Changes Possible for Iowa Democratic Caucus

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Iowa's first in the nation presidential caucus could have a much different look in 2020, and it could be because of controversy and lingering bad feelings due to what happened in 2016.

Hillary Clinton barely beat Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses in 2016, but because the Iowa Democratic party doesn't make public the actual vote totals, it faced criticism from some Sanders supporters who questioned the results. Emails from the Democratic National Committee also led some to believe the party was biased toward Clinton.

Now, a group is working to make changes in the overall process. The proposed changes would allow people to vote via absentee ballot, and after that all the raw numbers would be reported to the public.

"If you have to work a shift that night, if you are sick, if you are a caregiver, if you are housebound because of a disability, if you don't drive at night, if you don't have access to transportation you can't participate in the Iowa Democratic party's caucus, essentially. There is a very limited satellite option that they just introduced, only a couple hundred people participated in that,” Bleeding Heartland political blogger Laura Belin said.

A Democratic National Committee Panel called the Unity Reform Commission wants to get rid of the in-person voting rule in hopes of increasing voter participation. The committee is also pushing for transparency in the nominating process. As it stands now, caucus results are expressed in the number of delegates each candidate would send to the party’s state convention, not the actual number of votes.

These are changes Belin looks forward to.

“The biggest change would be that the Iowa Democratic caucuses right now do not release the total number of people who showed up to stand for their favored candidates. So you don’t know how many people came to caucus for Hillary Clinton and how many were there to caucus for Bernie Sanders and how many were there for Martin O'Malley. You only know how many delegates each candidate got at the different precincts, and so it can be that knowing the number of delegates that each candidate won gives a rough idea of how well they did," Belin said.

Laura offered an example from 2016. One West Des Moines precinct had three delegates to award, and 66 people showed up there for Bernie Sanders while 54 people came to support Hillary Clinton. By the Democrats' current caucus math, Sanders got two delegates and Clinton got one. This could make it look like Sanders had twice as many people there, even though the actual turnout was much closer. The proposed changes would release the raw vote total, so people would know exactly how many Iowans supported each candidate.

From here, these proposals will go to the DNC's rules and bylaws committee, then the full DNC. A set timeline has not yet been announced.