EXPLAINER: How do parties and states set presidential votes?

Dec 17, 2022, 2:33 PM | Updated: Dec 19, 2022, 3:11 pm
FILE - A pedestrian walks past a sign for the Iowa Caucuses on a downtown skywalk, in Des Moines, I...

FILE - A pedestrian walks past a sign for the Iowa Caucuses on a downtown skywalk, in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Even before President Joe Biden told Democrats his preference for reordering the presidential primary calendar, states began balking.

Officials in Iowa, the leadoff voting state for 40 years, noted a state law mandating that its caucuses take place at least eight days before any other nominating contest. In New Hampshire, the site of the first-in-the-nation primary for more than a century, a state law requires that its presidential primary be held first by at least a week.

Nonetheless, the Democratic National Committee’s rule-making arm on Dec. 2 approved a revamped schedule for early votes for the 2024 presidential primary: first South Carolina, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on the same day, then Georgia and finally Michigan. The DNC didn’t set a specific date for Iowa to vote, and it wasn’t immediately clear how the state planned to reconcile its existing law with the party’s new calendar.

States can pass laws with the aim of telling other states what they can and cannot do, but such laws have no force. Any state could enact a law saying it must vote first, without it binding elsewhere.

So what happens if state law clashes with what national party leaders want on voting order? A state must change that law or run the risk that its delegates will not count toward the national nominating total.


The new calendar, awaiting approved by the full DNC, has been in the works for years. The party has long debated putting more diverse states in front of largely white states and moving away from the time-consuming and confusing caucus process.

What accelerated the changes was the debacle of the 2020 Iowa caucuses.

A new smartphone app designed to calculate and report results failed, leading to a telephone backlog that prevented the party from reporting final results for nearly a week after the contest. There were so many irregularities and inconsistencies in the reporting of the results that The Associated Press was unable to declare a winner, though Pete Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who is now Biden’s transportation secretary, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders finished essentially tied for the lead.

Biden finished fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire that year before going on to win the nomination after a dominant performance in South Carolina, the first state with a predominantly Black Democratic base. After that commanding victory, voters in other states followed suit, elevating Biden from a crowded field of candidates.

South Carolina’s vault into the first spot would put it in a premier position in 2024.



Iowa had been bracing for losing its leadoff slot ever since the 2020 caucus chaos.

Former Iowa Democratic Chair Scott Brennan, a member of the DNC committee that considered the 2024 calendar, voted against the changes to the order of states. He said they would “certainly favor front-runners and billionaire vanity candidates” by not including early-voting states in the center of the country. Ross Wilburn, the current head of the Iowa Democratic Party, said over the weekend that he won’t run for reelection in January after the DNC move to put the South Carolina primary ahead.

New Hampshire’s delegation has long threatened to defy Democratic rules and hold its primary first anyway. A state law passed in the 1970s requires that its presidential primary be held first, laying out the purpose as to “protect the tradition of the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation presidential primary.” It also gives the secretary of state the exclusive power to set the primary date.

On news of the revised calendar plan, New Hampshire Democrats appeared ready to spurn the national party. “We will always hold the first in the nation primary, and this status is independent of the president’s proposal or any political organization,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan.

Nevada has been the first voting state in the West since 2008. Last year, Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a law changing the contest from a party-run, in-person caucus to a government-run primary election, to be held on the first Tuesday in February in a presidential election year — or, for 2024, on Feb. 6.

While Nevada officials had hoped this would lead to the state’s holding the new first-in-the-nation status, it will still hold significant prominence, especially with early voting beginning on Jan. 27.



If states defy the DNC, there are a few possible penalties, including refusal to seat delegates at the national convention from any state that held its votes out of order.

That happened in 2008. Florida and Michigan held voting contests before their slots on both parties’ calendars. National Republicans banned half of the delegates from the states. Democrats removed both states’ delegates from the national convention, although the DNC ultimately voted to seat all of the delegates, awarding half a vote to each.

Four years later, states including Florida again scheduled their contests before the early window only then allocated to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina; all but Nevada moved their votes into January. National party leaders again penalized the rogue states by pulling half of their delegates.

The parties could penalize candidates directly, perhaps by denying them prime speaking slots at national conventions. But University of New Hampshire political scientist David Moore said he doubted that ramifications would be severe enough to keep states such as New Hampshire from defying the calendar.

“I don’t know right now how committed the Democratic Party is to penalizing Iowa and New Hampshire if they go rogue,” he said.



The Republican National Committee has already decided to keep Iowa as the first contest on its presidential calendar. For months, potential GOP hopefuls have been making trips as the field begins to form.

RNC members also voted unanimously to keep New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada in the early-voting window.

South Carolina’s parties, and not its lawmakers, set primary dates, so Democrats have no concern of their 2024 voting date being held up by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

No date has been set for Georgia’s GOP presidential preference primary in 2024.

Gabriel Sterling is a top official in the office of Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has sole responsibility for setting primary dates. Sterling said the agency “has been telling Democrats for over a year that we will do nothing that would require having two dates” for the parties’ primaries. He said that because of the national GOP’s calendar, holding Georgia’s Republican primary before March 1 “would cut their delegate count in half.”


Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price in New York and Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta contributed to this report.


Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP


This story has been corrected to reflect that the Iowa Democratic Party chairman announced he won’t run for reelection in January but he is not stepping down now.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Volunteers distribute aid to people in Antakya, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. Thinly st...
Associated Press

Live Updates | Turkey, Syria quake is deadliest in decade

The catastrophic earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria became one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade Wednesday and the death toll kept rising, surpassing 11,000. Rescue crews braved freezing overnight temperatures in quake-hit areas in both countries in hopes of reaching more survivors and to pull more […]
1 day ago
A U.S. Air Force installation surrounded by farmland in central Montana is seen on Feb. 7, 2023, ne...
Associated Press

US, states weigh farmland restrictions after Chinese balloon

HARLOWTON, Mont. (AP) — Near the banks of Montana’s Musselshell River, cattle rancher Michael Miller saw a large, white orb above the town of Harlowton last week, a day before U.S. officials revealed they were tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the state. The balloon caused a stir in the 900-person town surrounded by […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Russia seeks lengthy prison term for ex-governor

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities on Wednesday requested a lengthy prison term for a former regional governor who is standing trial on murder charges and whose arrest two years ago prompted weeks-long mass protests. The prosecutor has asked a court in the Moscow region to sentence Sergei Furgal, former governor of Russia’s far eastern Khabarovsk […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

How fresh tax credits, rebates can launch eco home updates

If you’ve been holding off on home improvements, a new law signed last year and now in effect as of Jan. 1, 2023, may provide a fresh incentive. The Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, includes tax credits and rebates for homeowners who make energy-saving updates to their homes. Credits for improvements like new solar panels, […]
1 day ago
This undated photo provided by Edmunds shows their top rated car, SUV, truck and an electric versio...
Associated Press

Edmunds: Car shopping trends and tips for 2023

Shopping for a new or used car over the last few years has become a frustrating and expensive undertaking. Car shoppers have had to deal with vehicle shortages, high prices, dwindling incentives and rising interest rates. Will 2023 bring any relief? Yes and no. “Many buyers exited the market due to inventory issues or pricing […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Farmers drive tractors to Paris to protest pesticide ban

PARIS (AP) — Hundreds of farmers drove their tractors through Paris on Wednesday to amplify their demand to be allowed to use banned pesticides on sugar beets and other crops to ensure “food sovereignty” for France. Entering the French capital through a southern gateway, the farmers’ convoy rolled to the gold-domed Invalides monument, site of […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
EXPLAINER: How do parties and states set presidential votes?