Category Archives: primaries

“Caucuses leave many Iowans out in the cold – and not just in bad weather”

Patrick Marley for WaPo:

To some here, the Iowa caucuses are an exemplar of democracy, binding communities together and allowing everyday voters to connect with candidates who, a year from now, may be running the country. To others, they are an antiquated system that excludes those who — due to a disability, a work shift, a flat tire, child care needs, extreme weather or any other factor — can’t turn up on the one night every four years when Iowa voters get a say in picking presidential nominees.

Voters must be at their precincts at 7 p.m. Central time on Monday, where they will hear speeches from representatives of the candidates, fill out ballots and, if they want, observe as the votes get tallied. No early or absentee voting is allowed, except for a tiny number of military service members.

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“Big 2024 Presidential Election Changes Are Leaving Voters Baffled”

A striking piece in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Iowa Republicans on Monday will caucus to choose a presidential candidate, but Democrats will start to vote by mail and wait weeks for results. In New Hampshire the following week, both parties will cast primary ballots, but the Democrats’ votes will be purely symbolic. 

And then in early February, Nevada Republicans can vote in two contests: a caucus without all the GOP candidates, and a primary where results won’t count toward the nomination.

For that confusion, voters can thank allies of President Biden and former President Donald Trump, who have pushed for changes to the calendar to boost their candidates’ nomination prospects and make it harder for challengers. 

For some voters, these changes are undermining confidence in the voting process as the integrity of U.S. elections is under attack. Voters are more likely to skip contests where the rules are confusing or their votes are only symbolic. 

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Indiana court finds law keeping Republican Senate candidate off primary ballot violates Anderson-Burdick, 17th Amendment

You can see the Marion County Superior Court’s decision in Rust v. Morales and commentary here. More commentary from the Indianapolis Star. The law requires primary candidates either (1) voted in that party’s past two primary elections or (2) received approval to run from the county party chair. John Rust voted in the Democratic primary in 2012. The court found that the law runs afoul of the Anderson-Burdick balancing test as placing an undue burden on the right to vote; that it violates the 17th Amendment, which guarantees that “the people” vote for Senators; and that it violates other state provisions of law.

I think, at least on federal law, the holdings are likely mistaken. Rick P. last year highlighted a challenge to a similar law in Tennessee, and he rightly emphasized the party’s right to affiliate with candidates, and to exclude candidates it prefers not to associate with. Here, Indiana Republicans do not want Rust to appear as a primary candidate, and they appear entirely comfortable with the state legal system in place. It is strange, then, that the court so readily assumes the candidate has a right to forcibly associate with a political party as a candidate on the ballot when the party has a mechanism to associate with the candidate but no desire to do so. Indeed, in Newsom v. Golden, a challenge to the Tennessee law, I think the court got it right. But these associational cases in political primaries are not very easy (related problems arose in Utah in 2018 in the 10th Circuit here and here), and we’ll see how the case proceeds on appeal (as I mentioned, the court found the law flunked several different tests, so it’s not clear how it plays out).

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“The Way Nevada Will Pick the GOP Presidential Nominee Is a Mess; Dueling caucus and primary confuse voters”


In January, roughly half a million Republican voters in Nevada will receive presidential primary ballots in the mail. Former President Donald Trump’s name won’t be on them. 

The omission is part of a tussle that has ripped open the state’s Republican party and diminished the influence of Nevada in early presidential nominating contests. State GOP officials have opted to ignore the state-mandated primary and will instead host an in-person caucus in early February where Trump is expected to rack up enough delegates to win Nevada, a strategy that his opponents see as aiding the front-runner’s candidacy. 

The unorthodox nominating process has left Republican voters here frustrated and confused. The primary ballots they get in the mail will allow them to choose between former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and two candidates who have dropped out of the race: former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.). Its outcome is moot since the primary winner won’t accrue any delegates. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and several others will instead compete against Trump in the caucus since he and other candidates are forbidden from running in both contests, though voters can participate in each format. 

The result is the battleground state has squandered its chance to capitalize on its plum No. 3 spot on the nominating calendar. Unlike in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where campaigns have large teams and candidates are constantly visiting, the top candidates besides Trump are largely ignoring Nevada and have shrunk their campaign footprints in the state.

