Democrats Scrap Plans For Virtual Iowa Caucus Over Security Concerns The Democratic National Committee won't permit Iowans to join party caucuses remotely. Officials worry that hackers could compromise the system and affect voting.

DNC Recommends Scrapping Plans For Virtual Iowa, Nevada Caucuses Over Security

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Iowa caucusgoers will make their voices heard in person next year the way they always have. The Democratic National Committee shot down a plan today that would have allowed Iowa Democrats to participate in the caucus remotely. They cited security concerns. NPR's Miles Parks covers voting and election security. He's here to tell us more.

Welcome to the studio.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi, there.

CORNISH: Can you explain this plan? What was being proposed, and why did the DNC respond the way it did?

PARKS: Sure. So to start with, caucusing is really different than voting, right? In a caucus state like Iowa, you have to go out in person and take part in this process that can take hours. So voting rights advocates have said for years that this disenfranchises people who have inflexible hours, people who can't take time off work at nighttime, people who can't get childcare. And it means turnout's low. In 2016, the turnout rate in the Iowa primaries was less than 16%.

So Iowa Democrats and Nevada Democrats, who also proposed a plan - they caucus there, too - they proposed this plan to remotely caucus. Not a lot of technical details were made public, but it seemed like it was a phone-based call-in system. The DNC takes a look at this plan. They have their security folks look at it. And they say no go; this is not secure enough to be used in 2020.

CORNISH: At the same time, we bank online, right?

PARKS: Right.

CORNISH: And we do all kinds of things on the phone and virtually, so why would it be a problem?

PARKS: Yeah, so cybersecurity experts basically just say voting is a much more complex action than anything else we do online or over the phone. I talked to Joseph Lorenzo Hall, who's the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

JOSEPH LORENZO HALL: Imagine banking where everyone only has $1, and you never get a receipt, and no one can ever know who anyone paid for anything. Doing accounting in that kind of a system becomes really, really difficult.

PARKS: Hall also said that in all these other transactional situations, there's room for a tiny bit of error or even a tiny bit of fraud. It's kind of baked into the process. Whereas voting, we get one shot at this thing. And it has to be right, so you can't take a chance. Even if there's this - only a remote possibility that something could go wrong, you can't take that chance.

CORNISH: What are the implications of this for the Democratic Party going forward in this primary season? As you said, these are people in key states who are asking for this.

PARKS: Yeah, so Iowa Democrats say they're still going to brainstorm ways to make this more accessible, though they note that's only a few months away that their caucus is happening. More broadly, we're seeing this kind of butting of heads in the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party wants to be the party of accessible voting rights, while at the same time being the party that takes election interference seriously. And what we're going to see over the next year, year and a half is that those two ideas kind of come into conflict sometimes.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Miles Parks.

Thanks so much.

PARKS: Thank you.

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