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Democratic officials approve plan that could shake up presidential primary calendar

The new plan jettisons the current set of early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and implements a process that would prioritize diverse battleground states that choose to hold primaries, not caucuses. Under the new structure, states will apply to hold early nominating contests and the rules committee will select up to five that will be allowed to go before Super Tuesday, the first Tuesday in March.

All four of the current early states can apply to keep their places, but Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status will be especially threatened, given the largely White state is no longer a battleground and is required by state law to hold caucuses.

The plan was approved by the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee at a meeting in Washington with only one dissent, from Iowa’s Scott Brennan.

State parties will now have until June 3 to submit their applications. The rules committee will then hear presentations from interested states and make a decision in July. After that, the committee’s proposal will need to be approved at the full DNC meeting in August or September.

The committee will also consider the cost and difficulty of campaigning in a state, states’ union membership and their ability to actually administer an early contest. Primary dates are generally set by law, so state parties looking to hold early primaries would need cooperation from their legislatures and governors.

“This process sets a foundation for the 2024 presidential nominating calendar that is reflective of our party’s values, builds trust in our institutions through transparent and sound processes and puts us in the strongest position to retain the White House in 2024,” committee chair James Roosevelt said as he introduced the resolution. “It’s built around an idea that members raised early on. It designs a framework for a pre-window that, as a whole, reflects our party’s constituencies and values.”

During the meeting, members supported making sure that every region of the country was represented in the group of early states.

“I think it’s important that the Midwest is not fly-over country,” Ken Martin of Minnesota said.

Committee members also discussed the importance of reviewing the early calendar regularly.

“I don’t think that’s a bad thing to send that message because it shows that we are a dynamic party that is constantly assessing and that we are not going to stand on status quo every four years,” committee member Mo Elleithee said.

Senior Democrats have long criticized the party’s nominating calendar as being too heavily focused on less-diverse states and less-accessible caucuses.

Committee members on Wednesday discussed their commitment to considering diversity in the early states, not only in terms of racial and ethnic diversity but also including LGBTQ and disabled communities.

Iowa especially has been under pressure in recent years. Ahead of 2020, the Iowa Democratic Party proposed adding “virtual caucuses,” which would’ve allowed caucusgoers to participate without needing to be at a physical caucus site on the traditional Monday evening. That plan was rejected by the DNC over security concerns, though the party did hold a series of satellite caucuses for Iowans in different states or countries.

2020’s caucus night itself was beset with chaos. A new mobile app for reporting results from the nearly 1,700 caucus sites across the state didn’t work properly, and phone lines backed up as organizers tried to call in their results. The outcome was confusion and delayed results, which blunted the bounce that Iowa often gives to candidates who perform well.

Concern about Iowa’s status also came up in Wednesday’s meeting.

“Let’s be perfectly clear. In my mind, this means no traditional caucus states in the early lineup, and I want to say that very clearly,” committee member Elaine Kamarck said. “I’ve been to a lot of caucuses. I think it’s a remarkable exercise in small d democracy. But I think the time has passed.”

After the meeting Brennan said that Iowa would be applying, but he admitted it would be a “challenge” for the state to keep its spot at the head of the line.

“The process still has to play out. We haven’t even made an application yet. I’m going to take everybody at their word that this is a fair and open process. Until it’s not,” he said.

“It’s a challenge every four years. People have not liked the four early state process for a long time and every four years it’s a battle. It’s a pitched battle this time as well.”

In explaining his “no” vote, Brennan criticized the process that led to the resolution.

“It has not been as open and transparent a process as I would’ve hoped,” Brennan said. “I can’t in good conscience vote for something where I don’t feel like the committee had full involvement in the original draft.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

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