Many Primary Ideas

National Primary Voting ==> Power Struggle => Bowling for Primaries => Many Primary Ideas => No Good Delegate Answer for DNC => The "Ohio" Plan

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.

4 comments for “Many Primary Ideas

  1. November 23, 2007 at 9:38 am

    So we’ve go a few ideas on the table.

    Lottery: I like this one. 🙂

    Weighted delegate assignment: Very interesting proposal that lets individual states select the way they want to be influential. The formula needs to be a bit more complex than you’ve proposed, however. What if more than 40% of states choose to put their primary in the fourth segment of voting? Then they are actually getting LESS real representation than they used to, while giving up early voting clout. Still, the seed of this idea is very interesting to me. Perhaps a workable variation would be to weight the vote of each delegate based on primary voting date. Each delegate from a state in the first window of voting would have 0.5 votes to cast. (In other words, they only get half a vote to cast in exchange for getting an early and influential say in a candidates momentum.) The second window gets 0.7, the third 0.9, and the fourth window’s delegates get a full vote.

    Regional Primaries: The idea has merit, but it still leaves Iowa and New Hampshire in the coveted spot permanently. The four regions would also be too large for a candidate without a lot of money to effectively get the word out. I’d reject it totally, but I really like the idea of a whole region being considered together since they may share important issues in common.

    National Primary: Terrible idea. For a candidate to be viable, they still have to have a national presence to get the smattering of early voters from across the country. This would be worse than the current scenario.

  2. November 23, 2007 at 11:19 am

    I had not considered the possibility with the weighted delegates that any state would choose to hold their primaries later than the window to which they were assigned for that cycle. I think we do have to account for that, but I think I would give full votes to every state that voted in their assigned window, and dock .25 per window from the weight of each state who voted earlier than assigned. In other words, if a state was assigned the fourth window and voted in the first they would only have .25 of the share that their population would normally command of the 10% of delegates that are awarded for that window. On the other hand, a state that was assigned to the first window would receive full weight for their population in assigning their portion of the 10% of delegates. (Did that make anything about my idea more clear?)

    The security of Iowa and New Hampshire is one of the drawbacks I see in the Regional Primaries idea as well.

    I’m not sure that your assessment of the national primary is completely accurate. I imagine that a candidate could build support in a specific region enough to garner early votes there and use that to raise their national profile. The key is not to get support everywhere, but to get committed supporters early.

  3. November 23, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    Yes, that makes your idea a lot more clear to me. Thanks for that clarification. I was thinking they could choose any time window and get a corresponding weight value, with early states always getting a lower weighting. I see now you’re talking about rotating assignments.

    In any event, I totally agree the system needs reform. One interesting thing I learned from an article you linked was that the GOP will only change their rules during the national convention, so the time for enacting any change is very narrow and relatively soon!

  4. November 24, 2007 at 12:26 am

    Wow, with so little time to prepare, is it better to work toward a solution that already has high-profile backers (like rotating regionals) or try to keep the discussion open for other proposals to be considered more completely?

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