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DNC to recommend rejecting Nevada Democrats’ tele-caucusing proposal; overall caucus plan not in jeopardy

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

The Democratic National Committee recommended on Friday rejecting Nevada’s proposal to allow tele-caucusing because of security concerns, but the state party’s overall plan is not expected to be in jeopardy because it allows four days of in-person early caucusing.

The DNC, in a memo to members of the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, concluded that there is no tele-caucus system that is “sufficiently secure and reliable” to carry out the caucuses in Nevada and Iowa based on its review of the virtual caucus process in consultation with security experts and in light of “active threats” against the U.S. election system.

The Nevada State Democratic Party’s proposal to offer in-person early caucusing, which is expected to parallel the existing process for voters during the primary and general elections in Nevada, likely meets a requirement set by the DNC to allow absentee voting, a Democratic official told The Nevada Independent. Iowa did not include early caucusing as part of its proposal to the national party, but DNC leaders said in a statement recommended that any state unable to comply with the absentee requirement be granted a waiver from it.

“The Iowa and Nevada state parties have worked diligently in their efforts to expand access to their caucuses and meet the Rules and Bylaws Committee’s new requirements,” DNC Chair Tom Perez and Rules and Bylaws Committee Co-Chairs Lorraine Miller and Jim Roosevelt said in a joint statement. “We applaud their innovative work and are grateful for their ongoing, patient cooperation with the committee.”

The final decision on whether to reject virtual caucusing is up to the Rules and Bylaws Committee. The state’s delegate selection plans must be approved by the DNC by Sept. 13.

The AP and Des Moines Register first reported the DNC’s recommendation to nix the virtual caucuses, but framed the move as throwing Nevada’s and, more so, Iowa’s caucuses in jeopardy. Because New Hampshire holds the nation’s first primary — and its secretary of state is allowed by law to change its primary date so it is at least a week before any other state’s primary — Iowa must hold an early nominating contest that looks more like a caucus than a primary in order to keep its first in the nation spot.

National party officials shared with members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee last week that they had informed state parties on a recent conference call a vulnerability detected by a security expert on the website of a potential caucus vendor, according to CBS News.

Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Will McCurdy, in a statement, emphasized that the state party’s decision to propose a virtual caucus was directly in response to the DNC’s rule requiring absentee voting and blamed Republican inaction for the lack of security in the electoral process.

State party officials in Nevada have touted the upcoming caucuses as the most inclusive ever in state history with the proposed two days of tele-caucusing and four days of in-person early voting. The changes, they said, aimed at addressing long-standing concerns from participants who had struggled to take off work or faced lengthy waits to participate in the caucus in person on the appointed day. 

The party has also long offered other inclusive elements to its caucus, including offering at-large precincts on the Strip to allow casino workers to more easily caucus without returning home. They also plan to offer presidential preference cards in three languages this year: English, Spanish and Tagalog.

“The Nevada Democratic Party has long been committed to expanding access to the caucus process — including pioneering workplace caucus sites,” McCurdy said. “This cycle, we engaged even further by introducing early caucus voting. NV Dems will still host four days of in-person early voting and caucus sites on the Las Vegas Strip to provide Nevada Democrats additional opportunities to participate in an important process that will have lasting effects on our country."

Some Democratic presidential hopefuls came out swinging against the DNC’s recommendation on Friday. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said that the decision would “disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters” and accused the party of “feet-dragging,” while billionaire Tom Steyer called on the DNC to reconsider its decision and even hinted that it should be viewed as voter suppression. 

“I am extremely disappointed in the DNC’s decision to reject plans to hold virtual caucuses, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with Iowans and Nevadans who want their votes to be counted in such an important election,” Steyer said. “Democrats should rally behind ideas that increase voter participation, not suppress them.”

Under the party’s plan, caucusgoers in Nevada are slated to be able to cast in-person ballots Saturday through Tuesday before the Feb. 22 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, including malls and shopping centers, such as the Galleria at Sunset and Centennial Center, and grocery stores, including Cardenas Market in East Las Vegas. 

The fated virtual caucus proposal had proposed also allowing caucusgoers to dial-in during set hours over two days in mid-February to cast their presidential preferences by phone. Participants were to be guided through the process by an automated moderator, with the ability to either verbalize their choices or press a button to select their preferred candidate.

Many of the details of the virtual caucus process had yet to be ironed out. The party had, for instance, selected the Democratic consulting firm Stones’ Phones as its vendor for the tele-caucus interface but were still working to determine a vendor for tabulating the results. The party also had yet to announce exactly how many presidential preferences participants would have been able to rank, something necessary in the event that their first choice candidate doesn’t have enough votes to be considered viable.

Other changes in the party’s delegate selection plan submitted to the DNC have nothing to do with virtual or early caucusing, including locking in the apportionment of the state’s pledged delegates to the national convention based on the caucus level results. That change is aimed at preventing campaigns from attempting to reverse the results of the caucus at the county and state convention level as in 2016.

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