Iowa Republicans will be the first in the nation to weigh in on the competitive Republican presidential race, as they continue their long-time Iowa Caucus tradition on Jan. 15, 2024.
But Democrats—with a virtually noncompetitive race, a presidential call to ditch caucuses, and memories of the bungled 2020 caucus—are turning entirely to mail-in ballots for the 2024 caucuses in Iowa.
If 2020 was the year of election anomalies, the first irregularity was the Democratic Iowa Caucus, which was rife with technical flaws, offered no results on election night, and left The Associated Press unable to ever declare a winner.
The Feb. 3, 2020, Democratic Iowa Caucus used a freshly developed smartphone app to communicate caucus results, but the app got glitchy, and a hotline to call in results was overwhelmed, preventing results from being available on caucus night. By the next day, just 62 percent of the Democratic results were counted. A week later, folks were losing patience.
“The Iowa Democratic Party deserved better than what happened on caucus night,” state party Chair Troy Price said in his Feb. 12, 2020, resignation letter. With results still not determined, he stepped down eight days after the caucus. By the time Mr. Price resigned, New Hampshire already had results from its Feb. 11, 2020, primary.
The first three rounds of the 2020 primary season didn’t go well for then-candidate Joe Biden, who had terrible results in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. He didn’t see a win until March 1 in the South Carolina primary, in which he got 49 percent of the Democratic vote. The Iowa results were finally calculated two days before South Carolina’s primary, putting Mr. Biden in fourth place behind Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Traditional Caucus Called ‘Anti-Worker’With the presumptive candidate chosen, the long-delayed result of the Democratic Iowa Caucus fell out of the national conversation. But it wasn’t totally forgotten—nor was Mr. Biden’s poor performance in the early races.
“Our party should no longer allow caucuses as part of our nominating process,” he wrote in December 2022, saying that caucuses take too long and require voters to choose their candidate in public and that because they are held at a set time, it’s tough for hourly workers to attend.
Caucuses are “inherently anti-participatory,” he said.
“It should be our party’s goal to rid the nominating process of restrictive, anti-worker caucuses.”
And allowing Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada to go first makes the early votes too white, President Biden indicated. Too often, he said, candidates drop out or are marginalized by the press and pundits because of poor performances in small states early in the process before non-white voters cast a vote.
“We must ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee much earlier in the process and throughout the entire early window,” President Biden said. “For decades, Black voters, in particular, have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process.”
Iowa is 89 percent white, with 7 percent of the population Hispanic and 4 percent black, according to the U.S. Census.
New Hampshire is 92 percent white, 4 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent black.
Nevada is 45 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic, 10 percent black, 9 percent Asian, and 5 percent two or more races.
South Carolina, where President Biden’s 2020 campaign turned around, is 63 percent white, 7 percent Hispanic, 26 percent black, 2 percent Asian, and 2 percent two or more races.
Mail-In CaucusThe Democratic and Republican styles of running caucuses in Iowa are different. In addition to choosing candidates, both parties conduct the business of the party, choosing local party leadership and delegates and discussing the party’s platform.
Republicans gather, discuss, and then vote once. Those results are sent to Republican headquarters.
Traditionally, Democrats gather, discuss, and then go stand in a corner of the room designated for their candidate. After heads are counted, supporters of the candidate with the lowest number of votes choose a different corner. This is repeated until one candidate is clearly the winner. It involves time and lots of conversations.
But it will be different for Democrats in 2024 as the party tries to maintain its place as the first caucus in the nation and play by the new rules of the National Democratic Party, which in February honored President Biden’s request and reordered the presidential primary calendar. South Carolina will go first now, with a Feb. 24 primary.
In Iowa, Democrats will request a presidential preference card through the mail or email. Presidential preference cards will be mailed out starting Jan. 12. The last day to request a presidential preference card is Feb. 19.
Democrats will hold in-person precinct caucuses on Jan. 15, 2024, to conduct party business only. No presidential preference will be taken at the in-person precinct caucuses, according to information provided to The Epoch Times by the Iowa Democratic Party.
Why 1st MattersThe Iowa caucuses have been the first in the nation since 1972.
Republicans, in 2024, have the more interesting, competitive race, and they will continue in their traditional style, holding the caucuses first. That is why many Republican candidates have spent time in Iowa.
“Obviously, [being first] is very important to us,” Kush Desai, spokesman for the Iowa Republican Party, told The Epoch Times.
