Iowa Democrats say they’ll comply with a reworked presidential nominating calendar proposed by President Joe Biden in a move that will see the state shift out of the first-in-the-nation position it has held since 1972.
Under a proposal announced by the party Friday, Iowa Democratic voters will have until March 5 to cast their votes for a presidential nominee in a process conducted entirely by mail.
The plan is a major step toward enacting the revamped nominating schedule the national Democratic Party adopted earlier this year, which demoted traditional early-voting states Iowa and New Hampshire, while elevating South Carolina, Nevada and Michigan.
Despite Iowa’s move, New Hampshire Democrats are poised to deviate from the new calendar and could face sanctions from the national party.
The Democratic National Committee’s rules panel is meeting Friday morning in St. Louis and is expected to approve Iowa’s new plan.
Under the proposal, on November 1, Iowa Democrats will be able to begin to register to receive a presidential preference card in the mail. Those cards will start being mailed out on January 12, 2024, and the last day to request one will be February 19. The state party will release the results of the vote on March 5, which is also the last day that voters can mail their cards.
Iowa Democrats will also hold in-person caucuses on January 15, the same day that Iowa Republicans will gather, but those meetings only be used to conduct party business, not to vote for president.
The new Democratic primary calendar took away Iowa’s special status as an early state, despite a state law which requires the caucuses to be held before any other contest.
In response, the state party adopted a rough outline of the plan they fleshed out Friday, with early caucuses separate from a presidential preference vote conducted by mail.
However, that initial plan didn’t include dates for the mail process, as the state party wanted to remain “flexible” in case of other calendar developments.
Without that information, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee declined to approve the proposal at its June meeting, and national party staff said that for the plan to comply with DNC rules, the vote-by-mail period had to end on or after Super Tuesday, or March 5 (the date at which every state is allowed to start holding Democratic contests).
In a letter to the Rules Committee, Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart wrote that the state party had created the new schedule “after negotiations with DNC Staff.”
“We believe this delegate selection plan is a compromise and meets the requirements set forth by this committee, complies with Iowa law, and most importantly sets Iowa Democrats up to win in 2024,” Hart wrote.
Hart also wrote that she’d received “repeated reassurance” from party officials that the calendar discussion would be reopened ahead of 2028 and she expects Iowa “to compete strongly for a significant voice in the selection of the Democratic nominee as we have for years.”
“As a resident of the small town of Wheatland, Iowa, it is vital small rural states in the heart of the Midwest have a voice in this process. Democrats need our diversifying rural communities to ensure future electoral victories,” Hart said in her letter.
Assuming the plan is approved, the focus will shift to New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, who is responsible for setting the date of his state’s presidential primary, a date which, under state law, must be at least a week before any “similar election.”
Scanlan has said that the use of mail ballots in Iowa would trigger his state’s law, but an Iowa mail process that doesn’t end until March might not be much different from other situations in which states with later primary dates have sent out mail ballots before New Hampshire primary voters head to the polls. Those arrangements haven’t caused New Hampshire to move its primary date.
Regardless of whether the New Hampshire primary comes before or after Iowa’s in-person caucuses, the contest is expected to violate the new Democratic timing rules, and state Democrats are likely to face sanctions from the DNC.
Under the new Democratic calendar, the Granite State is only allowed to hold an early primary on February 6, 2024, the same day as Nevada and shortly after South Carolina holds its primary on February 3.
While Scanlan has not yet set a date for the 2024 Republican and Democratic primaries, he has said that the state will not be in compliance with the DNC calendar. That could cost New Hampshire Democrats party delegates to the national convention next summer.
It would also be a violation of national party rules for Biden to campaign in such an early contest in New Hampshire or to even have his name on the ballot, although voters could write him in.
The DNC rules committee voted unanimously at the September meeting to give New Hampshire Democrats until October 14 to submit a delegate selection plan that includes an approved primary date. The national party granted the extension after the state party failed to submit by September 1 a delegate selection plan that included a primary date.
Ultimately, the calendar changes are unlikely to have much impact on the outcome of the 2024 nominating process, as Biden doesn’t face a serious primary challenger. However, the moves do set the stage for a higher-profile fight over the Democratic schedule ahead of 2028.
While a few other states may still shift their 2024 primary dates, the rest of the Democratic calendar is largely set.
After Nevada, Michigan will hold its Democratic primary on February 27, and then the primary season will begin in earnest with Super Tuesday on March 5.
This story and headline have been updated.