Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Democratic Caucus Process, Part 2: Satellite and Military Caucuses

Iowa Democrats released their draft 2016 caucus rules this past weekend.  In a change from past years, the Democrats are introducing a satellite and military component to the caucuses.

In part one of what feels like a four parter, I looked at the background of why this change is happening. Now, let's see just exactly how this is supposed to work.

The military caucus is easier to explain, so I'll start there so that you the reader and I the writer can get warmed up.

The IDP will host one statewide "military tele-caucus."  The plan is for some sort of conference call at Caucus Hour. Caucus alignment is scheduled for 7 PM February 1, Iowa standard time. That's 5:30 AM February 2 in Afghanistan.

Troops wanting to participate need to pre-register. The tentative deadline date is January 1, 2016. Presumably, that date will be adjusted if other states try to cheat the calendar and Iowa goes earlier than February 1.

The state party will provide a moderator/explainer, and then the participants will express presidential preferences and get split into groups. (Or, as the rest of the country will understand it: "get their votes counted.") Quoting directly here:
Military caucus goers will not elect delegates to county or district conventions, but the results of the caucus will be used to determine the presidential preference of 2 (two) state convention delegates. State convention delegates will be named by the Presidential Preference Group to whom the delegate is pledged.

The viability threshold for a presidential preference group must be 25% of the total caucus attendees.
Because the number of delegates is smaller, the percentage threshold is higher, but wait on the math.

The national folks really don't care much about the platform and committee parts of the caucuses. but service people will get a chance to pass platform resolutions, which will be dutifully passed on the the district and state platform committees.

The 2016 tele-caucus is limited to just service personnel, and won't include overseas civilians (or mobile virtual presence devices). IDP exec director Ben Foecke said overseas civilians may be included in 2020.

Just anecdotally, the expatriate issue was less of a big deal in 2008 than the troops issue. And if I understand right, overseas civilians would be able to participate in nomination politics through the Democrats Abroad organization.

(Remember when, late in the 2008 primaries, Obama got flak for making a references to "57 states?" From the context, us nomination geeks all knew he meant 57 contests: 50 states, DC, five territories, and number 57 is Democrats Abroad.)

So far, so good. But there's still a big question mark:
The military tele-caucus is contingent on the support and approval of the Department of Defense.
And historically, the Pentagon has not been a fan of caucuses. Don't get me wrong - the military is very supportive of troops voting in elections.  But the caucuses are not an election. They are a political party meeting, and anything that's openly partisan, even a very civic minded thing like the caucuses, is frowned upon. DoD's preferred answer would almost certainly be absentee ballots for a primary election, and preferably without party affiliation. See the disclaimers in Part One for why that's not on the table.

Iowa Democrats are pretty weak right now vis-a-vis the Pentagon. We have no senator, and Dave Loebsack just left the Armed Services committee to take Bruce Braley's old slot on Energy and Commerce. (Loebsack tried to keep both assignments but was turned down.) Who do we know who has 1) a warm spot in his heart for the Iowa Caucuses and 2) an extremely high military rank?

So, assuming all goes as planned, that's the Military Tele-Caucus. Everybody understand so far?

Great. Some of those concepts will help you follow the satellite caucuses: they're not tied to your residential geography, the time is the same as the regular caucus, and pre-registration is required (though for some reason the deadline is January 3, two days later than the military).

But the satellite caucuses won't be a teleconference. They'll be run much more like a regular precinct caucus, with bodies in a room.

The satellite caucuses are intended for "sites that have a sizable number of Democrats who are willing to participate in a satellite caucus but could not otherwise participate in their precinct caucuses."  Attendance is "open to all individuals who work and/or live at the satellite caucus site who would not otherwise be able to participate in their regular precinct caucus due to hardship."

That "work and/or live" phrase, and the pre-registration requirement, seems to be a firm limiting factor. The default is still traditional: go to the caucus for the precinct where you live.

For the sake of clarity I'm going to name two examples in my county. These are not recommendations; I'd rather see everyone who can be there at the regular caucuses. But I will say that these are the ONLY two places in my county that I think meet the criteria of "a sizable number of Democrats who... could not otherwise participate in their precinct caucuses."
Those two spots are 1) University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the very definition of must-do, can't leave work and 2) the Oaknoll retirement community, a large and politically active place with people of widely varying activity and mobility skills. In fact, when I was working on organizing our caucuses in late 2007, I had a very persistent ask from a very prominent Democrat for, in effect, a satellite caucus at Oaknoll, and I spent a lot of time patiently explaining that it was against the rules. As the rules stood then.

Satellite caucuses will have a little more of the traditional business. They won't elect central committee members, but people can volunteer and their names will be passed along to the county party. (Caveat: if you go to an Oaknoll satellite caucus, and the Iowa City Precinct 2 regular caucus fills their two central committee seats, you're out of luck.)

Platform stuff will also be passed along to the county party, and satellite caucus participants can sign up to be alternate delegates to their county conventions. Pro tip: at the county convention level, alternates almost always get seated. The only major exception was 2008.

Nomination papers "may" be out for signatures, though the logistics of that will need to be watched carefully. I can see a UIHC site drawing employee-participants from different legislative districts, different counties, and even different congressional districts. And since nomination papers for state and federal offices need to be collected by county, there's lots of room for confusion.

So the big question: how do satellite caucus sites get decided and happen? Big long cut and paste:
c. Satellite caucuses will be held at locations that have submitted an application to the State Central Committee and been approved by the body.
d. Applications must be submitted to the State Chair by Tuesday, November 3rd, and must include, but is not limited to, the following information:
i. Petitioner Name/Contact Information
ii. Site Address
iii. Demonstrable need for holding the caucus
iv. Approximate number of people affected
v. Estimated attendance
vi. Description of Caucus meeting space
vii. Hours the site is available
viii. Level of accessibility
ix. Site contact
x. Description of any special accommodations that must be made for the site
e. Applications will be reviewed by a sub-committee of the State Central Committee (Satellite Caucus Review Committee) comprised of individuals that have declared their neutrality for any Presidential Candidate.
f. Applications must be approved no later than December 3, 2015.
A lot of potential issues here, which I'll mostly address in the conclusion. But briefly:

"Applications must be approved by" is missing an all-important, just in case: "or denied."  (Update: I'm told this will get revised and included.) There needs to be some place in the approval process for some input from counties. And even though the proposed rules say the state party is responsible for lining up the satellite caucus chairs, don't be surprised if the task is delegated to the locals. (I say the petitioner is implicitly volunteering to chair their satellite caucus.)

To briefly touch on the math:
The total of satellite caucuses will be apportioned three state convention delegates by the State Central Committee. Each satellite caucus will divide according to presidential preference group, and report their presidential strength to the State Party.

State convention delegates will be named by the Presidential Preference Group to which the delegate is pledged.
Get your calculators charged up, because part three is about math.

But before that, one last thought that doesn't fit anywhere else.

There's a mention in the proposed rules that the Democrats are trying to pass legislation requiring employers to grant (with reasonable exceptions) unpaid time off work to attend caucuses. That's Senate File 437, which passed the Senate last week, with all 26 Democrats in support and all 24 Republicans opposed.

On the Senate side it was handled through the State Government committee, but in the Republican controlled House the Labor committee is dealing with it. Yesterday it was referred to a subcommittee of Republicans Greg Forristall and Larry Sheets and Democrat Bruce Hunter. The fact that it's being defined as a partisan issue and an employer-labor issue makes me... pessimistic on its chances in the House.

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