Absentee Participation and the Satellite Caucus

Posted: October 4, 2019 | By: Tanner Halleran Tagged: Blog

As a politically active college student, it isn’t always the easiest to participate in party activities such as the Iowa Caucus. Historically, the Caucus is an event for those who have the means to be present: a 9 am-5 pm job, access to a babysitter/care provider (if applicable), means to travel, mobility capabilities and a multitude of other possible descriptives. From this alone, students don’t fit neatly into this description and therefore are essentially ‘chopped liver.’ Following the 2016 Presidential Election—in all of its glory—the Democratic National Committee (DNC) formed the Unity Reform Commission, an ad hoc group tasked with promoting inclusion in the nominating process. Iowa’s first solution to this was the Virtual Caucus. There would be six teleconferences hosted leading up to the in-person caucus on February 3. These teleconferences would have allowed those who face difficulty to caucus in person to “attend,” such as students like myself.

As a member of the State Central Committee (SCC), a 40-person voting body that governs the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP), I first heard of the Virtual Caucus in early February. For months, we reviewed and edited the plan.  We were so confident in its potential success that we started to promote it publicly while training party activists on the new process. This all stopped last month when the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted to reject Iowa’s plan due to concerns that the Caucus could be hacked by bad actors (and I’m not talking Kristen Stewart from Twilight). In essence, we were back to square one, and students, among other constituencies, were chopped liver once more.

After weeks of anticipation, the IDP announced the SCC would be having a special meeting where the new solution would be revealed on September 19. As a voting member of the committee and someone who has vested interest, I skipped half of my night class to participate in the call (sorry, Professor Caufield). Although I was missing class, I was learning about something the group would propose to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee the following day: the Satellite Caucus. While many people speculated the solution would be something unthought of, the Satellite Caucus was first utilized in the 2016 Caucus for a few locations, including a nursing home in Johnson County. 

So, what all will go into the Satellite Caucuses for the Democratic Party?

• The subcommittee will be formed & tasked with reviewing Satellite Caucus petitions

• People can petition the subcommittee to hold a Caucus at different locations, both in and out of the state) should they be unable to attend their Precinct Caucus at 7 p.m. (such as nursing homes, factories, military bases, etc.)

• Satellite Caucuses will happen on Precinct-level Caucus night (Feb. 3, 2020) but can start at varying times should a valid reason be given and approved

• Satellite Caucus participant numbers will be grouped by congressional district and will count as an additional county within the district and later within the state for the State Convention

• Caucus math still applies and remains convoluted and confusing to most (myself included)

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee met the following day of our phone call. The proposed plan was well-received and eventually passed unanimously. In the meantime, whether you’re a student like myself or someone who isn’t easily able to be present on caucus night, I am happy to report that we now have an option to participate in the highly anticipated Iowa Caucus. Now that the fiasco of absentee participation has been solved, our next challenge is finding the candidate which aligns with our beliefs best.