Government

Iowa caucuses again come under fire

Feb. 3 debacle adds to long-standing gripes

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, right, appears Monday in the control room for the Democratic National
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, right, appears Monday in the control room for the Democratic National Convention before the start of the convention in Milwaukee. (Morry Gash/Associated Press)

DES MOINES — In many ways for Iowa’s delegation, Monday was the first day of a Democratic National Convention unlike any other, as party activists participated through video calls to kick off a convention being held mostly online during the pandemic.

In other ways for Iowa’s delegation, it was the first day of a Democratic National Convention just like the others — one that started with Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus status under fire.

National Democratic Part Chairman Tom Perez told the Associated Press that he plans to use the remainder of his term until 2024 to advocate for more changes to the process by which the party’s presidential nominees are selected.

Among the changes enacted after the 2016 presidential elections was a push for states like Iowa that hold caucuses — instead of primaries — to create more transparency in the process. As a result, the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses for the first time included the reporting of first preference results in addition to the final, delegate equivalent results.

But that results reporting process failed badly on caucus night, due to technical issues with a new computer program designed to tabulate the results.

The results of the Feb. 3 caucuses were so delayed and riddled with questions that the AP declined to declare a winner. The state party listed former Vice President Joe Biden — now the presumptive Democratic nominee — as coming in fourth.

That error-prone debacle prompted yet another national debate over Iowa’s role as the first state to cast its presidential preferences every four years.

“I think by 2024 we ought to have everyone being a primary state,” Perez told the AP.

Perez would not say whether he thinks Iowa or New Hampshire — the first primary state — should give up or share their leadoff spots, the AP reported.

State party Chairman Mark Smith, who was elected to the post earlier this year after previous chairman Troy Price resigned in the wake of the caucuses, said Iowa Democrats are focused on the 2020 election and not the 2024 caucuses.

“Iowa Democrats are focused on electing Democrats up and down the ticket in 78 days. Any time spent discussing the 2024 presidential election is a distraction and does not help us defeat Donald Trump,” Smith said in a statement emailed by the state party. “Iowa Democrats have the momentum heading into November boosted by record-high voter turnout, grassroots organizing, and community engagement that has put candidates up and down the ticket in a position to win.”

Norm Sterzenbach, a longtime Iowa Democratic activist and former executive director of the state party, noted Perez’s comments reflect the national chairman’s long-held opposition to caucuses. Sterzenbach noted Perez made his feeling known during meetings of the national party’s post-2016 reform commission.

Perez “has wanted to eliminate caucuses for several years at least,” Sterzenbach said. “This is hardly a new position for him.”

The 2020 Democratic National Convention was scheduled to be held in Milwaukee, but with the coronavirus pandemic looming, national party leaders stripped the in-person convention schedule to its bare bones.

Iowa’s delegation — 55 activists and elected leaders from across the state — is scheduled to meet each night this week via video conference call.

Monday night’s featured speakers were Cory Booker, the former presidential candidate and U.S. senator from New Jersey, and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne.

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Booker told the Iowa delegation he missed spending time in the state, and he encouraged Democrats to remain vigilant during what he described as “a wretched period in American history.”

“We as a people are not defined by what happens to us. We are defined by how we choose to respond,” Booker said. “You all are the kind of tough, Heartland people that will help our nation through the storm.”

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