“From the day of the 2020 caucus, our Republican chairman was fighting harder to defend how they handled their 2020 caucus—more than, I think, most Democrats were, because we should look to preserve the first-in-nation status ... I think they are still kind of nursing the hope that this is just a temporary thing, and then Iowa will be put back [as] first on the Democratic calendar.”
Many residents of small, rural towns across the United States may never meet a political candidate passing through the region, but candidates spend more time in Iowa.
“Once the caucuses are done, we don’t see them anymore until the next election cycle,” Silver City, Iowa, Mayor Sharon McNutt told The Epoch Times.
“We’ve learned to expect it, but that’s why we fight for first-in-the-nation. Because if it wasn’t for first-in-the-nation, we wouldn’t even have that. I think that the Iowa voice is a rich voice for the Midwest. So, we speak for not only Iowa, but a lot of surrounding states that are rural.”
“They have no idea ... no idea ... how we live out here,” she said, adding that residents drive a significant distance just to see a doctor or dentist.
Silver City has a population of 245. Ms. McNutt joked: “240 of them are wonderful people and the other five, not so much. I can say that. I’m related to most of them.”
Every two years since 2000, Ms. McNutt has hosted the Ingraham Township precinct caucus in the living room of her Mills County home. The precinct includes a six-mile radius around Silver City. Usually, Ms. McNutt, who is also co-chair of the Mills County Republican Central Committee, gets half a dozen caucus participants.
“One time, it was just my husband and I, and I knew how he was going to vote. I filled out all the paperwork and said, ‘Let’s get our pajamas on and eat cookies.’ And we did,” Ms. McNutt said. “But in 2016, I had 50 people in my house.” That was the first year Donald Trump ran for president.
Ms. McNutt has heard that in the most recent caucus, there were only five precincts still hosting caucuses in a private home or in the shop on someone’s farm.
“I want to live long enough to be the last caucus in a house in Iowa. Wouldn’t that be fun? That’s my goal.”
She has been talking with Republicans and said their opinions right now are all over the map.
“I have really good friends who are adamantly going to vote for Trump. They love Trump. They can’t see anybody else as a candidate,“ she said. ”And then I have friends that say, ‘Anybody but Trump.’”
Republicans who don’t favor President Trump turn to candidates such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy.
Although there is a “never Trump” contingent, when voters are asked to rank candidates, many who rank Mr. DeSantis or Ms. Haley as their first choice rank President Trump as their second or third choice, Mr. Desai said.
2020 Election AnomaliesThe 2020 Iowa Caucus debacle was the first glaring failure in a year of strange election issues.
By Election Day, voters across the United States noticed more anomalies. Various state-level election rules had been changed in the year leading up to the presidential election—before and after the pandemic started.
The danger of catching COVID-19 was used as a reason for changes that had been promoted by Democrats in the past. Many of the pandemic-related voting rule changes were made permanent. They included allowing widespread mail-in voting, drop boxes, and processing of mail-in ballots—and in some states, counting them—before the polls closed.
Right-leaning election watchdogs have said these procedures have the potential to allow corruption.
But others say everything is fine. The left-leaning Center for Election Innovation and Research called 2020 “the most secure, transparent, and verified election in U.S. history.”
There were other abnormalities in 2020. Election officials in Pennsylvania took a break from counting results in the middle of the night and the results drastically changed after they restarted counting.
Election watchers were upset about the physical distance between them and the ballot counters. And President Biden won more votes than any other person who has ever run for president in the history of the United States—81.2 million votes—after having made just a smattering of lightly attended campaign appearances and having had a poor showing in early primaries.
Many Republicans were shocked that then-incumbent President Donald Trump, whose campaign rallies filled stadiums, lost to President Biden. And some have become politically engaged since then. But as voters look toward the 2024 presidential election, some have a gut feeling that not enough has changed to make voters with doubts feel confident about results in 2024.
“There have been improvements since 2020, but America is a long way from trustworthy elections,” said Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of the election integrity and voter’s rights organization True the Vote.
“With less than a year before the most important election in our lifetime, the only way to fill the gap is with citizens who are willing to serve in every stage of our electoral process,” she told The Epoch Times.
“It is not enough to wonder what happened at the polls, or whether all votes were properly counted. Every aspect of life in America presupposes a free and fair election. That is something worth working to save.”