Democrats in the early presidential contest states of Iowa and Nevada will be able to cast their votes over the telephone instead of showing up at their states' traditional neighborhood caucus meetings next February, per plans unveiled by the state parties. The tele-caucus systems, the result of a mandate from the Democratic National Committee, are aimed at opening the local-level political gatherings to more people, especially evening shift-workers and people with disabilities, whom critics of the caucuses have long said are blocked from the process. The changes are expected to boost voter participation across the board, presenting a new opportunity for the Democratic Party's 2020 candidates to drive up support in the crucial early voting states, per the AP. "This is a no-excuse option" for participation, says Shelby Wiltz, the Nevada Democrats' caucus director.
Both state parties plan to require Democratic voters to register online in advance of their virtual caucus, verifying their identity with a "multi-factor authentication." Voters will receive a PIN that they'll have to enter when they call in to participate. Iowans who register on time will have six times to choose from to participate by phone, including the in-person caucus night on Feb. 3. Nevadans who register for the virtual caucus can participate on Feb. 16 or 17. Unlike Iowa, Nevada is also offering three days of in-person early caucusing to give people more options. Wiltz says security experts with the DNC will be vetting the systems later this year to test for vulnerabilities to breaches or hacking. Party officials don't have an estimate of how many voters will take advantage of the call-in option, but in Iowa, some recent polls show as many as 20% of Democrats will participate virtually. (Read more voting stories.)