“It just looked confusing in Nevada,” Haley, a former United Nations ambassador, said in an interview in Iowa when asked about the campaign’s decision to participate in Nevada’s primary despite not being able to earn delegates. She and DeSantis are vying to be the Trump alternative.

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“The New Hampshire Primary Will Be Jan. 23”


New Hampshire’s presidential primary will be held Jan. 23, state officials announced on Wednesday.

The date had been in contention since the Democratic National Committee decided earlier this year to change its nominating calendar, which had long given New Hampshire the first primary slot after the Iowa caucuses. The new Democratic calendar puts South Carolina first, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada together on one day, then Georgia, then Michigan.

But New Hampshire officials have made clear that they will refuse to abide by the D.N.C.’s decision. The state has a law requiring it to hold the first-in-the-nation primary, and additionally, the Republican Party still has the state in its traditional position in the early lineup of Iowa first, New Hampshire second, and then South Carolina and Nevada….

Because New Hampshire is violating the D.N.C.’s edict, President Biden did not put his name on the ballot there. Some of his supporters are running a write-in campaign on his behalf, but it is not officially sanctioned. Party leaders could also penalize the state by refusing to count its delegates at the Democratic convention.

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“Trump’s Legal Woes Mount as Trial Dates and Campaign Calendar Collide”


Generally, criminal defendants must be present in the courtroom during their trials. Not only will that force Mr. Trump to step away from the campaign trail, possibly for weeks at a time, but the judges overseeing his trials must also jostle for position in sequencing dates. The collision course is raising extraordinary — and unprecedented — questions about the logistical, legal and political challenges of various trials unfolding against the backdrop of a presidential campaign….

More broadly, the complications make plain another reality: Mr. Trump’s troubles are entangling the campaign with the courts to a degree the nation has never experienced before and raising tensions around the ideal of keeping the justice system separate from politics.

Mr. Trump and his allies have signaled that they intend to try to turn his overlapping legal woes into a referendum on the criminal justice system, by seeking to cast it as a politically weaponized tool of Democrats.

In related news, the NYT has this story on the potential charges laid out in the target letter from special counsel Jack Smith. They include 18 U.S.C. 241, a statute originally enacted “after the Civil War to provide a tool for federal agents to go after Southern whites, including Ku Klux Klan members” and now “used more broadly, including in cases of voting fraud conspiracies.”

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ASU Report on Voter Attitudes about Elections

From the hotbed — no pun intended (sorry Arizonans, I know it’s been sweltering) — of election denialism comes this report by Arizona State’s Center for Independent and Sustainable Democracy. Highlights from the press release:

Arizona voters strongly support requiring high-ranking state and local elections officials to be elected in a nonpartisan manner and take an oath to perform their duties in a nonpartisan fashion ….

In addition, more than 80% of respondents – including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents – said they want Arizona to adapt a nonpartisan primary system. However, a bare majority backed ranked-choice voting.

Voters surveyed took a dim view of election officials overseeing decisions that might impact their own elections, along with publicly endorsing and fundraising for other candidates for office ….

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“Iowa GOP sets Jan. 15 for first-in-the-nation caucus, starting 2024 race”


Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses will be held on Jan. 15, state Republicans voted on Saturday, kicking off the 2024 presidential nomination process.

The vote by the Iowa Republican Party’s state central committee, which scheduled the contest on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day federal holiday, comes after top Democrats pushed to redraw the influential calendar and drop Iowa from its leading spot.

The Republican Party of Iowa’s chairman, Jeff Kaufmann, said in a statement Saturday that party members were “proud to affirm that Iowa will continue to honor our half-century-old promises to the other carveout states.” The three other states that have historically gone first in the nominating contests are New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

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“The Associational Rights of Political Parties”

Sharing a chapter I have written for The Oxford Handbook of American Election Law (Eugene Mazo, ed.) (2023, forthcoming). The chapter, among other things, stresses the ways that the U.S. Supreme Court’s current approach to the associational freedom of political parties significantly constrains party reform strategies. Given the manifest need for party regulation in the interest of a healthy democracy and the recent buzz around Lee Drutman’s report and op ed arguing for more and better parties, this seems a good time to share.

