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DNC rules committee votes to nix tele-caucus in Nevada, Iowa over security concerns

Megan Messerly
Megan Messerly
Election 2020
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Democratic supporters cheer at the the Nevada Democratic Party election night event at Caesars Palace

The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted Friday to officially axe a proposal that would have allowed Democrats in Nevada to caucus by telephone.

The decision, which was overwhelmingly approved during a teleconference meeting of the committee, comes on the heels of a recommendation from the DNC last week that the committee reject tele-caucusing plans put forward by the Democratic parties in both Nevada and Iowa over concerns of the security of the available technology. The committee’s vote represents a significant setback for plans by Democrats nationally to expand participation in the presidential candidate selection process, with the tele-caucusing proposals from Nevada and Iowa a direct response to a new DNC rule requiring caucus states to offer absentee voting.

But the DNC, in a memo to the committee last week, concluded that there is no tele-caucus system that is “sufficiently secure and reliable” based on its review with security experts and in light of “active threats” against the U.S. election system and recommended that it reject the tele-caucus plans.

“We as the Democratic Party are the people who are fighting this because our presidential leadership and the majority leader of the Senate refuse to take any federal action, although we are being assisted by the Department of Homeland Security in this effort,” said Jim Roosevelt, co-chair of the committee, during the meeting. “We are fighting an effort to undermine confidence in the democratic system, and that's why we need to be cautious.”

Members of the committee thanked Nevada and Iowa for the steps they have taken to make their caucuses more inclusive and noted that the states had done nothing wrong in their attempt to carry out the DNC’s absentee voting requirement. But many of them said they ultimately could not support the establishment of virtual caucuses without more time and further vetting of the technology necessary to carry them out.

Roosevelt said he plans to work with DNC leadership after the election to develop a secure system for future elections. He noted that though the finer points of delegate selection plans are usually left up to the states, the problem of election security is “bigger than any one state’s problem.”

Artie Blanco, a DNC member from Nevada and member of the rules committee, expressed concerns over the existing technology but stressed her desire to see the technology implemented before the 2024 election.

“For us in Nevada, we’ve always been at the forefront of expanding our process,” said Blanco, who abstained from voting on the tele-caucus proposals. “So while I am concerned about the technology, I’m also looking to see how we continue to expand this process to allow for those who are homebound to participate in our process and looking at these technologies being developed for 2024 and beyond.”

The rest of Nevada’s delegate selection plan — which includes other major changes to the caucus process, such as offering presidential preference cards in Tagalog and in-person early caucusing — is in conditional compliance with the DNC, meaning that it could still require minor tweaks but no major changes. Committee leadership also indicated on the call that Nevada’s in-person early caucusing proposal likely satisfies DNC rules, meaning that the state would not need to be granted a waiver from the absentee voting requirement.

“In the case of Nevada, their plan submitted includes additional options already. It includes in-person early voting and at-large sites on caucus days, and the addition of in person early voting to Nevada’s process is already an expansion from what they did in 2016 and is clearly within the rules,” Roosevelt said.

Iowa — which can’t stray too far into holding a nominating contest that looks too much like a primary, lest they run afoul of New Hampshire's coveted first-in-the-nation primary status — is still considering its options to comply with the absentee requirement, and the committee is expected to meet again within the next 14 days to take action on a new proposal from the Hawkeye State. In the event that they are unable to, the state will likely be granted a waiver from the rule so as to not hold up the DNC process.

Party officials here chafed at the DNC’s recommendation last week to nix the virtual caucus, which comes six months after they released the details of their delegate selection plan and just six months before the state’s February 2020 caucus. Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Will McCurdy, in a statement Friday, called the DNC's decision not to move forward with the tele-caucus process "unfortunate" and emphasized the short amount of time in which the state party has to change its course.

"Despite this change with less than six months to go before our February caucus, NV Dems is committed to continuing engaging new Democrats, bringing more voices into this critically important process and hosting multiple options to participate in our caucus," McCurdy said.

"In June of 2018, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee passed a rule requiring state parties to provide voters with an absentee process in the primary process. In complying with this requirement, NV Dems published — in March of 2019 — a uniquely Nevada Delegate Selection Plan that reflects our voters and the communities we live in,” McCurdy said. "Unfortunately, the DNC has advised we not go forward with this process due to threats against our Democratic infrastructure and Republican inaction to prevent future attacks in the upcoming election cycle.”

Without the tele-caucusing option, caucusgoers in Nevada will still be able to participate in the presidential candidate selection process in one of three ways. They can either go to their assigned precinct or one of the at-large caucus sites on the Strip on Caucus Day, Feb. 22, to cast their presidential preference or, under the new early caucus proposal, they can cast their presidential preferences in person at select sites Saturday through Tuesday before the caucus.

The party has yet to announce where the early voting sites will be, though officials have said the list will likely include the most popular locations in the primary and general elections, such as the Galleria at Sunset, Centennial Center and Cardenas Market in East Las Vegas.

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