Democrats have voted to make history by emphasizing and elevating Black voices in the early days of the presidential nominating process, creating a seismic shift in the way America chooses its leaders.
Iowa will no longer host its first-in-the-nation caucuses under the plan put forward Friday by President Joe Biden and approved by the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. Instead, South Carolina – a state with a substantial Black population that helped deliver the nomination to Biden in 2020 – will lead an early voting window that will be significantly more diverse than in years past.
Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan will follow – a slate of states that the committee says will reflect the many pockets of diversity that make up the party’s growing base.
“I’m so proud that we're going to hear from more voices – voices of those who simply yearn to be heard. To be seen,” said committee member Donna Brazile, a former acting chair of the DNC.The calendar “is going to speak to all of us, because we know that our role in this party and our role as Democrats and as Americans is to open doors.”
The committee voted overwhelmingly to approve the plan, which must now be ratified by the full DNC early next year. Iowa and New Hampshire were alone in voting against the proposal, which the panel's chairs shared with the committee late Thursday after Biden weighed in and offered his recommended calendar.
Under the proposal, South Carolina will vote first, and Nevada and New Hampshire will share a second primary date. Georgia and then Michigan round out the early voting period before Super Tuesday. However, the order is contingent on the states proving to the committee that they are able to change the date of their primary.
The proposal was met with appreciation by many of the committee members, who praised it as a welcome step forward in complicated negotiations over how to evolve with the changing face of their party.
“The logistics of this window will be something we need to navigate as a committee,” said committee co-chair Minyon Moore. “But I agree with the president that this is a bold window that reflects the values of our party, and it is a window worth fighting for.”
But leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire, who did not receive their preferred spot on the calendar, are already promising to buck the committee’s decision and hold contests as they see fit.
“New Hampshire does have a statute. We do have a law. And we will not be breaking our law,” said Joanne Dowdell, New Hampshire’s representative to the committee. “And I feel that any lawyer in the room or around the table would agree that it is not in the best interest of this body to even suggest that we do that.”
Graham Wilson, general counsel to the DNC, said that while the body doesn’t have the power to mandate a change to state's law, it does have the power to dictate the process by which it selects its presidential nominee.
“The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized political parties' rights under the First Amendment to select the manner of choosing our own nominee and has in fact repeatedly invalidated state laws that limit or infringe on a party's ability to dictate how they select their nominee,” he said.
The order of states is contingent on each certifying in a signed letter by Jan. 5 that they have made any necessary statutory changes and will hold their primary on the date prescribed by the committee, regardless of when any other state holds its primary contest.
The requirements for New Hampshire go further.
The state's governor, Senate majority leader and House majority leader – all Republicans – must provide signed letters to the committee agreeing to make the statutory changes necessary to hold the state's primary on the prescribed date.
Those state officials must also certify that they will expand access to early voting.
States could be punished for not following the DNC calendar
Committee members noted changes they approved earlier this year that will inflict greater penalties on states and candidates that defy the DNC’s chosen calendar.
“We've also empowered the chairman to enforce this decision in a way that gives it more teeth than I think it ever has before,” said D.C. committee member Mo Elleithee.
Iowa’s representative to the committee, Scott Brennan, said that despite the enforcement rules, the vote will create a climate of confusion and jockeying among states that could drag out through much of 2023.
He pointed to the limited amount of time on the calendar, a tangle of conflicting state laws and “a GOP calendar that no longer bears any resemblance to ours.”
“We can vote on this calendar. We can approve this calendar. But we will leave here with nothing settled,” he said.
But members, by and large, cheered their passage of the calendar for 2024.
The job of the committee, noted member Stuart Appelbaum of New York, is “not just to choose states and the order in which they go but to tell the story of who we are as a party and who we are as a nation.”
“Our early states must reflect the overall diversity of our party and our nation, economically, geographically, demographically,” he said. “I think that the story we are telling with these selections is a story we can be proud of as the Democratic Party of the United States. This is what our party looks like. This is what America looks like.”
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Des Moines Register. Reach her at email@example.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.
Francesca Chambers is a White House correspondent for USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter at @fran_chambers.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DNC set 2024 presidential primary plan, South Carolina to lead