The presidential primaries have again proven the system our major political parties use to choose a candidate is broken beyond repair. There are calls for Iowa, especially, to release its grip on its first-in-the-nation status. It has shown to be an unreliable referee of a confusing caucus that has been beset with problems for three consecutive election cycles.
Remember, in 2012, when Republican candidate Mitt Romney was declared the winner in Iowa on caucus night only to be told he actually placed second a few weeks later? Many don’t, but Rick Santorum certainly does. He was robbed of the narrative that he was gaining momentum before the second round of votes were cast in the New Hampshire primary.
Then, in 2016, Iowa scored its Democratic caucus a virtual tie between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton amid widespread reports of disorganization, confusion and altered results. Sanders’ campaign found inconsistencies during its own review of the numbers and claimed the actual results may never be known.
This month, it only got worse for the Hawkeye State as its caucus system essentially melted down. A new app that the state Democratic Party planned to use to report the results didn’t work. Precinct chairs couldn’t get ahold of party leaders. A day later, only partial totals were released. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg eventually claimed victory. But who really knows if he actually won.
This isn’t a new problem. And regardless of the fact that Iowa looks very little like the rest of the country, the state that has since 1972 cast the first votes for the leader of the free world should perhaps be reliable at one thing: counting votes.
Instead, whenever another state dares to seek relevance by moving up its primary election, Iowa retaliates by making its caucus earlier. The Legislature there actually passed a law that says its nominating contest must be held eight days before any other contest. For its part, New Hampshire law states it must always hold the first primary.
The national parties are complicit in creating this monster. Democratic and Republican national committees have vowed to punish states that don’t adhere to the pecking order. Some have jumped the line anyway, deciding the benefits outweigh the costs of losing delegates at the national conventions. States are simply scrambling for ways to make their votes matter.
In 2008, Montana Republicans wanted a bigger say in the nominating contest. The party held its first-ever February caucus in which only party leaders and officeholders could vote (Romney won). It was so unpopular that the GOP soon rejoined Democrats in hosting a June presidential election primary. Our state is among the last to vote in the country along with New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.
There is no good reason to have the same states always vote first for presidential candidates. And at least some Iowans acknowledge that what happened by chance in 1972 was only made a national tradition because Iowa refused to budge.
“Today,” Kathie Obradovich, Des Moines Register opinion editor, said, “Iowa caucuses are first-in-the-nation mainly because the state insists on remaining first.”
That’s not a good enough reason.
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