February 2020 instead of showing up at the traditional neighborhood caucus meetings. They were trying to meet a national party mandate to widen participation in the caucuses, especially evening shift-workers and people with disabilities, whom critics of the caucuses have long said are blocked from the process.

National party leaders, including Chairman Tom Perez, have praised state parties for their efforts to work to expand participation. But rolling out a new voting system ran the risk of potential confusion and technical troubles. The state parties said they planned to work with DNC security experts to develop and test their tele-caucus systems this fall.

Both state parties would have required Democrats to register online in advance of their virtual caucus and verify their identity with a “multi-factor authentication.” Voters would receive a PIN that they would have to enter when they call in to participate.

Iowans would have had six times to participate by phone, whereas Nevada would have offered two days of telephone-based voting.

The wrangle comes months into the process of the DNC considering delegate selection plans from all 50 states and seven territories. But it’s the virtual caucuses in Iowa and Nevada that have gotten the most scrutiny because of their high-profile status as early voting states and the national party’s command that caucus states do everything they can to expand participation.

The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee gave conditional approval to the plans in June, but has withheld final approval, and there was a closed session of the committee last week in San Francisco at the DNC’s summer meeting during which some concerns were aired.

“There was, at least by my perception, a lot of uncertainty both from the standpoint of the Iowa officials and the standpoint of some of the technical people at the DNC that Iowa’s proposal did not offer appropriate and sufficient protection from hacking and other disruptions and other attempts to affect the outcome,” said Don Fowler, a member of the committee and former national party chairman under President Bill Clinton.

Jim Roosevelt, the Rules and Bylaws Committee Chairman, confirmed to The Associated Press that there are security concerns about the virtual caucus proposals. But he stopped short of saying that there’s no way Iowa or Nevada will be able to allow some kind of remote participation, even if it’s not what the states have submitted at this point.

The question, though, is whether the states could overhaul their proposals and have the DNC approve them in any kind of a reasonable time frame to explain the process to voters and allow the campaigns to prepare their turnout strategies.

Roosevelt said he expects “in the next 24 to 48 hours” to schedule a telephone meeting of his committee to take the next official steps, and the meeting could take place a week later under party rules.

Price reported from Las Vegas. Barrow reported from Greenville, South Carolina.

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