Iowa Democrats detail plan to offer remote caucus

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Democrats are trying to expand access to the leadoff presidential caucuses by allowing out-of-state military members and Iowans living abroad to participate remotely.

Party officials announced details of their "tele-caucus" plan Tuesday. It would apply to active duty military members who are out of the state that day, as well as Iowa residents who are registered to vote and covered under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. That includes military family members, Peace Corps members, diplomatic personnel, students and others living abroad.

The tele-caucus will be held at the same time as the caucuses on Feb. 1. Eligible participants must register online ahead of time and will call in or use Skype to join on caucus night. Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire called it "a big step forward to making sure our caucuses are as inclusive as possible."

The tele-caucus is part of a series of efforts to expand access to a process that critics have said is less accessible than primaries because the meetings require Iowans to devote several hours to participate at fixed locations.

The Democratic caucuses require participants to form groups of candidate supporters and gather in schools, church basements and homes throughout Iowa. Supporters of candidates who receive less than 15 percent support in an individual precinct disperse, giving other supporters a chance to argue for their support.

Iowa — along with New Hampshire, which holds the first presidential primary — has been forced to defend its role as a starting point in presidential politics against detractors who say the mostly white, rural state is not representative of the nation's electorate.

In 2008, nearly 240,000 Iowans participated in the Democratic precinct caucuses, crushing previous records.

Iowa Republican Party spokesman Charlie Szold said the GOP are not planning a similar remote caucus, but will offer a way for out-of-state military to participate.

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