Scrambling the presidential primaries

Democrats consider scrapping Iowa and New Hampshire as the first two contests

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This Week: Democrats consider scrambling the presidential primary calendar, the 2020 elections finally end, the 2024 Republican primary begins, and Georgia passes some controversial election legislation.

Above the Fold

Democrats consider scrapping Iowa and New Hampshire as the first two states to vote in presidential primaries. Politico and The Hill reported this week that high-ranking Democrats, some particularly close to President Biden, are pushing changes to the party’s primary calendar that would upend a 50-year tradition of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. 

Proponents of replacing Iowa and New Hampshire argue that:

  • Iowa and New Hampshire don’t represent the racial diversity of the Democratic Party. Iowa is around 90% white and New Hampshire is about 93% white; the Democratic Party, though, is only about 60% white. Proponents of a change say that the current system gives white voters undue influence in choosing presidential candidates. 

  • Iowa bungled its responsibility in 2020. The all-important caucus imploded with excessive delays, confusion, and skepticism about the accuracy of the tally. It lost the privilege of being first in line.

South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and former Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada are the heavyweights pushing for change. But they aren’t alone. Politico interviewed “more than a dozen Democratic leaders, DNC members and state party officials [who] reveal that intense behind-the-scenes jockeying is already underway, with conversations ranging from reconfiguring the early state order to moving up Southern or Rust Belt states in the timeline.”

Though these leaders agree that a change is needed, they’re not unified behind a vision for what that new system should look like. “Within the DNC, Democrats have talked about various approaches, including multiple states going first on the same day — such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina all voting together on a single date. Regional primaries are another option where, for instance, Iowa and another Midwestern state could vote at the same time.”

But presidential primaries are a part of Iowa and New Hampshire’s political and cultural identity. They’re not planning to surrender. They argue that, without the current system, we wouldn’t have had Presidents Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, and Obama. Iowa and New Hampshire — with their emphasis on retail politics and in-person persuasion — give candidates without a national profile, and the money that comes along with it, a chance. 

The order of these states is still hugely influential in determining the nominee. Below are the results from the first four states in the 2020 Democratic primary. 

After Nevada, FiveThirtyEight gave Sanders a nearly 75% shot at winning the primary and Biden under 25%. South Carolina revived Biden, but he nearly lost. Switch up the order of these primaries, and who knows what would have happened. Move South Carolina first and Biden could have always been the clear favorite. With Nevada first, Sanders could have shot ahead to win nomination. 

Which brings up another wrinkle. Progressive Democrats, a group that overwhelmingly favored Sanders and Warren last year, have good reason to keep Iowa and New Hampshire first. The Democratic voters in those states further left than the Democratic Party as a whole, so de-prioritizing them could cost their bloc a future nominee. Meanwhile, voters in South Carolina, a majority of whom are black, often lean more moderate and conservative (in the traditional sense). I’ll be interested in how the progressive wing manages this. If I’m being cynical, I assume progressives will push for Nevada to go first, given its diversity and progressive tendencies.

Whatever the party decides, 2024 may give Democrats a test-run of sorts. If Biden runs for re-election, he’ll likely be a shoo-in. A trial run with relatively low stakes could be helpful for Democrats if they rearrange the primary calendar. 

Republicans, meanwhile, have no problem keeping Iowa and New Hampshire right where they are. In fact, potential 2024 candidates are already on the ground there. More on this below.

Read More: Politico 

The Front Page

  1. Potential Republican candidates for the 2024 presidential election are on the campaign trail. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent the weekend in Iowa ostensibly promoting Republican candidates for the 2022 midterms. But this isn’t all selfless party teamwork. Pompeo has already suggested a possible 2024 candidacy and Iowa, home of the nation’s first presidential caucuses, is an awfully convenient place for him to be politicking. Two other Republicans, Florida Senator Rick Scott and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, also plan to hit Iowa in the coming weeks. 

    While Democrats debate revoking Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus status, Republicans seem to be fine with Iowa first in line. And these visits by high-profile party members will likely help solidify Iowa’s spot in the Republican primary. Read More: Yahoo News

  2. We can officially close the books on the 2020 elections this week after Democrat Rita Hart withdrew her contest of the results in Iowa’s Second Congressional District. She lost the race by just six votes to Mariannette Miller-Meeks but claimed that election officials had missed 22 ballots, enough to tip the election in her favor. She withdrew her petition this week after several House Democrats pushed back. Minnesota Democrat Dean Philips did so publicly on Twitter. Read More: FiveThirtyEight

  1. Georgia Republicans enacted legislation to transform elections and voting in the state. Democrats say the bill, named the “Election Integrity Act of 2021”, is anti-democratic and that it was drafted specifically to make it harder for Democrats to vote. Joe Biden said (rather hamfistedly in my opinion) that “this makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.” Republicans argue that the legislation will make elections more secure and build trust in the election system. You can read a good overview of the changes here. There’s a lot in the legislation including the following:

  • Gives the (Republican) state legislature more power to intervene in election administration and oversight. Most significantly, the law replaces the Secretary of State as the chair of the State Elections Board with a legislature-appointed chair

  • Shortens the window of time that voters can apply for an absentee ballot

  • Allows voters to apply for absentee ballots through a new online portal

  • Mandates that absentee ballots be sent out to voters about three weeks later 

  • Shortens the runoff length from nine weeks to four weeks

  • Requires that voters have some form of voter ID instead of just a signature to request or return a ballot

  • Puts new restrictions on groups sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications

  • Enshrines absentee ballot boxes, a Covid-era creation, in state law. But there will be fewer of them and they will not be open 24/7. 

  • Expands early voting for most counties by mandating Saturday voting and instituting minimum open hours of 9 am - 5 pm. 

  • Outlaws mobile voting (aka voting busses), primarily used in Atlanta’s Fulton County

  • Restricts anybody besides poll workers from handing out water or food to voters in line

  • Allows voting officials to process absentee ballots starting two weeks out from election day

  • Mandates that counties finish counting all ballots nonstop after polls close and finish counting by the day after the election

  • Requires polling places with long lines to hire more staff or divide the precinct in the next election to shorten wait times

  • Some of the most controversial provisions — eliminating Sunday voting and ending no-excuse absentee voting — were taken out of the bill

Read Vox's criticism of the legislation and Washington Examiner's defense

The Classifieds

A Very Early Look At The 2022 Governor Races in FiveThirtyEight

Dems vulnerable to redistricting consider ditching House for higher office in Politico

Blue-state Republicans slump without Trump as foil in Politico

Can you help me out?

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— Seth