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Iowa Caucuses Go International: State Democratic Party Approves 99 Satellite Sites

Reid Rosenberg
The Iowa Democratic Party has approved 99 satellite caucus locations for the February 3, 2020 contest. Iowans will be able to participate in locations as far away as the Republic of Georgia.

The Iowa Democratic Party released a list of 99 satellite caucus locations Wednesday, paving the way for Iowans to participate in the state’s first in the nation caucuses in such faraway locations as Scotland and France. The expansion of sites inside and outside of Iowa is an unprecedented move as the state party works to make its notoriously complicated process more accessible.

Once largely limited to farmhouse living rooms, the Iowa caucuses are going international.

Most of the 99 approved caucus sites are stateside, but on February 3rd, Iowans will be able to caucus at locations as far away as Glasgow, Scotland; Paris, France and Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.

The events will function similarly to a typical precinct caucus, where caucusgoers must be present at a physical location at a prescribed time to register their support by forming preference groups. Like a regular caucus, the events will be overseen by a trained chairperson who will manage volunteers and report the results.

The aim of the satellite caucuses is to open up the process to Iowans who can’t make it to their regular precinct locations for various reasons, whether they’re studying abroad, working second or third shifts, are hospital-bound, or are in need of cultural or linguistic support. In a written statement, IDP Chair Troy Price described the move as a historic step.

“From Paris to Palm Springs, Iowa Democrats will be caucusing on February 3, 2020. Our goal has remained steadfast throughout this process - to make these caucuses the most accessible in our party’s history, and the satellite caucuses do just that,” said Price.

Satellite caucus sites will be established at several out of state college campuses, including the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

Among other states, sites will also be located in Florida, Arizona and California, targeted at Iowans who winter out of state.

But many of the satellite sites are for locations in the Hawkeye State, at health centers, retirement homes and hospitals, as well as union halls, mosques, and at Latino, Hmong and South Sudanese community centers.

The change stems from a push by the Democratic National Committee to make the Iowa caucuses more inclusive and accessible. To meet those requirements, the Iowa Democratic Party had initially proposed a virtual caucus system, where Iowans would’ve registered their presidential preference through a phone system.

Cybersecurity experts considered the plan woefully vulnerable to hacks and disruptions, and the DNC ultimately scrapped the approach.

The satellite caucus program aims to address some of the concerns of national Democrats, and builds on efforts made for the first time in 2016, when the party approved four satellite sites.

The Iowa caucuses have been under pressure for years, as a practice that’s seen by some as archaic, confusing, and exclusionary, and a process that can make it harder for parents, low income people, service members, workers and those with linguistic or accessibility needs to participate in what is typically an hours-long event on a weekday winter night.

Still, Price says he’s “confident” the satellite caucuses will open up the process in new ways.

“I’m glad that so many Iowans are able to take advantage of this expanded opportunity to have their voices heard on caucus night, whether in their precinct caucuses or through one of these sites,” Price said. “With the work being done by so many activists, volunteers and leaders - not only here in Iowa, but across the country and around the globe - we are as confident as ever that these will be the most successful caucuses Iowans have ever seen.”

Certain satellite caucus-goers will need to register with the IDP by January 17, 2020 in order to partipicate.

More information on how to pre-register is available here.

The full list of satellite caucus locations is available here.

By The Numbers

99 satellite caucuses

71 in-state sites

25 out-of-state sites

3 international sites

19 working-related sites

21 student sites on college campuses

38 sites that accommodate accessibility needs

12 sites that accommodate linguistic or cultural needs

9 sites for those who winter outside of Iowa

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter