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“.