Bracing for record turnout and fearful of a repeat of the chaos that marred the 2016 caucuses, Iowa Democrats are racing to implement some of the most significant changes in the history of the first-in-the-nation event.

The party is shopping for larger facilities to fit expected overflow crowds, investing in new technology to stave off check-in and head-counting snafus and pushing individual 2020 campaigns to create their own voter registration programs.

And to abide by new rules set out by the national party, Iowa Democrats are even studying the possibility of what once would have been unthinkable: “Telecaucusing,” which would allow absentee voting by phone or online for any Democrat who couldn’t make it on caucus day.

It’s all in an attempt to prepare for what’s expected to be the mother of all caucuses: The Feb. 3, 2020, presidential caucuses could see historic turnout, powered by a sprawling field of candidates and boiling hot anti-Trump sentiment.

“The floors are going to buckle,” said David Yepsen, a former longtime Des Moines Register political reporter and host of Iowa Public Television’s "Iowa Press" show, speaking of the crowd sizes he anticipates.

“The size of these things have outstripped the rules for which they were written,” he said. “The nature of the events have changed. These aren’t little party people sitting around the kitchen, which is what Jimmy Carter did and George Herbert Walker Bush” did.

Iowa Democrats are tackling the changes as the state confronts a potential threat to its preeminence on the presidential calendar from California, which moved up its primary to March 3, 2020, and is allowing early voting to begin by the time the Iowa caucuses are underway. The shift in focus to a larger and more diverse state has placed the credibility of the Iowa caucuses on the line, and the state’s Democrats are intent on avoiding snafus that could put the results into question.

“We have to prepare like it’s Armageddon,” said Penny Rosfjord, a state central committeewoman and Iowa Democratic Party 4th District chair. “We have to be over-prepared. We’ve got to be ready for the unexpected.”

Democrats are trying to learn from the breakdowns that tainted the 2016 caucuses, when large crowds and changes in voter registration laws revealed a deeply flawed system designed for a different era. An epic Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders matchup saw caucus sizes swell and with that Democrats experienced a raft of inefficiencies, ranging from long lines and cramped precinct locations to overwhelmed volunteers and repetitive head counts. Those complications, in turn, led some attendees to stomp off before the caucusing even began and others to raise suspicions over accurate head counts.

The outcome itself was a subject of controversy after Clinton claimed victory over Sanders by 0.2 percentage point — the closest margin in caucus history — leading the Sanders camp to question the results and raising distrust between party factions.

The party is now attempting to digitize its check-in system, which could require WiFi across 1,679 precincts statewide.

“Anecdotally, we’re past the days where we can just hand count the number of Democrats in a room,” said Kevin Geiken, Iowa Democratic Party executive director. “There’s no shortage of technology that allows for an electronic check-in process. … That’s primarily been done in paper in the past, even as recently as the 2018 caucus. It was just very paper-centric. We’re exploring technologies to make that an online solution.”

Potentially the biggest change in the works is the possibility of phoning in absentee votes ahead of the caucus date. The tele-caucus option comes after a Democratic National Committee dictate that caucus states expand voter accessibility, including by allowing some form of absentee voting. Different possibilities are under consideration to fulfill that requirement, among them allowing voters who can’t caucus in person to send a proxy on caucus day.

While Geiken said a final plan still has a ways to go — it must be issued for public comment, then brought back to the DNC’s rules and bylaws committee — he called the telecaucus concept a leading contender.

“We feel pretty optimistic of this idea of a telecaucus as one of, if not the best, paths of nonpresent participation,” Geiken said of absentee voting. “The lowest common denominator is access to a telephone; we feel confident enough that we can have that as an assumption.”

Expanding the caucus to include phone-in participation would be a dramatic change; it was available only to military personnel in the past. While a firm proposal has yet to be submitted, the process under consideration would allow any registered Democratic voter who couldn’t attend caucus day – regardless of the reason — to vote by phone at a predetermined time. That change could easily attract tens of thousands of Democratic voters.

Scott Brennan, a former Iowa Democratic Party chair and member of the DNC’s rules and bylaws committee, is working with the party to come up with ways to address the DNC rule change.

“One of the methods that we’re looking at in order to meet our obligation to provide a way for folks to participate, is to make it available via telephone,” Brennan said.But "aybe there’s a great solution out there we haven’t even thought of yet. We’re still talking to a lot of folks.”

Iowa Democrats are also working to head off anticipated logistical issues. One of the biggest complaints of 2016 was lengthy delays caused by same-day voter registration. In some precincts, some 80 percent of the people walking into caucus night were registering to vote that night, triggering long lines and wait times, according to party officials.

And as the crowds have expanded each presidential cycle, simple tasks like counting people in a room have grown cumbersome. Longtime Iowa Democratic political strategist Jeff Link said in 2016 he oversaw a caucus of 500 people in a high school cafeteria. At one point, organizers had to clear the space and ask everyone to come back in to get an accurate headcount.

“When you send everyone out of the room, there were some people who said,‘tTis is bullsh–’ and they just kept on going,” Link said. While he welcomed technological upgrades in 2020, Link warned about the prospect of unforeseen difficulties, such as working WiFi in every precinct.

“Think about it this way: There is a meeting happening all over the state that is happening at the exact same time, that 200,000 people are going to attend,” Link said. “Just the scale of it gets to be the issue.”

Yepsen feared the needed technological changes could end up having bugs that muck up an already complicated system.

“To fix this problem, they’re writing a set of ideas and rules that are going to be very complicated and it’s going to create chaos. People are not going to understand what’s going on,” he said. “A lot of caucuses have problems with the existing system.… You’re going to lay over that this complicated system of televoting and sign in, then educate a couple hundred thousand people on how all of this is going to work? It could blow up in Iowa’s face.”

Geiken said the party is building out an aggressive training calendar to make sure volunteers are ready for 2020. To avoid the same-day voter registration snafus, the party will push for online registration ahead of time and will ask each of the presidential campaigns to mount their own registration efforts. And discussions over securing appropriate venues to hold the caucuses are underway on a local level.

“It’s not rocket science here, it’s a matter of organizing,” Geiken said. “It’s the perfect opportunity for us as a party to organize in every precinct, in every street in every zip code. As a state party, we’re approaching it from a what a great opportunity we have for organizing on a granular level.”

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