On Feb. 1, the Iowa caucuses will be the official first step in voters casting ballots for the Democratic and Republican nominations for president of the United States. Iowans will attend evening precinct caucuses, a separate caucus for each of the two major political parties, and directly vote for the one person they want to be their party's candidate for president.
Coloradans should ask: Why does Iowa get to go first — and gain all that media attention that so strongly influences who gets nominated — and Colorado has little or no influence?
The answer: Iowa's elected political leaders worked very hard to put their state in the position of voting first. Colorado's elected political leaders have made weak efforts in that regard.
One interesting aspect of the presidential nominating system in the United States is the way in which, 40 years ago, Iowa succeeded in replacing New Hampshire as the "First in the Nation" presidential nominating event.
Iowa is famous for holding presidential caucuses rather than a presidential primary. There is a good reason for that. New Hampshire had a tradition of always holding the first presidential primary. In fact, New Hampshire has a law requiring that its primary be one week before the presidential primary of any other state.
A caucus is a face-to-face meeting of citizens in local neighborhood precincts for the purpose of electing delegates to county or state conventions. In a presidential caucus, attendees cast a vote for their preferred candidate for the party nomination for president.
A primary election is when voters go to a polling place and cast a secret vote for their choice of nominee for president.
By holding presidential caucuses rather than a presidential primary, Iowa was able to schedule its caucuses eight days ahead of New Hampshire and thereby not inspire New Hampshire to reschedule its primary to one week ahead of Iowa. That is what New Hampshire law would require if Iowa held a primary rather than caucuses.
Insiders know that, in reality, Iowa holds what amounts to a presidential primary but has disguised it as presidential caucuses in order to bamboozle the folks in New Hampshire.
It was in 1972 that Iowa's elected political leaders first scheduled its "first-in-the- nation" presidential caucuses. Four years later, in 1976, the Iowa caucuses were propelled to major importance when Jimmy Carter, a little-known former governor of Georgia, devoted much of a year to campaigning in Iowa.
Carter did surprisingly well in the Iowa caucuses and soon was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. It was an advantage that Carter exploited so well he was eventually elected president.
The press wants "reportable results" from a presidential primary or caucuses on election night. Iowans organize their caucuses so that, the minute the vote in each neighborhood precinct caucus is known, the results are called into Des Moines, the state capital. The winners and losers are reported to the news media in plenty of time to make the 11 o'clock TV news on the East Coast.
It is this swift reporting of results, as well as the early date, that makes Iowa so instantly important and influential in the presidential nominating process.
For example, at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 2012, 500 people — all from the surrounding neighborhood — showed up. It was a majestic example of town hall deliberative democracy at work. Meanwhile, what has been going on in Colorado?
In recent years, Colorado's elected political leaders have shown little interest in maximizing the role of Colorado voters in the presidential nominating process. Colorado had a presidential primary in 1992 and 1996, but inexplicably the primary was abolished in 2000 and replaced by having uninstructed delegates to the national party conventions selected at state conventions.
In 2008, Colorado's elected political leaders took a positive step and replaced the state conventions with Iowa-style presidential caucuses. The caucuses were held on Super Tuesday, the first Tuesday in March, the first date allowed to Colorado by national political party rules.
Barack Obama won the Democratic caucuses in Colorado in 2008. Obama, as the incumbent president, won the Colorado Democratic caucuses again in 2012. The Republicans in 2012 voted for Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, an outspoken anti-abortion candidate.
This year, Republican political leaders in Colorado abolished the Republican caucus vote for president for 2016. Republican caucuses will still be held, but attendees will not be able to vote their preference for the Republican nominee for president. Their task will be to elect delegates to county conventions who will in turn elect delegates to a state convention that will elect uninstructed delegates to the Republican National Convention.
Republican Party leaders in Colorado argued they abolished the presidential straw vote in the GOP caucuses because turnouts were low (about 6 percent) and the popular vote results did not bind convention delegates to the caucus winner.
Yet turnouts in presidential caucuses in other states are equally low, and getting to vote in a low turnout presidential caucus, whether delegates are bound or not, is better than not getting to vote at all.
The 2016 race for the Republican nomination is heating up. Incredibly, Colorado's registered Republican voters have been disenfranchised from this exciting nomination race by their own state party political leaders.
That never would have happened in Iowa, and that is why Iowa is first in the nation and Colorado is way back in the pack.
Thomas E. Cronin and Robert D. Loevy are political scientists at Colorado College and co-authors of "Colorado Politics and Policy: Governing a Purple State."
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