Alaska Democrats consider switching from caucuses to primary for 2020 election

JUNEAU - Alaska Democrats have proposed swapping their long-standing caucus system with a primary to determine state-level support for Democratic presidential candidates.

Executive Director Jay Parmley said Thursday that participation in the state party's caucuses has grown and that 2020 is expected to feature a hotly contested presidential primary. But there are barriers to participating in caucuses, he said, including getting to a caucus site and staying there for however long the process takes. He said there were few caucuses in rural villages, citing organizational challenges as a factor.

"At the end of day, we just felt very strongly that moving to a primary system would be more representative, allow for more participation and be easier, quite frankly, more accessible to Democrats in Alaska to vote," Parmley said.

Instead of Democrats going to caucus sites to express support for candidates, they would be able to submit ballots electronically, absentee or at voting sites. Details still are being worked out. The process would only be open to registered Democrats.

Parmley said Democrats plan to use a rank-voting system. It's not clear how many candidates voters could rank though Parmley expected it would be on the lower end.

The state party is taking public comment on its plan. Party leaders can then make changes to the plan before it is sent to the Democratic National Committee for review. The party-run primary would be held April 4, 2020.

Parmley said a candidate still would need to win at least 15 percent of the vote in the primary to be eligible for national delegates.


Alaska Democrats aren't alone in proposing a change.

The Washington state Democratic Party will decide Sunday whether to maintain its current caucus system or switch to a hybrid. That hybrid would use that state’s vote-by-mail system for a presidential primary to allocate delegates to candidates, and caucuses and conventions to decide who will represent the state at the national convention. The move comes after Gov. Jay Inslee, who is among the Democratic presidential contenders, signed a measure moving the state’s presidential primary from May to March.

Associated Press reporter Rachel La Corte contributed to this report from Olympia, Washington.

Becky Bohrer, Associated Press

Becky Bohrer is a reporter for the Associated Press based in Juneau.