I am of the opinion that the primary process is broken. How do we fix it?
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John Cole writes, I am of the opinion that the primary process is broken. How do we fix it? While I’m not sure that the…
Not Just Me
Here I thought that I was alone, standing in the wilderness railing about the primary system in the US, but I’m not! John Cole over at Balloon Juice also thinks the primary system is broken but is looking for suggestions…
Easy: Don’t. Let everyone run in the general election.
Hmm. Vinny, are you suggesting something like removing (or at least severely reducing) the necessary requirements to be on the national ballot? If so, it’s an interesting notion, but how do we keep the ballot from looking like an unholy mess (or keeping the sample ballot from weighing ten pounds)?
Well, the fix that comes immediately to my mind is to have them all on the same day, just like the general. That eliminates a lot of nonsense. The problem is, this is the province of the States, so the feds really can’t make them do it any particular way. So we’re probably stuck with something like the mess we have now. Then again, more and more states are fed up with being inconsequential in the process and are moving their dates up, so this may sort itself out in a few more years, compressing the primary process down to just two – four weeks.
One substantive change I’d really like to see (again, something I doubt the feds can force them to do) would be for the practice of making the taxpayers pay for orimaries (in which the *parties* select their candidates. Party business should be paid for by the parties.
Steal it and replace it with an exact replica. I think that’s a great deal closer to anything that’ll actually get done than any of your decent ideas.
Oh. Here’s what’s currently done in Florida, sometimes: the instant primary. You hold the primaries at the same time the general election is held. If there’s more than one candidate running Republican, for instance, you rank them. The party winner gets all the votes. What I don’t know is how the rank voting is weighted.
It saves a ton of money at the polls, for one. Not sure how you’d do it at the national level; you’d have to have some kind of entry requirement (petition?).
I feel the staggered primary method gives FAR too much weight to a handful of early states, whe really shouldn’t ahve influence that much out of proportion with their population.
Not sure how to fix it, unless each of the late states can move their dates up, in an escalating race of “who can have the earliest primary?”
How about just freeing delegates to vote their conscience on the first vote? I suspect in the expected case, the effect will be similar to now — one’s conscience would probably militate for voting the candidated for whom wyou are a delegate. But if it’s clear the guy is a blackguard, a bounder (what the hell is a bounder, anyway?), a cad, or even worse, unelectable, you can change tracks.
A two-round national primary would be my suggestion. All comers get to run in the initial race in say, March. A run-off would be held in May.
“Well, the fix that comes immediately to my mind is to have them all on the same day, just like the general.”
My major question about that is whether this would encourage or discourage dark horse candidates who don’t have an existing nationwide appeal. I could see it argued either way, really.
I like the idea of having 1 state in each region do it in a given week, then do every other state do it two weeks later.
Have, say, NH, Iowa, SC, and Nevada in late January. Then everybody gets to digest for a couple of weeks, and we have the rest in early February.
Pros: Everybody’s vote counts.
Cons: Massively increased chances of brokered conventions. May or may not be a con.
I never thought I’d say this, but Kimmit’s idea isn’t bad. If the state going first in each region were to rotate so that none was ever disproportionately influential, it’d be pretty darned good.
I still have no idea how to make it happen other than by persuading the States to sign up for such a system voluntarily, though. And, since NH, for one, will never do it, only the feds could make it happen, which they can’t.
“…Kimmit’s idea isn’t bad.”
I like it myself, subject to Dodd’s rotating-state modifier. So, in this scenario would the conventions be held earlier, or would there be no change?
I’ve been thinking about this issue for several years. Here is my proposed solution.
Step 1) After each presidential election, randomly draw 2 state names from a hat. These two states will have a 3rd week of February primary during the next midterm election and the next Presidential election.
Step 2) Number the remaining states from 1 to 48 by population. Divide the states into 4 groups. (Add Washington DC population to the population of Maryland and rerank accordingly)
Group A – States 1,8,12,16,23,24,31,32,39,40,47,48
Group B – States 2,7,11,15,18,21,22,29,30,37,38,45,46
Group C – States 3,6,10,14,19,20,27,28,35,36,43,44
Group D – States 4,5,9,13,17,18,25,26,33,34,41,42
Divided this way, each group should be relatively close in population.
3) Primaries for all but the first two states will be held during the months of March, April, May, and June. By lottery, choose which group gets which month.
4) Since each group has twelve states in it, and further divide the states in each group into 4 subgroups. Each subgroup of 3 states would hold their primaries during susequent weeks. (e.g. Subgroup A1 on 1st Tuesday of the month, A2 on second Tuesday, etc.)
After the four year cycle ends, the two states that enjoyed the February primary would be barred from the February primary for at least 96 years. In this way each state would enjoy the February primary position once and only once every 100 years. Also, each subsequent month, a roughly equal portion of the population would get to vote, and the states would be a mixture of demographics, region, and population. That way, the candidates could not tune their message to just one portion of the population.
Suppose this happened in 2004 using the Year 2000 Census:
Using the Lottery method I explained to schedule the 2004 election, the primaries would be as follows (electoral votes in parenthesis):
February 17, 2004
Rhode Island (4)
February States Total Population – 1,831,919
February Electoral College Votes – 7
March 2, 2004
March 9, 2004
March 16, 2004
March 23, 2004
District of Columbia (3)
March States Total Population – 74,710,074
March Electoral College Votes – 142
April 5, 2004
April 12, 2004
New York (31)
South Dakota (3)
April 19, 2004
New Mexico (5)
April 26, 2004
April States Total Population – 68,365,151
April Electoral College Votes – 128
May 2, 2004
North Carolina (15)
May 9, 2004
May 16, 2004
North Dakota (3)
May 23, 2004
West Virginia (5)
May States Total Population – 66,657,477
May Electoral College Votes – 129
June 1 Memorial Day Break.
June 8, 2004
June 15, 2004
New Jersey (15)
South Carolina (8)
June 22, 2004
June 29, 2004
New Hampshire (4)
June States Total Population – 69,857,285
June Electoral College Votes – 132
I think that although this schedule might be hard on candidates, it would be better for the voting public
Another option is to divide the country into six regions and hold primaries every two weeks over a period of ten weeks.
ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, DE
Total Electoral Votes = 83
PA, OH, WV, MD, DC, VA, KY, NC
Total Electoral Votes = 95
Fl, GA, AL, MS, LA, AR, TN, SC
Total Electoral Votes = 91
MI, IN, WI, IL, MN, IA, MO
Total Electoral Votes = 87
ND, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX, MT, WY, CO, NM, UT, AZ
Total Electoral Votes = 93
ID, NV, WA, OR, CA, AK, HA
Total Electoral Votes = 89
Rotate the order each region gets to vote starting on the 3rd Tuesday of February, 1st & 3rd Tuesdays of March & April and 1st Tuesday of May.
This would limit travelling costs for candidates and allow them to focus their messages to fit each specific region.
“I like it myself, subject to Dodd’s rotating-state modifier. So, in this scenario would the conventions be held earlier, or would there be no change?”
Earlier. In particular, they should finish well before 9/11.
Emperor Misha I
Easy: Eight bullets.
At this point, calling you a fascist is an insult to fascists.
I don’t think the problem is with the primaries. It is a symptom. My solution is to allow maximum liberty and federalism while discouraging early campaigning. To do this tax campaigns for early spending. Any funds spent by a candidate or group devoted to a candidate in year one of the cycle (from the Presidential election) would require a payment equal to 100% of funds spent. In the second year the rate would be 50% and in the third 25%. These funds could be used to enforce the law. This would discourage 4 year campains and would encourage late entrants. Since a State would prefer to have its primary meaningful, it would create pressure to delay until all candidates get in the race. If Iowa wants a caucus with no entrants then that’s fine with me. If New hampshire wants to hold a primary before the major candidates arrive, so be it.
I applaud the creative impulse (or, to use the cliché, the “outside the box” thinking)that led to that proposal, Mr. Hahn, but it occurs almost immediately that the plan suffers from several defects (it’s the lawyer in me, I can’t help it).
First and foremost, it’s patently unconstitutional. First Amendment jurisprudence turns on whether a law that has the effect of limiting speech is “content-neutral” or not. To grossly oversimplify, an ordinance that requires a permit to hold a rally on public property is fine (since the municipality must maintain some control over when and how it’s used, lest it be overrun weekly) but not one that forbids certain viewpoints from being expressed (a pattern of applying of a facially neutral law that has this effect is also prohibitted). A tax on political speech, meant to be afforded the highest level of protection by the First Amendment, would run afoul of such rules on its face and be struck down faster than you can say “Fuck the Draft.”
Second, it would create more problems than it would solve. At best, it would merely increase the already considerable advantages of incumbency (which are already significantly enhanced by existing campaign finance laws). At worst, it would create a cesspool of ethics charges and howls of unfairness every time an incumbent combined, say, a fundraising event with work-related travel (as is the traditional prerogative of Presidents), and so on.
Lastly, it would be unworkable. We’ve seen recently the silly spectacle of candidates who have been “running” for President for months formally “announcing” their candidacies to generate some press. How does one account for spending by a “candidate” who hasn’t declared? Will we start requiring candidates to register three or four years in advance – and count all their travel and public appearance expenses toward their campaigns – in order to be eligible? That’ll eliminate a lot of potential candidates, and not, I’d say, to our benefit – only the party hacks and timeservers would like the way this would play out, I’d say. Every race would be Dole v. Gore. Ooh!
