Iowa Democrats make new bid for early caucuses as New Hampshire, Georgia miss key deadline

Source: By Brianne Pfannenstiel, Des Moines Register • Posted: Sunday, January 8, 2023

Iowa Democrats are making a renewed pitch to help kick off the presidential nominating process after two states chosen to be part of the early lineup failed to meet a key deadline.

The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted last month to grant conditional waivers to five states to hold their presidential primaries ahead of the rest of the country, booting Iowa and its caucuses from their traditional first-in-the-nation position.

South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan would make up the new early voting window under the plan.

But each state needed to submit a letter to the committee by Jan. 5 proving they have buy-in from state leaders to change the dates of their primaries. New Hampshire also was required to show that state political leaders were working to expand early voting access.

Georgia and New Hampshire couldn’t meet those requirements by the deadline, according to a memo committee co-chairs issued to members late Thursday night. They recommended granting both states a deadline extension, saying the committee would meet again soon to discuss the situation.

But Iowa Democrats said the committee should look at other options in the wake of that failure.

In a letter sent to the committee Friday morning, Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn emphasized that the party would be willing and able to adapt its caucuses to the committee’s preferences, rather than relying on state legislators to make changes.

“As a state party-run contest, we retain the ultimate ability to tailor our contest to RBC rules and specifications and maintain a flexibility that states with state-run contests cannot,” he wrote. “To that end, we request consideration for a conditional waiver be considered at the February meeting of the RBC.”

New Hampshire Democrats said in a letter to the committee earlier this weekthey “likely do not have the power to change our election laws” with Republicans in control of the state legislature and governor’s mansion.

In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Ben Raffensperger would have needed to submit a letter saying he would set an early primary date for Democrats — a decision that would have given Democrats in the state a huge boost of fundraising and attention.

Still, committee leaders say they want to give both states more time to meet the deadline.

“As you know, we expected both the New Hampshire and Georgia efforts to be complicated but well worth the effort if we can get them done,” they wrote. “We remain committed to doing all we can to see our plan through.”

The plan still needs to be formally ratified by the full DNC early this year.

The Democratic Party has been formally weighing a new calendar order since early 2022.

It was clear from the outset that national Democrats had soured on Iowa after its disastrous 2020 caucuses, in which a host of problems kept Iowa Democrats from reporting reliable results. Those problems compounded existing concerns about Iowa’s lack of racial diversity and its arcane caucuses.

Unlike primaries, the Iowa Democratic caucuses require participants to show up at a specific time and place and physically move around the room to show their preferences. It creates higher barriers to participation that often keep out people who have mobility issues, need access to child care or work late hours, among others.

In an effort to keep Iowa’s place at the front of the line, Iowa Democrats proposed making extensive changes to that process, completely reshaping the way the party caucuses.

The plan they have floated would turn the system into a fully absentee process, requiring participants mail a presidential preference card identifying their chosen candidate. Those cards would then be counted and announced on caucus night.

Caucus night would then otherwise be reserved for conducting the other party-building business that has traditionally taken place.

Wilburn has previously expressed disappointment that the committee wasn’t swayed by these changes.

In his letter Friday, he highlighted them again, saying they alleviate many of the qualms Democrats have had with the traditional caucus process and give Iowa the flexibility to change the date of its contest and work within the wider calendar framework.

“The process we proposed allowed flexibility as to the date while complying with Iowa law,” Wilburn wrote. “We believe that Iowa can be an important part of the solution to an early nominating calendar by providing flexibility with its new process.”

Although Democrats are working to finalize their 2024 primary calendar, Republicans approved theirs months ago. Iowa will once again lead off the GOP schedule, and potential candidates have been steadily traveling to Iowa to begin making inroads with activists and party leaders.

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Des Moines Register. Reach her at bpfann@dmreg.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

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