It’s time for Iowa to replace its outdated caucus system
Is it time for Iowa to drop our “Nation First” caucus?
In April, the Democratic National Committee’s rules and regulations committee passed a plan that removes early voting waivers that Iowa (along with New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) have held. They will now have to, along with any other state, apply to be one of the five states allowed to hold their nominating contests during an early voting window. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
It should be noted here that because the parties drive the nominating process in Iowa, any changes made by the Democratic Party will not affect the Republican Party, which has not indicated any intention to make any changes. The goal of this new plan is generally to ensure that early-voting states best represent the Democratic electorate and their current values who can hold a “fair, transparent, and accessible” nominating contest.
However, it is also clear that this approach is designed to dislodge Iowa from our “first in the nation” status. The issues with Iowa that are most often cited seem to revolve around two areas: state diversity and caucus representativeness.
Let’s talk about the caucuses first. It’s time for them to leave.
This has nothing to do with the 2020 fiasco (which cannot be blamed solely on the Iowa Democratic Party – the DNC contributed to it as well). Caucuses are simply not feasible, especially when turnout is high.
They can work well if you’re in a sparsely populated area, but when a caucus site has 500, 600, 700 attendees (like many in our area) it becomes untenable. Smaller precincts or more sites won’t make a difference – for example, Johnson County is pretty much maxed out on all available sites. Caucuses are meant to foster debate and deliberation, but the current iteration is more like a cattle call.
This leads directly to the issue of equity and access. Caucuses require people to show up for an in-person meeting on a Monday night in mid-February.
Do you have to work that night? Did the babysitter cancel? You are unlucky.
Add to that overcrowding at many caucus sites, where meetings can last for hours and there aren’t enough places to sit, and the suffrage party severely limits who can participate in the democratic process. One of the main reasons the Iowa Democratic Party stuck with the caucus system—out of a nostalgia for a bygone era (and in reality, it never existed)—was that it was the only way to maintain our ‘first in the nation’ status.
This is no reason to pursue a flawed process, and the IDP must move to a voting primary. The IDP’s current proposal to allow voters to submit “presidential preference cards” before caucus night is a step in the right direction.
As for the DNC’s emphasis on ensuring early primary contests reflect the Democratic Party electorate, that’s a laudable goal. We will leave it to the DNC and the experts to decide how best to proceed. However, we will argue for Iowa as an early state, if not the first.
The people of Iowa took “first in the nation” status seriously, and that was reflected in the months leading up to the caucuses. We attend speeches, town hall meetings and other events held by candidates across the state. We listen, we ask questions and we seriously consider candidates.
And while we’re not a diverse state, we do represent constituencies, such as rural voters, working-class voters and, yes, white voters, that are important to each party to varying degrees. Iowa currently mirrors the political power structure of the United States – liberal and Democratic urban areas with much of the state’s population and little power in state government, with conservative rural areas and republicans with less population but more power.
We are a microcosm of a nation struggling with our need to increase our labor force, while not entirely comfortable with those who come to our state in search of jobs and a life. better. Iowa has an infrastructure in place designed to assess how candidates understand these voters and these issues in a way that not only affects Iowa, but the nation as a whole.
We are a small media marketplace with a process that gives applicants with fewer resources but great ideas a chance to make a splash. Let’s not lose sight of our representatives in Iowa to both parties that the caucuses bring in a significant amount of money to the state every four years – that alone may be enough for them to fight to maintain our status as “first in the nation”.
We have focused here on the Iowa Democratic Party and the nominating system because that is what is currently under debate. However, we encourage Republicans in Iowa to think about these issues and make changes as well.
At the very least, if parties wish to continue holding caucuses, there should also be a primary voting component. While we would like Iowa to remain an early primary state, we believe it is more important to ensure a fair process. Iowans are proud of our commitment to the democratic process – it’s time that has been reflected in our nominating processes.
The Iowa City Press-Citizen Editorial Board is a group of volunteer readers that meets weekly. They are Venice Berry, Dave Bright, Shams Ghoneim, Robert Goodfellow, Kylah Hedding, Jon Humston and John Macatee.