Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a law requiring the state's caucuses to take place in person, potentially escalating a fight with Democrats who plan to offer a mail-in caucusing option in 2024.
Reynolds, a Republican, signed the law Thursday. It passed the Iowa Legislature last month with only Republican support.
Iowa GOP leaders have said the in-person requirement is essential to protect Iowa's first-in-the-nation status. Democrats say Republicans are undermining decades of bipartisan efforts to protect the caucuses by acting unilaterally.
The 2024 presidential nominating calendar is still unsettled for both Democrats and Republicans.
2024 Iowa caucuses: See when presidential candidates are visiting Iowa
What Iowa Democrats have planned for their caucuses
Iowa Democrats have released a draft plan saying they intend to hold caucuses on the same day as Iowa Republicans, despite the fact that the Democratic National Committee voted this year to remove Iowa from its lead-off spot.
At the caucuses, Iowa Democrats would conduct party business and select unbound delegates to county conventions. But the party intends to offer a separate caucus-by-mail process for Democrats to express their presidential preference.
The new Iowa law says if an Iowa political party “chooses to select its delegates as part of the presidential nominating process at political party precinct caucuses” and goes first, then the caucuses need to be held in person.
Iowa Democrats have not been clear about how they believe the law will affect their caucus plans, although some have suggested the measure may be unconstitutional.
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart said in a statement Thursday that the party is "committed to moving forward with the most inclusive process in Iowa's history, no matter what."
"No political party can tell another political party how to conduct its party caucuses. Iowa Democrats will do what's best for Iowa, plain and simple," Hart said. "For many years, Iowa Democrats have worked in good faith with the Republicans to preserve our caucuses. This legislation ends decades of bipartisanship, and now Kim Reynolds has signed off on this attempt to meddle in Democratic party business."
Threat of New Hampshire jumping Iowa muddles caucus planning
Iowa Republicans say the mail-in process proposed by Democrats is tantamount to a primary and will cause New Hampshire to jump the state and hold the first presidential nominating contest.
New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, a Republican, has said if Iowa moves forward with the mail-in proposal, he would consider it a primary and use his authority to set the date of New Hampshire’s primaries ahead of Iowa’s caucuses.
Because New Hampshire's Democratic and Republican primaries must be held the same day, any move by New Hampshire is also a threat to Iowa Republicans' first-in-the-nation spot.
Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann says Iowa Republicans are eyeing "a mid-January caucus." But the final date has not been set, in part because of the uncertainty about what New Hampshire will do.
Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, told the Des Moines Register last month that the RNC cannot apply sanctions if New Hampshire moves its primaries ahead of Iowa this cycle.
“We have no ability in our rules to do anything if that happens,” she said.
Kaufmann praised the law in a statement Thursday, saying it gives Iowa Democrats "the tools to stand up to the destructive, far-left members in their party who oppose the caucus system and Iowa's first-in-the-nation status as a whole."
"Hopefully, today's bill signing by the governor will mark an end to the Iowa Democrats pushing and then doubling down on an ill-advised, primary-in-all-but-name caucus proposal," Kaufmann said. "The fate of middle Americans having a voice in selecting our next president depends on it."
Political parties can set deadlines to register to be allowed to participate in caucuses
The Iowa law also gives political parties the power to set their own deadlines for when Iowans have to be registered members of the party to participate in the caucuses.
That would allow Republicans, for instance, to require Iowans to be registered as Republican voters in advance before they can caucus.
Currently, Iowans can register with a political party at the time they go to caucus and still participate.
The original legislation would have required anyone wishing to caucus to register with their chosen party at least 70 days ahead. Several Republican lawmakers said they were concerned about Democrats attempting to interfere in the GOP caucuses to support or oppose certain candidates.
The law does not affect Iowa's existing same-day voter registration for voters participating in federal, state and local elections.
Some Democrats say law is intended to help Donald Trump
Some Democrats have said Republicans are working to ensure former President Donald Trump wins the GOP caucuses as he competes against a growing field of contenders for the party's presidential nomination.
The bill's author, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, is an adviser to Trump's Iowa campaign and the son of Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann.
"I want to remind everybody that an employee of the Trump campaign ran a bill to change the rules of the Iowa caucuses on the floor of the Iowa House and that is clearly just to make it so that Donald Trump has the edge in this state," House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, told reporters on May 4.
Bobby Kaufmann has denied the bill is intended to favor a specific candidate, telling reporters "this is making sure that everybody's playing by the same rules."
Law changes method for deciding ties in legislative primaries, lets Iowa leave voter data-sharing group
The law changes the mechanism for choosing a political party's nominee in the case of a primary election tie for state representative or state senator.
The law changes the process so that party committee members from the precincts within the legislative district will meet to choose between the tied candidates. Currently, the winners of such primaries are chosen by drawing a name out of a hat.
And it allows Iowa to leave the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, a multistate group formed in 2012 as a way for states to share voter data and more easily remove ineligible voters from voter rolls.
More than half a dozen Republican-led states have left the group over the past year, and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate announced in March that he was pulling Iowa out.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.
This article originally appeared on USATNetwork: Iowa governor signs in-person caucus mandate as 2024 campaign heats up