Following a nearly 50-year tradition, members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) – which oversees one of the largest political parties in the United States – have voted to change their first calendar for the 2024 presidential race.
South Carolina is now preparing to open the voting process, followed by votes in New Hampshire and Nevada a week later.
The decision is expected to knock the Midwestern state of Iowa out of the top spot. Since 1972, Iowa has held presidential elections with its first national caucuses.
Although the shake-up is expected to be confirmed by the entire DNC in a vote early next year, the move, which was announced on Friday, reflects a shift in power in US politics, as Democrats focus on building a diverse voting base.
In the US, the presidential nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties are determined through a series of state and federal elections. States that vote before Super Tuesday — the day most states hold their primaries — are expected to affect the outcome of each party’s election.
Friday’s decision comes after US President Joe Biden wrote a letter to the DNC to stop “restrictive and anti-staff” caucuses that require voters to appear in person “at a designated location at a designated time” to participate.
Mr Biden’s letter – written on a personal note, on behalf of the White House – also emphasized the importance of prioritizing black voters in the party’s elections.
“For decades, black voters, in particular, have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the primary,” Biden wrote.
“We rely on these voters in the election but we have not realized their importance in our election calendar. It’s time to stop taking these voters for granted and time to make them heard louder and louder in the process. “
Black voters in South Carolina are known to have helped keep Biden’s presidential aspirations alive in the 2020 final race. Early polls in Iowa and New Hampshire that year showed Biden trailing in fourth and fifth place, respectively, behind the Democratic hopefuls.
But he won a big victory in South Carolina, which helped him to decide the party. More than 26 percent of South Carolina residents are black.
In the general election against Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Biden also received strong support from blacks, receiving 92 percent of the black vote.
But Democrats have long been criticized for taking black voters and their issues for granted, a point DNC member Donna Brazile made at a gathering Friday.
“Do you know what it’s like to live on a dirt road? Do you know what it’s like trying to find clean tap water? Brazile asked the Democratic Party’s legislative group. “Do you know what it’s like to wait and watch as a hurricane passes you by and your roof is still there?”
Friday’s vote also raises primary races in Georgia and Michigan, which are expected to make up the first five states to vote for the Democratic nominee. New Hampshire, Nevada, Georgia and Michigan are all considered battlegrounds for Democrats, with Biden planning to run for re-election in 2024.
Republican-leaning South Carolina, meanwhile, hasn’t voted blue in a presidential election since 1976.
As an incumbent, Mr. Biden is considered a contender for his party’s nomination in 2024, meaning that Friday’s decision will have major implications for future presidential elections.
The Republican National Committee (RNC), meanwhile, has said that they want to continue using the Iowa convention as the first race of 2024. Among those who are expected to run is former President Donald Trump, who announced the launch of his campaign in November.
Iowa Republicans criticized the DNC’s early reshuffle, calling the decision to make South Carolina the party’s first state a “misplaced move from a no-nonsense president.”
“The DNC and Joe Biden have just created chaos,” Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement, vowing: “This battle is not over.”
Scott Brennan of Iowa, a member of the Democratic Legislative Committee, also asked his fellow members to ensure that “small rural states” have a voice in the Democratic election.
“Democrats can’t forget about all the voter groups in the Midwest without doing serious damage to the party in new generations,” he told the group on Friday. Brennan and other committee members from Iowa and New Hampshire were the only votes against Friday’s change to the Democratic nomination process..
Iowa has faced multi-day delays and inconsistencies in its 2020 Democratic race, leading candidates like Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg to call for redistricting.
Members of the Nevada Democratic caucus also criticized the new election schedule on Friday, which has a second voting day shared with New Hampshire.
“If we want to build a strong relationship with Latinos,” said Nevada’s Artie Blanco, “then Nevada needs to stand on its own on the day and not share the day.”
About 30 percent of Nevadans identify as Latino, according to the 2021 census.
Iowa and New Hampshire have said their state laws require them to go ahead of others, and they want to follow that, not the committee’s decision.