Democratic National Committee Rejects Plans To Hold ‘Virtual Caucuses’ in Iowa and Nevada, Citing Security Concerns

Democratic National Committee Rejects Plans To Hold ‘Virtual Caucuses’ in Iowa and Nevada, Citing Security Concerns

Facing criticism over low voter turnout and barriers to caucusing, party officials planned for remote caucuses in 2020. But the national Democratic Party said the methods would expose the process to high cybersecurity risks.

Democratic Party officials in Iowa and Nevada have been developing a novel idea for the 2020 primaries, which are only months away: allowing voters to remotely caucus for candidates instead of showing up in person and potentially waiting hours to cast a vote.

The caucuses in two early primary states have long been criticized for low turnout, which has been attributed to blistering cold February weather in Iowa and the barriers to caucusing for people who work long hours.

But the Democratic National Committee soundly rejected the “virtual caucus” plans on Friday, citing recommendations from security consultants who said holding online or phone caucuses would increase risk of foreign interference and cyber breaches.

“We concur with the advice of the DNC’s security experts that there is no tele-caucus system available that meets our standard of security and reliability given the scale needed for the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the current cyber-security climate,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in a statement with the chairpeople of the group’s rules and bylaws committee. “For those reasons, we are recommending to the committee that virtual caucus systems not be used in the Iowa and Nevada 2020 caucus processes.”

The announcement came just a little over a week after security experts hired by the party were able to hack into a DNC conference call, raising concerns about potential hacks if voters were to participate in a teleconference caucus.

While the specific details of the virtual caucus plans were not released, an Iowa Democratic Party plan proposed earlier this year would have allowed caucus-goers to participate in one of six virtual sessions in late January or early February. Those sessions would have potentially included a teleconference, online virtual conference or “another secure method,” NPR reported.

The idea may have increased turnout, but security experts told NPR that secure voting is not available in current phone or internet systems.

"If you're doing phone voting or internet voting, it's pretty much garbage in, garbage out,” Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said. “You don't really know what you're getting in or what's coming out the other side.”

Hall added: "This is why we often demand a paper record — a software-independent, indelible record that can be recounted later. It can't be hacked."

Officials may need to present new plans to the DNC to meet the security measures. The committee previously said it will act on each state plan by Sept. 13, The Des Moines Register reported.

With the Iowa caucuses set to take place on Feb. 3, organizers are scrambling to make sure its infrastructure is ready in just over five months.

“We are obviously disappointed by this outcome, and we continue to have confidence in the abilities of our vendors, but if the DNC does not believe the virtual caucus can be secure, then we cannot go forward,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said in a statement. "While only five months remain before the caucuses, we will explore what alternatives may exist to securely increase accessibility from previous years given the time allowed.”

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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