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Primary Election Reform: One State Votes, Then 49

Having the nomination of presidential candidates start off in the small states of Iowa and New Hampshire is kind of nice. Some pundits say that it is great because candidates are forced to take on the 19th century style of campaigning. They have to meet the locals, show up a local churches and schools to talk, and even go into people’s living rooms. That is all fun and nice, but this is the 21st century. Does it make sense to make Iowa and New Hampshire more influential in primary elections than states that have many times their populations?

If Iowa and New Hampshire have more influence on the nomination process than for example New York, Texas, and California, then the primary election process is weak in terms of representative democracy. Yes, having all states vote on the same day is more staid and takes away some of the appeal of the state by state primary process, but it is more democratic overall.

And we already have all 50 states vote on the same day – on the day we elect the actual president – and it doesn’t seem so bad. No one is arguing that we should hold the final election first in Iowa, and then in New Hampshire, and so on. That would be unfair and not democratic enough. Well, if it’s not right on election day, then it’s not right during the primaries either.

Perhaps we could retain an element of the old-style campaign process. Consider this as a reform: Every four years there is a lottery, run by the interested political parties, which picks one state to hold the first primary. Then a week later the other 49 states vote on the same day. This is a compromise, and the state that has more influence in the election changes every four years.

Having one randomly selected state to have the primary first would help create more interest in the whole election process. Symbolism and inspiration matter in a democracy. It would be cool if in one election Alaska had the primary first, and 4 years later say Alabama or Oregon had it.

Retaining an element of today’s primary process seems acceptable as part of an overall reform of how parties nominate their presidential candidates.

Update: Thoughts on the 2008 election – “Disenfranchised Republicans: The Great Primary Election Rip-off of 2008“.

10 Responses to “Primary Election Reform: One State Votes, Then 49”

  1. TerryP Says:

    My thought would be to split it up into either fourths or thirds. Say one fourth of the states would have their primaries on the second Tuesday of January and then the next fourth would have it say three or four weeks later and so on. Every four years the groups would rotate so that once every fourth election a group would have the first month. They could be split up so that there would be roughly about the same delgates each month. You would split the big states up into each of the fourths so that New York, California, Texas, and probably Florida would be in different fourths.

    Or my favorite would be to get rid of the whole party primary system. Basically it allows the party elite to set up a dual between two people that the majority of voters would likely not vote for if they had other choices. Indpendents and non-party faithful have very little to say about who will be our next President even though they likely outnumber the party faithful. Why couldn’t we just have a non-partisan vote the first Tuesday in November with a system that will allow you to either rank your candidates or preference voting or some type of system that will eventually knock out candidates until you have one with a majority but allow everyone to still have a continual vote throughout the process.

    In congressional and state legislature races I would like to see a voting system of proportional representation set up so that nearly everyone has a chance to be represented by someone of their choosing. You could break your state down into districts so that each district will have 5 to 10 people elected per district, preferably on the higher side. Say a district is 45% Rep., 30% dem., 5% Libertarian, and 20% independent or other party. It is likely that the top 5 or 6 rep will get elected, top 3 to 4 dems get elected, possibly a libertarian, possibly 1 or 2 independents or someone from another party. This would be far more representative then the current system. From the example above in our current system it is likely that you would get eight to ten republicans and maybe one or two democrats depending on how concentrated the democrats are. The 25% Libertarian, independent, and other party people are likely not represented at all. While the democrats may have a little representation it is not likely that it is proportional and the ones chosen from both parties are likely hand picked by the party elite.

  2. miles Says:

    Terry wrote:

    “Or my favorite would be to get rid of the whole party primary system. Basically it allows the party elite to set up a dual between two people that the majority of voters would likely not vote for if they had other choices”

    EXACTLY.

    I want for there to be a RUN-OFF election (we have playoffs in football and basketball and baseball right) between the top two vote getters after the general election.

    This is why: People could vote their concience the first time out, knowing they can vote against their fear in the second election. When Ross Perot was running, I didn’t vote for him despite the fact I ddidn’t like Poppy Bush or Clinton. He won 19 percent of the vote. I voted for Bush because I feared Clinton so much. But if I knew I’d have a chance to vote against Clinton…………………………….I’d have voted for Perot the first time.

    This would allow the public a chance to really vote in an “outsider” for a change instead of party-approved candidates whom they fear so much. There is a hegemon in the room with what we have now, and it looks like its possible yet again for an open-borders, pro-outsourcing, pro-insoucring of tech help president is on the way despite the fact the public routinely says they are against all of these things. Its amazing how the majority of “citizens” (real ones) are consistently denied what they want in this republic.

  3. Dan Morgan Says:

    TerryP,

    “My thought would be to split it up into either fourths or thirds.”

