Abolish the Iowa Caucuses | Opinion

"What's in Iowa anyway?" is what I typically hear after telling people I'm originally from there. My typical response is, "Cornfields, presidential caucuses, taco pizza and racism with a smile." The response I get shifts from initial shock to nodding.

After I permanently left the state in 1999, I learned that many Americans and citizens of other countries are quick to dismiss Iowa because of its flyover status, rural communities, abundance of fried food in different shapes and lack of skyscrapers. There is some validity to that point of view. I was 21 years old before I met a Jewish person for the first time. When I lived in New York City, I interacted with more foreign nationals in one typical day than I did in my entire life.

But that snobby disregard of Iowa is dangerous and misplaced. The Iowa caucuses have monumentally shaped U.S. presidential elections for decades even though the selection process is a subtle disguise for voter suppression. The Democratic candidate who wins the Iowa caucuses tends to win the party's presidential nomination with only three exceptions in the last 50 years. Winning presidential Democratic nominees owe a lot of their final success to early momentum with voters and heavy media coverage that are direct results of the Iowa caucuses.

Leaders in the Democratic party are currently considering a change to the current presidential candidate selection process so that Iowa isn't one of the first states to play such an influential but heavily biased role. New proposals would allow for more diversity and competitiveness—none of which Iowa has achieved or will accomplish with the status quo.

Guests arrive for a rally
Guests arrive for a rally with former President Donald Trump at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Oct. 9, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Iowa is roughly 91 percent white while that same data point for the United States is lower. Minority populations in Iowa are in the single digits, yet the prison population is 25 percent Black. In 2010, Romonda Belcher-Ford became the first female Black judge in the state, but as of 2018, minorities remain a rarity on the bench. Nearly a century after women gained the right to vote in the United States, Iowa elected its first female congressional representatives. In 2017, after over 150 years of white men, Iowa's first female governor was sworn in. In the Iowa State Legislature, women make up 29 percent of legislators, and the percentage of nonwhite lawmakers is pitiful.

What makes Iowa such a hostile place for diversity?

Iowa has a long history of unaddressed bigotry that's still present today. Several towns are suspected sundown towns, including my hometown of Cedar Falls. Although Iowa was one of the first states to desegregate public schools, the effects of racial divisions are still seen today, including at my own high school. Hate crimes in Iowa have been on the rise in the last few years. Recently, even children in Iowa were charged with hate crimes.

To be sure, minority and female candidates can win in Iowa. Former President Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses both times. However, presidential candidates of any race will be reluctant to discuss systematic discrimination and other urgent social justice issues, knowing that the votes they need will come from a majority of white Iowans. Police brutality, for example, won't be a topic of conversation over pork loin sandwiches because the subject will be unfamiliar and irrelevant to the average Iowan.

Why is an overwhelmingly white state, which has maintained that racial majority since 1846, allowed to quietly but unilaterally select future U.S. presidents? The Iowa caucuses are unethical and do a great disservice to all Americans. The stranglehold the state has over the U.S. presidential candidate selection process must come to a permanent end so equity, equality and diversity can thrive in our free election system.

But not everything in Iowa is bad. The taco pizza from Casey's General Store is delicious.

Maria Reppas lives with her family on the East Coast. She can be reached here.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.