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Iowa Democrats to hold first ever 'tele-caucus'

The Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) revealed plans this week to hold the state’s first ever “tele-caucus.”
Supporters' signs rest outside of the New Hampshire Democratic Party's annual Jefferson Jackson dinner in Manchester, N.H., Nov. 29, 2015. (Photo by Cheryl Senter/AP)
Supporters' signs rest outside of the New Hampshire Democratic Party's annual Jefferson Jackson dinner in Manchester, N.H., Nov. 29, 2015.

DES MOINES, Iowa -- In an effort to expand participation in the Democratic precinct caucuses, the Iowa Democratic Party revealed plans this week to hold the state’s first ever “tele-caucus.”

On Monday, Feb. 1, certain Iowans who are not in the state to participate in the Democratic caucuses in person will have the option to call in to a designated telephone caucus or “tele-caucus” to voice their support for their candidate of choice. 

This would be the first time that Iowans would not have to be physically present in their respective precinct sites to caucus.

“We are incredibly happy to be hosting our first tele-caucus this year, which is a major part of our expansion efforts,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Dr. Andy McGuire told members of the press on a conference call Tuesday.

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The tele-caucus option will be offered primarily to Iowan members of the military who are stationed outside of the state, and Iowan students who are studying abroad during caucus night.

These guidelines, which are based on Iowans covered under the “Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), would also include military family members, and those in the Peace Corps or Diplomatic Corps.

Iowa Democratic Party Vice Chair Danny Homan is a veteran and will chair the tele-caucus on Feb. 1.  

“It’s a big honor for me to be the first-ever chair of the Iowa Democratic Party’s tele-caucus, and it’s also very personal to me,” said Homan, recalling that he missed the first Iowa caucuses in 1972 because he was serving out of state in the military.  

Though there will be some differences, “the tele-caucus will run nearly identically as the precinct caucuses,” noted McGuire.

Those who fit the above qualifications will need to register to vote as a Democrat on the party's website in early January ahead of the caucuses. Participants will all call in to the same “caucus” (a large conference call-turned-precinct of sorts) using any type of phone or Skype and select their candidate of choice via dial pad. Candidates can be eliminated based on viability or percentage of support among the tele-caucus goers just as in a normal caucus, and supporters can realign over a number of rounds. 

Two state delegates will be awarded after the tele-caucus. There will be 1,406 state delegates awarded that night from all of the caucuses. 

This initiative comes on the heels of the party's announced “satellite caucus” plan, which will also be new in 2016, though it is separate from the tele-caucus.

A satellite caucus is an alternative caucus site that still gathers at 7 p.m. on Feb. 1 and is designed for “groups of Democrats” that due to time, mobility or working conditions, cannot physically get to their precinct locations. Iowans must apply to establish a satellite caucus site. 

Not everyone is a fan of these new additions to the caucus process. 

Iowa State political science professor Steffen Schmidt believes that this proposal will take away from the original nature of the caucuses, and does not believe the Iowa Democratic Party will get very many participants.

"You have to go, you can’t call in your vote, you can’t send it by mail. The Democrats are taking a risk in contaminating the idea of the caucuses by doing this,” said Schmidt.

"I don’t think that the tele-caucus is going to get a lot of people who are going to participate,” he continued.

The Iowa Democratic Party does not yet have an estimate of how many people will actually take advantage of the tele-caucus, however the firm running the actual phone system, Stones’ Phones, told reporters that they are prepared to handle “tens of thousands” of participant calls if need be.

The party also said that it will “run a check on” potential tele-caucus attendees to verify that all callers are registered Democrats and eligible to vote. 

Though the processes are significantly different, a spokesperson for the Republican Party of Iowa told NBC News they will release their own plan for out-of-state military personnel to vote in the GOP caucuses in the near future.