    I think that would be an improvement over what we have today, but my concern is that the primary elections would normally be decided before the last group got to vote. If that could be shown not to be true, I could go along with that plan.

    “Or my favorite would be to get rid of the whole party primary system.”

    The problem there is that parties are not part of the government. If some private citizens want to get together to organize themselves to have more collective political clout, they can’t be stopped in a free society. And if they supply a candidate that they nominate, their nominees can’t be turned away.

    “In congressional and state legislature races I would like to see a voting system of proportional representation …”

    I like some element of this, but not to the extreme that Europe goes. There they tend to pick parties, not people. And I suppose in the US a Constitutional amendment is needed.

  4. Brendan Says:

    I like having a long string of primaries, it tests the candidates and their ability to campaign. McCain is likely to have a meltdown at some point (his temper problem) and Huckabee’s charm will be peeled away and have his actual record examined. A single day primary gives the media the chance to elect.

    I’ve seen plenty of looks at other options – but their is a lot of value in the current system – and i’m reluctant to make a change to fast.

  5. Dan Morgan Says:

    Brendan,

    I see the appeal of it too that you mention. But it still favors states with low populations over states with high populations. And it favors the states that vote first over the states that vote last.

  6. TerryP Says:

    Dan,

    You said “I think that would be an improvement over what we have today, but my concern is that the primary elections would normally be decided before the last group got to vote. If that could be shown not to be true, I could go along with that plan.”

    That is true in our current system. My state has its primary in May. It is decided far before then. With any system other than a one day vote you will have that problem and even then I am guessing many elections are over before even the first vote is cast. I guess with a system I described above the candidates at least have a chance to make another case to the electorate after the first go around. It is possible in many elections that by the last grouping that it could be decided, but with 25% or more of the vote still to go unless one person has dominated the early rounds it still should be in the air and if they have dominated in the early rounds they would likely dominate in the last round as well. The other thing is that it give a chance for the last group to be first in another election.

    You also said “The problem there is that parties are not part of the government. If some private citizens want to get together to organize themselves to have more collective political clout, they can’t be stopped in a free society. And if they supply a candidate that they nominate, their nominees can’t be turned away.”

    You are right, but this goes completely against what this country was based on. That individuals are more important than the collective party, and that parties should not be making decsions for the entire nation. IMO, while I don’t have a problem with parties as a way of orgainzing people, they should not be making a decision about who our only two choices for President or other offices will be before someone outside the party even gets a chance to express their opinion or even get to vote. That is not democratic, it reaks of elitism, the same thing we were trying to get away from when we began our nation.

    You are also right that to change our current system will take a major undertaking since it will be going against the current establishment and in some cases could even take amending our constituition. But hey we are doing so many things that are unconstiutional now, why not one more thing, right?

  7. Brendan Says:

    this year is interesting, NH and Iowa may mean very little after all :)

  8. Dan Morgan Says:

    TerryP,

    About your four groups scheme you write: “It is possible in many elections that by the last grouping that it could be decided, but with 25% or more of the vote still to go unless one person has dominated the early rounds it still should be in the air and if they have dominated in the early rounds they would likely dominate in the last round as well.”

    I see that now. If that was the general rule, that would be a big improvement over today’s system. And it would retain an element of what Brendan above says “I like having a long string of primaries, it tests the candidates and their ability to campaign.”

  9. Brendan Says:

    I wouldn’t mind a runoff in the event of a general election where the winning candidate does not receive 50% of the vote, except election season is long enough, isn’t it?

    Let’s say you did:
    Group 1: Jan 15
    Group 2: Feb 15
    Group 3: Mar 15
    Group 4: Apr 15

    You could mix the groups so each group was representative of the various geographies and sizes of states in the union.

    Conventions could be in the summer. General election could be in October. If the electoral winner doesn’t receive 50% of the popular vote, then the top two candidates run off on the normal November day. This would allow any major party to have the testing of their candidates during primary season and would eliminate the bias of the small (which I think is over stated and more likely psychological for the late states.)

    Then if there are major third parties that allows voters to risk free vote for a Perot – since the only way Clinton wins is if he gets 50% of the popular vote. (This would generally happen, but occasionally a Perot would get enough of the vote.) Then in the final election its a head to head – so no complaining.

    Nontheless I think the ability of the early states to bias things is over stated. Didn’t Bush lose Iowa and NH?

  10. Dan Morgan Says:

    Brendan,

    I have not thought it through for a presidential election, but I like the idea of a runoff. It has always bothered me that you can win an election without winning a majority of votes.

    Wikipedia has a list of some of the major primary election reforms that have been proposed (at the end of the article).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_primary

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