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“The Democratic Party promised to overhaul its primaries. Doing that has been anything but simple”


New Hampshire is in open rebellion. Georgia is all but out.

South Carolina and Nevada are on board but face stiff Republican pushback. Michigan’s compliance may mean having to cut the state legislative session short, despite Democrats controlling both chambers and the governor’s mansion.

Then there’s Iowa, which is looking for ways to still go first without violating party rules.

Months after the Democratic Party approved President Joe Biden’s plan to overhaul its primary order to better reflect a deeply diverse voter base, implementing the revamped order has proven anything but simple. Party officials now expect the process to continue through the end of the year — even as the 2024 presidential race heats up all around it.

“Despite the fact that it looked like relatively smooth sailing for the president when he proposed it … the kind of backlash you’re hearing, the reactions, are exactly what we would have expected,” said David Redlawsk, chair of the political science department at the University of Delaware and co-author of the book “Why Iowa? How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process.”

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New Iowa law adds two tweaks to presidential caucus process

The Des Moines Register covers a new law signed by Governor Kim Reynolds, HF 716, that tweaks a few aspects of elections in Iowa. The bill was revised substantially from the time it was first introduced and solved major associational problems. Of note are two changes to the caucus process. Some media coverage about them is overblown (Josh Putnam at FHQ has very good details), but I’ll highlight those two changes.

The caucuses are a private party-run process, but state law still has some provisions about them. For instance, “Delegates to county conventions of political parties and party committee members shall be elected at precinct caucuses held not later than the fourth Monday in February of each even-numbered year. The date shall be at least eight days earlier than the scheduled date for any meeting, caucus, or primary which constitutes the first determining stage of the presidential nominating process in any other state, territory, or any other group which has the authority to select delegates in the presidential nomination.” There are statutory guarantees that Iowa goes first.

Last December, I highlighted the messiness of the DNC changing its calendar so it is no longer in sync with the RNC calendar. The DNC gave the first five spots to states that were not Iowa. It gave the first spot to South Carolina. (These rules can still change in the months ahead.)

New Hampshire law requires a primary before everyone else. Democrats in New Hampshire plan on abiding by their law and ignoring the DNC rules. That means its primary will be held in late January, before everyone else. The primary is for both Democrats and Republicans. So that puts Republicans in Iowa in a place where they have to move even earlier. Meanwhile, Iowa Democrats proposed a system that would include mail-in balloting. That system, however, would likely make New Hampshire move its primary even earlier–depending on when Iowa Democrats decided to run that process, and when the DNC told them they could.

The first change. Iowa law is amended to add, “If the state central committee of a political party chooses to select its delegates as a part of the presidential nominating process at political party precinct caucuses on the date provided in subsection 1, the precinct caucuses shall take place in person among the participants physically present at the location of each precinct caucus.”

The in-person requirement is to ensure that New Hampshire does not jump Iowa. It also applies only to the selection of delegates. It does not apply to the allocation of delegates, e.g., whether delegates are allocated to particular candidates.

So Iowa Republicans can continue an in-person caucus before everyone else, which includes an allocation process; Iowa Democrats can select delegates that night as a part of their process, but allocate later on a mail-in system; and New Hampshire can breathe easy that the caucuses will not look like a primary.

There’s still much to happen both on the DNC calendar front and the Iowa Democratic Party’s choice of process, but the change is designed to help ease everyone. We’ll see if that holds.

The second change. Iowa has same-day voter registration, and consistent with that, caucuses permitted same-day registrants to participate in the caucuses. The rules now add, “the state central committee of each political party may set rules for participate in or voting at a precinct caucus, including but not limited to voter registration requirements.”

Earlier drafts of this text had a 110-day window or a 70-day window. This instead gives the parties the flexibility to define the contours of participants. The objective is twofold. First, if the DNC and RNC allocation processes take place on different days, pre-registration requirements can diminish the risk of double-voting. Second, if there is a concern of “party raiding,” the party can institute rules to prevent that. In an election where there is no serious Democratic contest but a serious Republican contest, for instance, one can imagine Republicans wanting to require some earlier registration requirement. (More cynically, some have pointed out that a more limited caucus may help some candidates over others, a matter to be fought out inside the party, I’m sure.)

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