Iowa, New Hampshire Crappy Way To Start A Democratic Primary
Let's get real about the Iowa caucuses. They suck, and the suckiness is two-fold. First off, it's not the best showcase for the Democratic primary base and the coalition the eventual nominee will need to defeat Donald Trump in November. New York Times columnist David Leonhardt declared the current system where Iowa and New Hampshire always go first a "form of white privilege that warps the process." Leonhardt's right, and he brought receipts, including a study that found voters from Iowa and New Hampshire have 20 times the influence of a voter in later states, where dancing is legal. We won't even get into the dough-re-mi early states rake in during the almost full year prior to anyone actually voting. Politicians, their staffs, and most media outlets with budgets practically move there.
This is especially odd when you consider that Democrats rely overwhelmingly on minority voters for their electoral success. Iowa and New Hampshire are the fourth and fifth whitest states respectively. As Leonhardt puts it, Iowa and New Hampshire look roughly like the America of 1870. They're great states to kick off the Republican primaries, because the party's entire platform is "Make America 1870 Again." According to a 2014 poll, Iowa Republicans are more culturally conservative than other Republicans. They're generally further along on the Cotton Mather Index than the rest of the country.
John McCain came in fourth in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. In 2012, Mitt Romney somehow lost to the guy whose name you can't even Google without throwing up. They eventually won their respective primaries but this demonstrated weakness with the GOP base showed they might not prove the ideal nightmare candidate to oppress the marginalized and erect Death Stars. Conversely, Donald Trump -- a thrice-married New York real estate developer and casino owner -- coming within striking distance in 2016 of Ted Cruz indicated a great disturbance in the Force.
Iowa meanwhile means jack shit when it comes to determining the viability and overall appeal of a Democratic candidate.
LEONHARDT: Iowa and New Hampshire are not home to a single city of more than 250,000 people. The two states also have a disproportionately large share of retirees and a smaller share of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
What the hell are Democrats doing? This is like Republicans holding their first two major primary contests on the campus of UC Berkeley and the set of "Portlandia." Some pundits argue there's no problem with Iowa coming first because Barack Obama, who is black, won in 2008. But given the demographics, his victory was the equivalent of an electoral poll tax. "Wow, a black guy won there? Oh well, better go ahead and put his name on the ballot for the other states."
While New Hampshire is also whiter than a Bergman film, it's at least a primary state. Caucuses are an exercise in voter suppression. This is an explanation of the process from NPR:
Unlike the kind of voting most people are used to — which takes only a few minutes and involves pushing a button or pulling a lever in the secrecy of a voting booth — Iowans have to devote an hour or so of their evenings to the process. The caucuses on the Democratic side are also much more out in the open — everyone knows whom you voted for and possibly why. This is why ardency of support is important. In Democratic caucuses, you don't vote with your fingers; you vote with your feet. (More on that in our long answer below.) For Republicans in Iowa, the process is much simpler and more orderly. Someone from the campaigns might speak for a particular candidate, but then voting happens by an informal secret ballot. Think: folded-up pieces of paper passed in and collected.
Call me crazy but I don't enjoy the prospect of spending an evening with angry white men shouting at me because I don't support their particular candidate. I'm not the only one who might stay home because they feel intimidated or are just tired of this crap. I also believe the "secret ballot" is a cornerstone of our democracy.
Caucuses are also not very accessible. Meg Young from Iowa has multiple sclerosis. She shared with the New York Times an email from her precinct chairwoman that said "she should arrive two hours early to secure one of 'a limited number' of seats." This is democracy not a Taylor Swift concert. She was also told she'd missed the deadline to preregister for skipping the line, which can stretch out the door and require waiting in the cold for an hour or more. That's not merely inconvenient and annoying for Young. It's a direct risk to her health.
In response to a detailed explanation of the criticisms, Mandy McClure, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Democrats, said they had "made it easier for Iowans to request accommodations, get in the room faster and caucus at a site that's more convenient to them," and also hired an "accessibility outreach team." But according to Disability Rights Iowa, which has corresponded with party leaders for a year, that team — led by [Amanda Koski, the Iowa Democratic Party's new disability director]— was supposed to be in place in the fall and wasn't until this month. (Ms. McClure gave no on-the-record comment on the timing.)
This is a lot of effort and needless hoop jumping. We know for a fact that a better way exists. We use it all the time. I lived in Seattle, Washington, during the 2016 primaries. Caucusing would've been a logistical nightmare because we had a two year old and normal human lives. My wife and I were able to fill out our "vote-by-mail" ballots. They didn't actually count but they should've. I vote for an end to caucuses across the board. I also think we should consider starting the Democratic primary in states where more people who reliably vote for Democrats live. That's my mad dream.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).