After Iowa's Debacle, Focus on Women of Color to Fix the Primary System | Opinion

This week, everyone in America learned what women of color have been saying for many years: Iowa is the wrong state to kick off the Democratic primary season.

Leading with a state as overwhelmingly white as Iowa compounds the structural issues that plague the Democratic National Committee: Its system prioritizes white voters over everyone else. Add to that the fact that the state bars people with felony convictions from voting, while targeting people of color for policing, prosecuting and prison—and you have a problem. The only thing whiter than the population of Iowa are the Iowa caucuses: According to entrance polls, 91 percent of voters were white.

With the latest meltdown in the state, and a failure to post any reliable results for nearly 24 hours, we have a huge opportunity to move on.

It's time for the Democratic Party to stop losing winnable elections and embrace the women of color we need to win. Otherwise, early primary returns will be increasingly poor indicators of the way most of the country will vote, and Democrats will be deprived of the strategic organizing genius women of color use to help push the best candidates to the forefront.

Here's the simple plan that will make the beginning of primary season actually reflective of Democratic voters: Let South Carolina and Nevada vote first, before Iowa and New Hampshire. Just flip the first two states with the second two states. This easy fix would give voters who aren't white a say in which candidates and proposals gain momentum thanks to early support.

South Carolina and Nevada have populations more reflective of the Democratic Party, national voter demographics and our population overall. In South Carolina, 42 percent of Democratic voters are women of color, tracking with national projections that the nation will be majority people of color by 2045; in Nevada, the number is 26 percent, a near-perfect proxy for the 25 percent of Democratic voters women of color are nationally today.

Now that we know the plan, here's how we can make it happen.

The DNC would need to vote by 2023 to pass a rule changing the established order of state primary races for the 2024 elections. Working back from there, the change would have to go before the DNC's Rules Committee by the time they hold hearings on any proposals, which will happen in late summer or early fall of next year. Proposals can come from Rules Committee members, other DNC members and community groups. The Rules Committee votes on recommendations in early 2023, and then those results go up for a vote before the whole DNC.

Early voting states are unlikely to be happy about losing the clout, limelight and economic boost. How will the Iowa State Fair continue without the Democratic hopefuls taste-testing local delights? New Hampshire even has a state law that it has to be the first Democratic primary state. (Iowa holds a caucus instead.) But once the DNC makes an election-related rule, states have to obey or risk being stripped of their convention delegates altogether. I can't speak for Iowa and New Hampshire—even though they are perfectly happy to speak for me—but I personally would opt for slightly delayed representation over no say at all.

Iowa Democratic Party headquarters
An exterior view of the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters is seen February 4 in Des Moines, Iowa. Alex Wong/Getty

So after this week's fiasco is finally sorted out and this year's election is on the books, let's put our heads together as a party and make this solution work. The Democratic primary process already felt out of touch before this week's events. We began with one of the most diverse candidate fields in history and are now faced with an all-white team of front-runners with only one woman, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who appears viable.

It's time to turn back to the Democratic base—women of color—for solutions that will ensure this never happens again. Faith in the Democratic Party can be restored, as can faith in our democracy, with a plan that changes whose voice gets heard first. From now on, it should be ours.

Aimee Allison is the founder and president of She the People, a national network of women of color in politics.

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