A National Primary

One of the most traumatic years for the U.S. was in 1968. In one year, both Sen. Robert Kennedy and activist Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated, anti-war protests plagued the nation while the Vietnam War raged on half a world away and racial tensions were so high that police were clashing with protesters right outside the Democratic Convention hall during the presidential nominating process. The country needed unity.

It was during that year’s Democratic Convention that the party establishment, in an effort to counter the nation’s division and be more inclusive with voters, decided to change the nominating process. They needed to reshape the primary calendar by spreading states out. Iowa, with its unique caucus, took longer than other states to hold their nominating contest, so the party placed Iowa first in the calendar. Since the 1972 primaries, Iowa has remained first.

The result of this calendar shuffle was positive. Spreading the states out gave them time to inform more voters, allowing more people to join the nominating process. Because of the rule changes in 1968, we have the primary system of today, where voters have more power in choosing their party’s presidential nominee. 

The Democratic party of 1968 wasn’t afraid to take on the challenge of reforming as the country faced disaster after disaster. It knew that it needed to involve more voters in the political process and adjusted the primary schedule accordingly. 

The United States of 2020 faces its own challenges. The current president will have likely been acquitted by the Senate at the time of this article’s publication, even though there is undeniable evidence that Mr. Trump attempted to influence a foreign power to in turn influence a U.S. election. Even as the president gets away with high crimes and misdemeanors, he continues to encourage a once hidden chorus of racism and religious bigotry, inciting domestic violence in less than 280 characters. 

Once again, the Democratic party must rise to the challenge of countering this division. Unlike 1968, however, the challenge of today is not including more voters, but making sure that inclusion is fairer. Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states in the primary process, are both over 90 percent white, completely unrepresentative of the U.S. population. But even if the two states’ racial composition was more diverse, giving these two small states the first and second spots in the primary significantly decreases the influence of the latter states and territories. 

This is not a critique of Iowa or New Hampshire. If any two of the states or territories were scheduled first and second in the primary cycle ahead of the other states and territories, I’d write the same thing. But an argument for a national primary on one day instead separate primaries over five months has more weight when the first two states demonstrate a Democratic party out of touch with racial issues and out of touch with 98.6 percent of the U.S. population. It is time for one primary day for every state and territory. It is time for the party to once again make reforms.