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Dems Finally Admit Iowa Is Too White to Pick the President

The party looks like it's getting serious about reforming the early nominating process.

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Caucus goers are handed their first-choice cards during caucusing at Abraham Lincoln High School in Des Moines, Iowa, on February 3, 2020.
Caucus goers are handed their first-choice cards during caucusing at Abraham Lincoln High School in Des Moines, Iowa, on February 3, 2020.
Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)

Following the absolute clusterfuck that was the 2020 Iowa Caucus—where tech problems preceded Mayor Pete prematurely declaring victory, while Bernie Sanders won the popular vote—Democratic party leaders look like they’re getting serious about reforming the early presidential nominating process.

Some backstory: Iowa is the first state on the Democratic presidential caucus-or-primary calendar, and while winning it doesn’t get a candidate enough delegates to become the nominee, it does generate a ton of headlines and momentum going into the three other early states, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Iowa is 90.6 percent white, according to the Census bureau, and is now solidly Republican: The state last went blue in 2012 to help re-elect President Barack Obama, but President Donald Trump won it by more than 9 points in 2016 and 8 points in 2020.

Aside from Iowa not being representative of the country, the caucus format itself is byzantine and arguably a form of voter disenfranchisement. People don’t just walk in and cast a ballot, they have to wait to see if their candidate gets at least 15 percent of the vote, and if not, they can “re-align” with another candidate, which means literally going and standing in a different candidate’s corner of the high school gym or wherever.

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The caucus process can take so long that Elizabeth Warren’s campaign offered free childcare so more people could participate—a nice proposal that still didn’t address people who work in the evenings or have disabilities. “Truly, caucusing is ‘Iowa Nice’ voter suppression,” as Reyma McCoy McDeid, the Executive Director of Central Iowa Center for Independent Living and a disability rights advocate, told Jezebel in 2020.

It’s against this backdrop of criticism that the Des Moines Register published a draft proposal that could significantly reshape the Democratic nominating process. The draft Democratic National Committee (DNC) resolution would set new criteria for early-voting states including: favoring primaries over caucuses, requiring states to apply to hold their contests before the first Tuesday in March (Super Tuesday), and expanding the number of early states from four to up to five. Per the draft, other considerations would be a state’s diversity, “including ethnic, geographic (and) union representation,” and the state’s general election competitiveness.

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At a DNC meeting in Washington D.C. on Friday, chair Jaime Harrison obliquely addressed the draft proposal by calling for calm amid “rumors” and said the committee would hold three listening sessions so party members across the country can weigh in on the primary process.

Mo Elleithee, a member of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee (to which states would need to apply), has been an outspoken proponent of changing the process to favor states that are diverse, inclusive, and competitive in a general election. “I think states like New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can make a compelling argument as to how they fit into that picture,” Elleithee said at the meeting, per Politico. “I have a harder time seeing it with Iowa, but Iowa should have the right to make that case to us.”

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According to the Washington Post, Senator Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) made a pitch to DNC officials for Nevada to go first, rather than third. (The state used to use a caucus but will switch to a primary starting in 2024. In other weird state laws, Iowa must hold a caucus, and New Hampshire must be the first primary scheduled in the U.S.)

While there’s no concrete changes in the primary process yet, we can all expect to hear more about this debate in the coming months. As Elleithee said, people want changes “not four years from now—now.”