Maine Democrats are changing the format of their traditional local caucuses this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a press release from Waldo County Democratic Committee Chair Sara Salley, the party will not hold in-person caucuses in every town across the state on the usual uniform caucus date in March. Instead, local Democrats will conduct some party business online, and some at in-person meetings in early summer, when meetings can be held more safely outdoors.

The party is still planning a statewide party convention May 13-14 in Bangor, with remote access available for state convention delegates to participate from home, according to the press release.

The process to become a delegate to the state convention is also online this year. Local Democrats who want to represent their town at the party convention have until Feb. 20 to sign up online or by phone to run as a delegate. Democrats in each town will vote for their delegates online or by phone, with elections taking place from Feb. 27 through March 6. Sign-up and election details can be found at mainedems.org/vote or by calling 530-6391.

Democrats can also sign up to be a town election clerk on the same webpage. By law, town clerks must appoint a balance of Democrats and Republicans to work at the polls on Election Day. This year statewide primaries are on June 14, and the general election is Nov. 8.

“The new approach provides more opportunities for more people to be involved in party activities, while still staying safe during the pandemic,” Salley said in the press release. “Local Dems can become a convention delegate and participate in the convention even if they can’t attend an in-person meeting. Our new process is designed to be better for lots of people, such as those with mobility limitations, schedule conflicts, or any other reason that makes it hard to get to an in-person meeting.”

Traditional town caucuses are an increasingly rare feature of grassroots democracy, with Maine being one of the few states still holding in-person caucuses every two years. Democrats use caucuses, usually the first Sunday in March, to conduct local party business, select party convention delegates, meet with candidates seeking their support, and prepare for upcoming elections.

The caucus-replacement meetings local Democrats plan to hold in June and July this year will offer the same chance to talk with local candidates and get involved in election activities, during a season when pandemic-safe, outdoor meetings are more practical, the press release said.

The schedule of each town’s local Democratic meeting will be announced later this spring. Local Democrats can email info@waldocountydemocrats.com for more information or visit mainedems.org.