Column - Presidential primary system in need of improvement
Published: Thursday, October 20, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2011 00:10
In yet another example of the American political system becoming a joke, presidential primary dates were on the verge of changing again because of one state's idiocy.
Florida announced on Sept. 29 it would be moving the presidential primary more than a month ahead of schedule to Jan. 31, from March 6 – in order to be in fifth place.
It's one thing to throw a wrench into a well-planned schedule in advance, but it's another to not even contemplate that other states will just do the same thing to move ahead.
To counteract this game of leap frog, the traditionally early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina then threatened to move up their primary dates as well.
Iowa, which is actually set up as a caucus, even had their date scheduled for early December! Thankfully this was all avoided, with the traditionally early states – save New Hampshire – establishing their presidential primaries on January dates not much earlier than normal.
But these scrambles by states to desperately hold the nation's attention hostage every four years need to stop. It happened in 2008, and we just narrowly avoided it again this year.
While several ideas have been put forth before, they all seem to gather around two main concepts (have order of states go smallest to largest or by region). Both camps have variations within them on groupings or no groupings, random or selective, but all attempt to juggle issues of fairness between large and small states with candidates' travel expenses.
The most equitable of all the plans would be an inter-regional primary plan, where the states could be split up into 4-6 regions. Each region would have a lottery to choose a state at random; these states from each designated region would then have their primary over the first 2-3 week period. The process would follow through randomly until all had gone, regardless of size or traditional primary spot.
While this plan would significantly raise the travel costs for candidates, as states within any given week could be at every corner of the country, it would force candidates to form strong grass roots within every region, if not every state.
The internet and its social networks have negated the need for a candidate to spread his or her ideas to every state personally, allowing them to make appearances only to bolster their base's morale.
This system would also help stop the pandering to specific regional interests as different states from different regions of the country would go first each cycle.
The current system practically entrenches the Farm Lobby in prominence as Iowa and New Hampshire are heavily invested in agriculture. This quirk in our primary system has brought us 50-odd years of candidates having to promise enormous corn subsidies, cane sugar price controls and other government policies that benefit farmers at the expense of consumers and taxpayers.
A new rotating system would not be perfect in this sense – our political process will always be prone to giving away other peoples' money for policy favors – but this system will help break some of the subsidies and favoritism.
Grouping states by region will also ensure that a myriad of voices be heard in each round of primaries. Northeast region would be primarily dominated by more secular and moderate issues than the Southeast region.
Southwest and Pacific West regions could also counterbalance each other on the issues of immigration and state services. The Midwest region will always seemingly be dominated by farm subsidies, but they are still important as their sparsely populated region serves as a counterbalance to the more urbanized Pacific West and Northeast regions.
The Mountain West could even serve as a sort of bellwether region in addition to all of this as they combine numerous interests. Their region is sparsely isolated – but not uniformly religious – and is heavily affected by farm subsidies and immigration.
While states should still be able to choose which format they want to use – primary, caucus, or convention – the inter-regional primary plan would be a lot more structured and involve a lot less stress than the current method. It would also ensure that every region, state and every interest group within America be heard from every presidential election.
Even if this plan is not adopted by either political party at their national conventions, the Democratic and Republican parties need to take a good, long look at our current system of presidential primaries.
Our country's political system cannot afford to look anymore dysfunctional than it already does.