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Iowa Democrats propose changes to presidential caucuses

Ideas include expansion of child care, satellite sites

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The Iowa Democratic Party outlined a series of changes to its precinct caucuses Friday, a move officials think will address criticisms that they limit participation.

The changes, if accepted, also could address specific concerns raised by potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who complained after her third-place finish in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses that active-duty military personnel and second-shift workers did not get to take part.

Party Chairman Scott Brennan discussed the proposed changes Friday with the rules and bylaw committee of the Democratic National Committee, or DNC, and it’s expected that, after some fine-tuning, the proposals will be included in the state party’s delegate selection plan. The plan will be submitted to the DNC in the spring.

On a conference call, Brennan said he hopes the changes will address the criticisms, but he insisted they are not the result of concerns from “any one individual.”

The party said the proposals came after holding more than 150 conversations since spring with activists, party leaders, journalists, past campaign operatives and others.

“The Iowa caucuses are democracy in its purest form, and the ideas outlined will help make this great process even better,” Brennan said in a statement that accompanied details of the plan.

The proposed changes include:

l Allowing people to petition for a satellite caucus site, a move aimed at accommodating those such as second-shift workers who might not be able to get away from work to participate. For example, a worker at a factory, if meeting yet-to-be-determined criteria, wants to petition for a site at his workplace, a satellite location could be set up.

l Expanding the use of child care during the caucuses. Some counties already provide child care, but the state party said it would work with county parties to expand the practice.

l Creating a statewide precinct for Iowans serving in the military to participate by telephone. It would function the same as a regular caucus site, the party says.

l Hiring an accessibility director.

l Proposing legislation to require employers to allow people to take time off from work to participate in the caucuses.

The party rejected multiple caucus times during the day, saying that opened the possibility of people also taking part in the GOP caucuses. It also rejected absentee ballots, saying it created logistical headaches and would detract from the caucuses sense of community.

Brennan acknowledged that some still would not participate and that the caucuses, a collection of hundreds of precinct meetings typically held at 7 p.m. on a single night in January or February, are distinct from other forms of voting.

“Obviously, a caucus is not a primary,” he said on a conference call.

That distinction is important — not just because a primary allows voting throughout the day — but if the caucuses were to look more like a primary, it would cause a clash with New Hampshire, which holds the first-in-the-nation primary.

The caucuses, which have typically been held eight days before the New Hampshire primary in the presidential nominating calendar, have held the lead-off spot in part because they are distinct from the primary.

New Hampshire and other early-primary states have tended to support each other in fights by other states to change the nominating calendar.

Brennan has been talking with Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann about the caucuses. The state’s two parties have tended to cooperate, at least where the caucuses are concerned.

In a statement, Kauffman said he and Brennan would be meeting to discuss the proposals and GOP ideas to strengthen the caucuses. He withheld comment on Friday’s proposals, but said of he and Brennan: “We agreed that there will be strong, bipartisan cooperation to do anything it takes to protect Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.”

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