It’s creative and thought-provoking, but I must dissent. *More* constitutionally suspect campaign finance “reform” isn’t the solution. Better by far to scrap most of the ones we already have (since a great many of the “problems” we concern ourselves with actually arise from these very rules) than to try and “fix” them with still more error.
More generally, there is one way to effect one or another of the suggestions discussed herein: A Constitutional Amendment. And it might just take one to do it. As a tangent, if we go that route, can we get the Australian Ballot into the system while we’re at it?
If we’re talking Campaign Finance Reform, the solution is to scrap our current unconstitutional system and allow anyone to contribute anything, so long as they damn well report it to the FEC. It’s the Fourth Branch Of Government’s job, then, to find patterns and report that Candidate X received $1.3 million from various tobacco executives, et cetera.
Dodd, first, please call me Ken. The Mr. Hahn makes me sound as old as I am. I am not a lawyer, as if that weren’t obvious. How about this? A block grant to the states for election costs. The money allocated based on population. However each state would recieve only a portion of its grant based on the formula 1% for each day after Jan 20th it held its primary, caucus, or convention. If the process was spread out it would be based on the first day. If a state chose to hold its primary Jan 20 or before it would get nothing. ( January 20th is a date of convenience, being one year before the inaguration ). This is of course a random idea and needs much work. Thaks for reading.
Ken [ :-) ]: my quick, off-the-cuff answer is that that does indeed appear to be a Constitutional way – at least under current precedent (which regards Congressional spending power as plenary) – to effect the goal you desire. I have some minor issues with it but they’re details that could certainly be worked out.
And what’s gotten into Kimmit?!? Dead-on right twice in the same thread!
I have a Question for the lawyer.
Could New Hampshire’s state law requiring that its primary precede all other state primaries be challenged in court under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment?
I don’t see how. The Constitution sets some general rules about this and leaves the details to the States. That’s why some states are allowed to have caucuses while others use primaries. It’s wide open, really. If they wish, the States can just about choose convention delegates by using WFB’s famous “first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book” method.
NH’s Constitutional requirement to be first, to the best of my knowledge, really amounts to a directive to the Legislature to ensure they schedule theirs before any other state’s. EPC jurisprudence can get pretty far out there at times but this is one of those areas in which the Surpremes have traditionally shown particularly high levels of deference to the states, so I’d say that the answer is ‘No.’
Dodd, my real fear here is that in an attempt to control the insanity that the election cycle has become we will end up mandating schedules to the states. While I understand ( and support ) your argument concerning first amendment free speech rights, I see federalism under attack in some of the solutions proposed. John’s readers are usually pretty good about this but solutions proposed ( by others ) here are troubling. Aren’t there at least 9th and 10th Amendemnt problems with the U. S. scheduling state elections? And is this not especially dangerous in primaries which involve state political parties. In both my suggestions I tried to avoid this making them far more awkward than necessary. All things being equal, I’d rather put up with the current abomination than hand more power to Washington.
I completely agree. As I’ve been at pains to point out, there are any number of Constitutional impediments to Congress mandating primary schedules for the States. That’s why I think the only way to do it is a Constitutional Amendment. I am pessimistic in the extreme that a successful 9th or 10th Amendment challenge can be mounted to anything, but Congress can, as per your suggestion, *encourage* the States via its spending authority.
That said, I would also prefer the current chaos to DC pols micromanaging it to their benefit.
I was pretty sure that the answer was “No”, and I am usually a pretty staunch defender of federalism. What pisses me off is the arrogant notion that New Hampshirites are somehow specially equipped to select the proper presidential candidates. I think one could get the vast majority of states to agree to a rotating schedule. The problem would be the pricks in Iowa and New Hampshire that want to protect their “special” status. Seems altgether too “French” for me. And the reason we keep getting asinine farm bills is because of Iowa’s unwarranted influence on the electoral process. And asking the press to ignore New Hampshire and Iowa because between them, they only account for 11 out of 538 electoral college votes is a nonstarter. So how can the citizens of the other 98% of the country bring pressure on the 2% in those two states to convince them the equality is enough. Superiority in democratic matters is oxy-moronic.
Well, the Constitutional Amendment I mentioned earlier would be binding on NH and IA if 34 other states ratified it. So, if you are right and a majority of them can be persuaded to sign on, then it could work. Of course, getting an Amendment like that passed will take a couple of decades, minimum, of work…. :-)
I have another brilliant though probably illegal idea. Let ’em do whatever they want, but prohibit releasing any results until all states and territories have seleced delegates or June 1.
You’re right, Ken. On both counts. :-)