Politics & Race
Black Votes Don’t Count – The Iowa Caucuses’ Dirty Little Secret

Whenever I hear someone talking about “traditional American values” and “old school, down home…” anything, my “Real Negus” senses start tingling the same way I imagine the hairs on the backs of slaves’ arms stood up when Massa came home drunk.

If you’ve watched to any of the 24-hour news channels the past few days, you’ve heard them romanticizing the Iowa Caucuses describing them in glowing terms somewhere between the second coming of Jesus and when Mufasa held Simba in his arms on the cliff in The Lion King. Pundits, politicos and white people who wear plaid shirts love the Iowa Caucuses. They are one of the few things that are still good and pure about Presidential politics but if you step back and look at them objectively, the Iowa caucuses are indicative of one fact.

The entire Presidential primary process is set up to ensure Black votes don’t count.

I know, it sounds like a barbershop conspiracy theory, until you look at the numbers, and you know what Jay-Z said: Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t (I know that quote probably originated from someone like the Marquis de la Fayette in 1746, but I first heard it when Jigga said it, so he gets the NegusWhoRead credit during Black History Month).

Let’s start with the Democratic Caucus in Iowa.

Iowa is one of the Whitest states in the country according to the US Census. Couple that with an inane caucus system that depends on having people stand in corners all night until they determine delegates who will vote for delegates who will represent their tiny section of Iowa at a convention to choose which delegates will go on to pick a Presidential nominee. You knew that, right? Oh, you didn’t. Well, there are two dirty little secrets in Iowa that no one seems to mention when fellating the Iowa caucus process:

1. No one in Iowa actually votes for a candidate. What you are voting for are delegates. The delegate-picking process is so long and drawn out that people often leave in the middle it. Would you like to know how they solve the problem when the votes don’t add up before they are finished because someone has left? Nah, man, you don’t want to know. You don’t want to know because it is batshit crazy, but I’ll tell you anyway — they flip a fucking coin. Seriously. Three precincts in last night’s caucuses determined delegates by a coin toss. But the second dirty little secrets in Iowa is even crazier

2. No one actually participates in the caucus bullshit. 2012 had record turnout in Iowa, and still less than 20% of registered Republicans voted, which means 4 out of 5 people didn’t bother to come to the polls. Iowa has 99 counties divided into 1700 precincts. The state is so rural that in some precincts can be determined by two or three friends getting together to sway the election.


But New Hampshire is no better. If you went through every census taken since the U.S. had 50 states, and ranked them by how white they are, New Hampshire wouldn’t win every time, but it would always get a medal for being one of the three whitest states in America.

I know what you’re thinking:

Why would a place that calls itself a democracy allow  one of the smallest and whitest states to determine who will be President?

If Presidential politics is based on money and how long you can stay in the race, wouldn’t a tiny white population automatically eliminate certain kinds of candidates?

If America is 12% Black, why allow states that are 2% Black to have so much weight in the process? And why not just count votes and say who won? What’s up with this delegate bullshit?

The answer is a complicated mix of electoral politics, the history of the 1968 Democratic Convention, inclusiveness and the feasibility of holding Iowa’s complicated process, that can be summed up with a simple explanation:

“Because… Black people.”

Then comes the South Carolina primaries, where Black votes actually don’t count. Where the only Democratic candidates who get Electoral College votes are Jim Crow and Jimmy Carter. Where George Bush won the 2000 primary by Robo-calling voters with the rumor that John McCain had a secret Black baby. Where the Clintons went full-nigger dog whistle on candidate Barack Obama in 2008. Where old voting machines in heavily Black areas literally might not be able to count votes.

Combine that with the fact that the next few State primaries (referred to as the “SEC primaries — for college football’s Southeastern Conference) are held in states throughout the South that are trying to make it tougher for minorities to vote since the Supreme Court threw out key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Couple that with the underrepresentation of Blacks in all-important Presidential polls. Add to that the uselessness of having almost no swing states (states that usually determine the Presidential Election)  until late in the process.

Some people think the charge of “racism” means they must hate or have disdain for people of color. If we are in a drought, and you are responsible for passing out water, I don’t give a damn about the feelings in your heart, as long as you give me some water too. Some things are racist because they are disproportionately unfair to people of color. The Presidential primary system is set up in a way that it marginalizes black voters — whether it means to or not is irrelevant. The Presidential primary system is racist. Black Lives might matter, but do Black votes?

By the time any wide-ranging primary is held for Presidential candidates, the front-runners have already solidified their lead and candidates who haven’t performed well become marginalized by the media. In a few weeks, we will know who the real contenders are. They will be the ones who have raised enough money and done well enough in the early states to convince donors and voters that they are viable candidates. Don’t worry. We will soon know who will be our Presidential candidates.

Because White people will have picked them.

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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