Monday, February 11, 2019

Iowa Democrats Release Draft Delegate Selection Plan for 2020

A few weeks ago FHQ mentioned in response to some early chatter about how Iowa Democrats may react to some of the changes to the 2020 DNC delegate selection rules that the devil would be in the details.

Well, the Iowa Democratic Party provided those details today when the party released its draft delegate selection plan for the 2020 cycle.


The process
Before digging in, let's go over some basics. First of all, the is a draft. All Democratic state parties are tasked with devising a draft delegate selection plan that it then releases publicly and opens to public comment for at least 30 days. On or before May 3, those state parties then submit both the draft plan and any comments collected from the public to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) for review. The RBC then approves the plan or more often requests some changes that state parties typically work on over the summer.

What Iowa Democrats released today, then, is not a finished product. It may or may not pass muster with the RBC.


The delegate toplines
The draft plan confirms that Iowa Democrats will have a total of 49 delegates apportioned to the state for 2020. That is three delegates fewer than the 52 total delegates the party had in 2016. As in 2016, there will be eight superdelegates in 2020 in the Iowa delegation, leaving 41 delegates at stake on caucus night next year. Of those 41pledged delegates, there will be nine at-large delegates, 27 congressional district delegates and five party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates. Compared to 2016, the reduction in total delegates came from the congressional district subset (two fewer delegates) and the PLEO group (one less delegate).

Whereas there was only one congressional district with an odd number of delegates in 2016, three of the four Iowa congressional district will have an odd number this time around. This is a marginal consideration, especially in a winnowing contest (as opposed to those later contests where the game changes to counting delegates), but it can present an opportunity to the district winners in the rounding to determine the allocation of whole, rather than fractional, delegates. [There is some additional insight on this here in the table footnotes.]


The changes that will grab attention

...and affect strategy
Much of what led to the earlier post on the details of the discussions Iowa Democrats were having with respect to their draft delegate selection plan concerned how the party would manage to adapt to the DNC's new rules encouraging broader participation. Again, caucus state parties have to make a case to the RBC for how the caucus process is more open to participation in 2020.

The early signal is that Iowa Democrats are going to scale up the tele-caucusing and satellite caucuses the party conducted for the 2016 cycle. They have proposed doing that through a series of six virtual caucuses; one each day between January 29 and February 3 (the planned date of the caucuses). More importantly as part of the scaling up, the virtual caucuses will account for an additional ten percent to each congressional district's total apportioned delegates. In other words, if any given congressional district convention has 300 delegates, for example, then 30 additional delegates would be added to the district convention delegation. That would have meant an additional 140 district delegates or so in 2016.

This is not insubstantial. And it is certainly not insubstantial when compared to five total delegates that went to the state convention based on the tele-caucuses and satellite caucuses in 2016.

But there is catch to all of this. Positive step though this may be toward the goals laid out in the 2020 DNC delegate selection rules changes, it is a completely ungrounded number. And in fairness, Iowa Democratic Party chair, Troy Price intimated as much in his comments upon the public introduction of the draft plan.

On the one hand, the ten percent addition for the six virtual caucuses may be an expectation. The Iowa Democratic Party expects around ten percent or so of the total caucus-goers to participate via these new channels. But that may or may not be right.

So, on the other hand, this 10 percent may be a value judgment from the party. The door is open to increased participation, but that increase in preferences in virtual caucuses does not translate equally to delegates in the process relative to the preferences to delegates ratio in the regular caucuses.

Assume that in 2020 an equivalent 171,000 people caucus in the usual way just as they did in 2016. But now let's say that an additional 34,000 people opt to participate in the 2020 virtual caucuses. That is an additional 20 percent participating but affecting only that blanket 10 percent piece of the pie.

More ominously, perhaps, consider the same 171,000 turnout to participate in the whole 2020 caucus process -- regular and virtual -- in Iowa, but the virtual process peels off, say, 71,000 people who just do not want to deal with the hassle/like the convenience of the new outlet. Well, that 71,000 will determine the 10 percent of virtual delegates while the 100,000 determines all the rest.

The preference to delegate ratio is imbalanced in both scenarios.

And that may be a problem for the party when it takes this draft plan before the RBC. And FHQ says that because in many ways, this plan looks -- especially if one assumes some imbalance -- like the old Texas two-step. Under that system in the Lone Star state, roughly two-thirds of the pledged delegates were allocated based on the votes in a presidential primary while the remaining third were allocated in a caucus/convention system. Although more people voted in the primary and had an impact on the larger share of delegates, the smaller number of caucus-goers had a larger vote to delegate ratio.

While the Texas process was grandfathered into and preserved by the RBC for years, the practice was halted during the 2016 cycle. One has to wonder whether the RBC will look on this proposal from Iowa Democrats in a similar light.

However, in fairness to the Iowa Democratic Party, they honestly do not know what to expect out of this, and they certainly have at least some desire to keep people caucusing in the customary way while at the same time offering those who need accommodations an avenue to participate more easily.  This proposed system comes close to achieving that balance. "Take advantage of the virtual caucuses, Iowans, but not too much. It might affect how your participation filters into support for the candidates," is basically what the party is saying.

And because of that impact -- the effect on the candidates' fortunes -- the campaigns are going to have to be careful in promoting the virtual caucuses. Push too many in that direction rather than typical caucus participation, then your support may not efficiently translate into delegates to the next stage of the process. The ten percent addition will temper campaign activity on that front. In other words, campaigns still have every incentive to do much of what they have always done in Iowa.

The dial is still turned to the regular caucuses in this proposal.


The unheralded changes (a lightning round)
Another new addition to the 2016 proposal as opposed to the 2016 system is that 2020 will lock allocation based on final preferences during the precinct caucus stage. This is a change borrows language directly from the Unity Reform Commission report. That means that once the precinct round is complete, the delegate allocation is complete. No more can there be changes on the margins as realignment based on viability occurs at the county, district and state conventions. The selection of actual people to fill those delegate slots may be affected but the candidate to who delegates are pledged will not.

Ranked choice voting will also be a component of the virtual caucuses. Virtual caucus-goers will submit their ranked preferences and the realignment process will commence and continue until preferences are sorted to candidates above the 15 percent viability threshold.

Finally, there will also be a paper trail added. Not only will caucus-goers walk the room as they have traditionally done, but they will additionally express their preference on paper as well to aid in any recounts that may become necessary.


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Related:
1/22/19: #InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- The Devil's in the Details of Any Iowa Caucus Rules Changes

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