The DNC's mandate has been a challenge for party operatives who sought to maintain security while also maintaining the spirit of the caucuses, which are chiefly local, party-building activities aimed at electing delegates to party conventions. Officials say by avoiding an internet-based program, they are reducing the risk of hacking, a key concern in an era of renewed concern about election tampering.
While Nevada Democrats said accessibility, not security, drove them to opt for a phone-in system, Iowa Democrats said they felt a lower-tech option was safer.
"With this system, it's easier than making sure thousands of computers across the state are not filled with malware and not being hacked," Price said.
Yet officials acknowledge that relying on phone systems does raise security concerns.
"Are they unhackable? Certainly not," said Jeremy Epstein, a voting systems expert with ACM, the largest international association of computer science professionals. "None of these technologies are really bullet proof."
The state parties presented their plans late last month to the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee. Committee members applauded the work and gave conditional approval but asked for more information about the security and functionality of the systems.
"We are working with every state party that is integrating these tools so they can make their voting process secure and successful. We look forward to working with Democrats in these states to address the committee's questions," DNC spokesman David Bergstein said in a statement.
Both state parties plan to require Democratic voters to register online in advance of their virtual caucus, verifying their identity with a "multi-factor authentication." Voters will receive a PIN that they'll have to enter when they call in to participate.
Iowans who register on time will have six times to choose from to participate by phone, including the in-person caucus night, Feb. 3. Nevadans who register for the virtual caucus can participate on Feb. 16 or 17. Unlike Iowa, Nevada is also offering four days of in-person early caucusing to give people more options.
Wiltz said security experts with the DNC will be vetting the systems later this year to test for vulnerabilities to breaches or hacking.
"This isn't something that we're taking lightly. We understand our responsibility," Wiltz said. (VOA)