There are a variety of ideas for how we can fix our primary election process. They range from a lottery system proposed in comments and a post earlier on my site to more authoritative proposals such as rotating regional primaries as outlined by Trey Grason (go to page 25 of the PDF – hat tip the Senate Site)
Unfortunately, it is too late to fix the process for 2008, but steps can be taken for 2012. The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) is hoping to generate support for rotating regional primaries as a step toward that goal. The association’s bipartisan proposal, created by the nation’s chief state election officials, divides the country into four regions and establishes primary windows in March, April, May and June.
I was also interested in the proposal published in the New York Times by Jonathan Soros suggesting a national primary day where individual voters could opt to vote early.
There is, however, a simple way to establish a national primary and yet still allow retail politicking to meaningfully affect the course of the campaign over several months: allow early voting, with regular reporting of the tally.
Here’s one way it could work. Set a national primary date of June 30 and create a window for early voting that opens on Jan. 1. The early votes would be counted and reported at the end of each month from January through May. . .
If we began counting and reporting the interim results in advance of a national primary, the voters who cast early ballots would play the same role as voters in Iowa and New Hampshire do now: they could signal viability or create momentum for their favored candidates. These early voters would be self-selecting, trading the opportunity to watch the campaign unfold for the ability to demonstrate early conviction.
Most important, every voter, no matter where he or she lived, would have the freedom to make this choice. Right now, when one votes is determined by where one lives.
The national primary day has drawbacks, but I’m sure there are detractors to the rotating regional primaries as well and I know there are those who gripe about the lottery idea. I’m not ready to advocate for one idea over another, and I’m sure that all of them would offer an overall improvement over the current mess. What I would really like to see is an widespread, active, and public conversation now – not sometime after 2009 – to decide how we would like this system to operate because the current setup is going to lead to perpetual campaigning (like having candidates declaring six months into the four year cycle) unless we take steps to rein it in.