The Iowa caucuses have been an institution since the 1800s. But are Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price and GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann right? Does Iowa deserve to go first?
Things have changed considerably since Iowa became first in the nation in 1972. Our country has become more diverse, and if we want to say we have become accepting and welcoming of that diversity, then our presidential nominating contest should reflect that.
Iowa is less ethnically diverse than other states. At 90.6 percent white, we are the sixth whitest state in the United States. If this contest is supposed to inform the contests to come, we should not be asking a relatively homogeneous group of people to decide who stays in the race. The second state in the primary season, New Hampshire, is similar. The population is 93.9 percent white, the third whitest in the United States.
People defending our first-in-the-nation status make the argument that presidential candidates are visiting our rural communities — small businesses, farms, etc. They tell you that Iowans are educated voters who ask hard questions. But the same dynamic would come to exist in Michigan or Pennsylvania if they went first.
We have been enormously privileged in Iowa to get so much face time with candidates. That well will not instantly dry up. Candidates who visit our state mention how odd and interesting it is that Iowans are so interested in policy. It’s true, we’ve taken our duty to vet candidates seriously, but any other state could learn to do it if given the opportunity. And candidates and politicians will continue to value our insights even if we are not the first to vote.
In the meantime, we are disenfranchising our fellow Iowans in the name of being first.
The caucuses pose an incredible accessibility issue — for individuals with disabilities, for shift workers, for the elderly.
The Iowa caucuses are fascinating to watch and take part in. There is a bit of magic happening when you see undecided caucus-goers being wooed by the various delegations. But the caucus is a long and involved process. Most people who go to the caucus are in a hurry to get home, and even those who vote regularly in other instances tend not to caucus.
Then, consider the results.
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Iowa has only picked the eventual Democratic nominee 43 percent of the time. The Republican side has not fared much better — just 50 percent of the time the eventual nominee is the winner of the Iowa contest.
It appears that nothing, other than tradition, is keeping Iowa first. We are holding a contest that is not representative of our country or our values. Voting needs to be accessible, and the first states voting in our nominating contests should be representative of the population of our nation. Iowa is no more deserving of being first than any other state. If we truly value the diversity of our country, we must allow the honor of being first in the nation to be passed on.
If we make it difficult for people to vote and believe ourselves more important than other states, then we are incapable of making the country better. We need to stop living in the past. If the DNC believes that a virtual caucus is not secure, we cannot keep disenfranchising voters just to be first.
Holly Christine Brown is the Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party Asian/Pacific Islander Caucus, member of the State Central Committee and Chair of the Data and Technology Subcommittee. Co-signers of this column are Colleen Caldwell, Chair - Iowa Democratic Party Rural Caucus; Lindsey Ellickson, Acting Chair - Iowa Democratic Party Progressive Caucus; Jessica Fears, Story County Convention Chair; Amanda Malaski, Ames area activist; Reyma McCoy McDeid, Des Moines area activist, and Heather Pearson, environmental justice organizer.