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Democrats in Iowa were compelled to cancel the caucus. Instead, they will covertly select a 2024 nominee over mail



Des Moines, Iowa – Democrats in Iowa are selecting their presidential nominee with much less fanfare this year, and it’s not just because Democratic incumbent Joe Biden is in the White House.

Iowa Democrats went to the mailbox to cast their ballots rather than gathering for caucuses, a one-night event where community members openly declare their support for a candidate. Super Tuesday, which features a series of primaries and caucuses in over a dozen states, will see the results announced.

After instability rocked the party in 2020 and the Democrats rearranged their 2024 schedule to give priority to more diverse states, the party decided to break with fifty years of precedent. Party officials and volunteers in Iowa are dismayed by the aftermath, and some feel betrayed by the national party.

Furthermore, it has many concerned about the status of Democratic grassroots organizing and the party’s chances of winning in a state that has changed over the past ten years from a purple toss-up to a Republican stronghold.

Longtime Democratic activist Nancy Bobo of Des Moines was able to cast her ballot for a presidential nominee this year by mail-in, despite the fact that she was ill and missed her caucus on January 15 for the first time since 1980. She acknowledged that the adjustment is a “thorn in my side,” nevertheless.

“Yeah, you vote,” Bobo said, but “you lose all that congregating and coming together and discussing issues.”

An early backer of then-Senator Barack Obama’s campaign, Bobo related the story of the historic caucus on January 3, 2008, at which a high school had to switch from its auditorium to its gymnasium due to an overwhelming turnout.

As Obama’s caucus chair, Bobo was in charge of courting her colleagues, particularly those who backed candidates who failed to garner 15% of the vote—the Democratic criterion for a contender to be deemed viable.

“The excitement in the air was like nothing I’d ever experienced,” Bobo said of the 2008 caucus. “I doubt that what we do now is going to have much impact on the national scene at all.”

At Biden’s suggestion, the Democratic National Committee opted to rearrange the early voting states in the run-up to 2024, giving diverse voters in states like South Carolina and Michigan precedence over Iowa’s predominately white electorate. Biden is among many who have criticized the caucuses for not being representative of the party.

A DNC spokesman said in an email that the national party has collaborated with Iowa Democrats “to ensure a more accessible, equitable primary process” and is giving money and other resources “to strengthen state party infrastructure.”

Although over 200,000 Iowans took part in the 2008 election that marked the beginning of young Obama’s journey to the White House, that unprecedented turnout is uncommon on both sides of the political spectrum. A small portion of the party’s registered voters usually participate in the caucuses, even in closely contested races.

Previous promises to improve accessibility to the caucuses for voters who are unable to get childcare, are elderly, have disabilities, work night shifts, or cannot get childcare did not come to pass. Then, on the eve of the 2020 Democratic caucuses, hasty changes to the precinct results were made—at the party’s request—which caused the contest to end without a certain winner.

“There was a lot of drama in the way we’ve done it in the past,” said Rita Hart, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. “Some person’s idea of excitement and drama is another person’s total and complete chaos. What the Democratic Party needs to really focus on is the excitement, but make sure that it’s very productive.”

The Iowa Democratic Party is rethinking the caucuses as a chance to reevaluate how to entice people to go “and then engage in the kind of conversations that strengthen us as Democrats,” Hart said, despite being upset in the national party’s decision.

More than 6,000 Iowa Democrats turned out for the Jan. 15 caucus, which was organized by the party with the goal of selecting delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August, among other things.

More than 19,000 requests were made for presidential preference cards—more than the number of people who turned out for the last Democratic caucus in 2012, when there was an incumbent Democrat. More than 11,000 had been returned as of Friday.

Until this year, Sherry Kiskunas of Waterloo had never cast a ballot in a caucus. In 2012, she was brought in to assist with caucus operations at her precinct. She said that she “didn’t even know about them” prior to that.

Caucuses might be unpleasant, according to Kiskunas, even before the issues in 2020.

“It wasn’t so bad when I was vice chair because I wasn’t in charge. But when I was the chair, it was horrible,” she said.

She remembered tallying and reciting the number of individuals who switched from one candidate’s supporters to another’s. Two precincts in one room for a year contributed to the confusion.

“People get impatient, and they want to leave,” Kiskunas said. “I want to go home, too, but the count has to be right.”

She was able to vote this year because to the “easy” mail-in ballot. Even so, she claimed, “the party suffers.”

“You don’t have a chance to party build. You don’t have the chance for the interface like we had,” Kiskunas said.

Sara Riley, a Cedar Rapids lawyer, believes it makes sense to abandon the caucus model. She believes that rather than decreasing participation, a primary would encourage more people to get involved.

Riley, who has devoted hundreds of hours to volunteering for political campaigns, asserted that changing the approach doesn’t necessarily mean the energy disappears.

Even with a different method of voting, returning to the early window could continue to bring presidential hopefuls to the rural, Midwest state that has a more affordable media market. The Iowa Democratic Party has said it agreed to the changes this year only with reassurances that Iowa would be considered for the early set of states in 2028.

But Bobo is skeptical. “Once it’s gone,” she said, “I think it’s pretty hard to get it back.”


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