Virtual Caucus is dead.
That became official today when a Democratic National Committee rules and bylaws meeting confirmed what was loudly leaked last week: that the phone-in "Virtual Caucus" plan that the Iowa Democratic Party developed, with nods of approval from DNC every step of the way, was unacceptable because of security concerns.
The most likely outcome, hinted at already last week, was that DNC would be willing to grant a waiver to Iowa and fellow early caucus state Nevada from the new requirement that caucus states be required to provide an absentee voting process.
The uncomfortable truth is: No one really wants the Iowa Democratic caucuses to have an absentee process.
Iowa Democratic leadership - both in the official Iowa Democratic Party structure sense and in the elected official-donor-activist base sense -doesn't want it because they're scared about risking First.
The bully of Concord, inscrutable New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, doesn't want Iowa to have absentees either, because he thinks that's an election and HE insists on the first election.
The DNC doesn't really want Iowa absentees, despite lip service to the new absentee requirement, because they are really more concerned about the much older standing fight about preserving the early state calendar.
The DNC found out the hard way in 2007, when Florida and Michigan broke the rules and went too early, that a broken calendar is unenforceable against states that are unwilling to cooperate. In part that's because election law is mostly state law, and in part that's because the only possible penalties are so nuclear that they won't be used. There was no way the DNC was ever going to refuse to seat the delegations from two huge swing states at the 2008 national convention, and everyone knew it. It ends up making the party look weak and they want to avoid having to referee between Iowa and New Hampshire.
Iowa haters and caucus haters don't want the caucus to have absentees because they think this may finally be the way to kill us. (And they have cynically recruited the tech security community as allies.)
The presidential candidates, despite rhetoric from one or two campaigns, don't really want the Iowa caucus to have absentees. They have already made battle plans that actively discouraged Virtual Caucus because "it counts less."
The Des Moines Register in particular, and the rest of the Iowa media in general, are against absentees at the caucuses because they believe it risks First - and thus risks their polls, editorial boards, national TV appearances, and bottom line.
Iowa Republicans don't want Iowa Democrats to have an absentee process because they are worried about First and about double voting - people voting for the Democrats early and then attending the Republican event on caucus night (because they want to vote against Trump twice?). That's technically illegal - but can only be discovered after the fact and only with an unusual level of bipartisan cooperation.
Rural Iowa Democratic county activists who like to brag about how badly their county swung from Obama to Trump don't want absentees because they worry that without forced attendance in order to vote, no one will show up and they will not be able to organize their county committees.
No, no one really wants the Iowa Democratic caucuses to have an absentee process...
...except for two small groups. And no one seems to much care what we think.
The first is made up of actual normal Iowans who don't want to or can't spend three hours on a Monday night just to vote, and who care more about that than about the benefits (?) of First. These are not the people asking questions or getting selfies or even going to candidate events. They don't care how many candidates are at your county party event or how the platform is worded or who is on the county central committee. They just want to VOTE.
These are also the people who work second shift or get mandatory OT or are traveling or who have small children or can't drive at night or who have problems standing or who (like me) can't handle the stress of large and sometimes hostile crowds.
The other group that wants absentees is also like me - actually, I'm pretty sure I'm the loudest: Urban county Iowa Democratic activists who are concerned about literally not being able to fit into the biggest room that exists in the precinct. No one at IDP has ever given us any constructive suggestions as to what we should do about it. Even honest acknowledgement is rare. We just get the occasional "it won't be so bad" pep talk.
You cannot "organize" and "party build" when precinct attendance is approaching quadruple digits. You can't fix The Biggest Room Is Too Small with "better planning." You CAN fix it, you can ONLY fix it, with absentee ballots.
If you're with me in those last two groups, we have two weeks to convince Iowa Democratic leadership that we NEED an absentee process and that the apparent direction from both Iowa and DNC - a waiver from the absentee requirement - is the wrong way to go.
In today's conference call, DNC Rules and Bylaws chair James Roosevelt (yes, grandson of FDR and Eleanor) said:
Roosevelt notes that Nevada's delegate selection plan includes in-person early voting, which is "already an expansion from what they did in 2016 and is clearly within the rules." He says Iowa is exploring other options to expand absentee participation within their constraints.— Megan Messerly (@meganmesserly) September 6, 2019
If Nevada can have in person early voting for caucuses, Iowa can and must do the same.
It is time to stop caring about New Hampshire thinks. It is time to stand up to Big Bully Bill Gardner.
DNC approved a calendar with Iowa first and New Hampshire second. They also approved rules that said caucus states need absentees, and we should not let New Hampshire break the rules just because we are following the rules. If New Hampshire moves in front of Iowa, let them - and then throw their delegation out of the national convention, the way Florida and Michigan should have been thrown out in 2008.
We also have one last chance to convince Iowa Democratic leadership that the 10% delegate cap, no matter what the attendance, on an absentee process is unfair. Absentees should be reported back to the individual precincts and counted equally, and should also be actively encouraged in order to address overcrowding.
We need real early ballots and we should not settle for anything less.