Democratic officials moved Friday to block plans to allow caucus-goers to vote by phone in Iowa and Nevada next year because of concerns the technology could be hacked, casting doubt on the party’s ability to expand participation in some early-voting states.

A memo from Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and the co-chairs of the Rules and Bylaws Committee recommended against the addition of a virtual caucus option. Internal security and technology analysts, working with outside experts, found there was no teleconference system that met security standards “given the scale needed for the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the current cybersecurity climate,” the advisory stated.

The recommendation sets up a meeting of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, which has ultimate say over the plans but is unlikely to deviate from the guidance of its leadership. 

A vote to scrap plans for a virtual caucus would illustrate the difficulty involved in engaging more voters in the nominating contest, which had been a major aim of the Democratic Party. It would also reflect the gravity of concerns about interference in the electoral process.

“There’s too great a potential for hacking and abuse,” said Frank Leone, a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee from Virginia. There was also unease, he said, that the technology would prove too cumbersome for voters to understand. 

Rules the DNC approved last year pressed caucus states to convert to a primary system — which at least nine states have done — or else devise a way for voters to participate without attending an hours-long meeting, sometimes in biting temperatures.

Iowa and Nevada responded to the new DNC requirements with plans for a call-in option. In Iowa, voters would have been able to register for a unique PIN and then call in to record their preference during one of six virtual sessions, the final opportunity falling on the same day as the caucus itself.

The virtual caucus in Nevada would have occurred across two days leading up to the in-person gatherings.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee received a closed-door briefing from security experts last week in San Francisco and heard major concerns about hackers’ abilities to compromise the technology. The DNC has also heard from presidential campaigns about tele-caucus security concerns, particularly related to warnings that nation-state actors, such as Russia, are looking for ways to interfere in the 2020 election.

Democratic leaders in Iowa and Nevada voiced disappointment in the DNC’s recommendation, but they seemed to acknowledge that they could not move forward without buy-in from party officials.

“We proposed our plan seven months ago to give us the longest ramp possible to build this system,” Troy Price, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, said in a news release. “But in that time, we know the threat landscape has changed. We have seen time and again the increased threat by foreign state actors and the continued reluctance by Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress to take this threat seriously.” 

Nevada Democrats similarly blamed “Republican inaction” for the heightened risk. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last month lashed out at critics of his decision to block measures to fend off cyberattacks, saying House-passed initiatives would enable federal interference into a state matter.

Time for Iowa and Nevada to settle on alternatives is now scarce. They are working under a Sept. 13 deadline for the DNC to endorse procedures for their caucuses, set to take place Feb. 3 in Iowa — giving the Hawkeye State its first-in-the-nation status — and Feb. 22 in Nevada.

DNC leaders recommended that the committee grant the states a waiver from the new rules requiring expanded access “unless compliance can be met through other means.”

Two Democratic officials briefed on the party’s plans said a change in the voting calendar won’t be required to satisfy the rules. They said there was no discussion of punishing Iowa or other states by revoking their place in the nominating process.

James Roosevelt, co-chair of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, said the panel’s members would explore other means of enabling absentee voting before they convened next week. 

Caucuses are kindest to the most committed voters and have tended to be a boon for candidates further to either end of the ideological spectrum. Polling by the Des Moines Register suggested a virtual option in Iowa would have expanded caucus turnout, which was 16 percent among both Democrats and Republicans in 2016.

A Monmouth University poll released this month indicated that the addition of a virtual voting option would expand the lead enjoyed by former vice president Joe Biden in Iowa. 

Former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro, a Democratic presidential candidate, condemned the party’s decision to scrap the teleconference caucus without offering an alternative for absentee participation. He called for a reconsideration of a virtual caucus, a mail-in ballot or other options for early voting.

“The Democratic National Committee’s decision to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, and decrease turnout by up to a third, in the first-in-the-nation caucus state is an affront to the principles of our democracy,” he said. 

Castro’s suggestion of a mail-in option or an equivalent system making Iowa’s vote more akin to a primary would meet stiff resistance from Democrats in New Hampshire, who are “resolute” in protecting their premier-primary status, the state’s party chair, Raymond Buckley, said Friday.