Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The primary problem

The first bit of news I heard on the way home from the airport was that presidential candidate Bill Richardson is now officially a presidential candidate. His announcement, in California, where he was born, was a formality — we've known since December that he was running, and you can see my comments from then over here. Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, and former-Senator Edwards are still the top three Democratic contenders, but, well, it's still early, and no one had heard of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton either, a year and a half before they were each elected president. Governor Richardson has broad experience, having been a congressman, a UN ambassador, a cabinet secretary (Secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration), and a governor. His ideas are solid. He's still my first choice.

The second piece of news I heard is related to the list above and my post from December. Since the earlier post, some names have come and gone. Governor Vilsack is out, but Congressman Kucinich is in, and the Republicans had ten contenders participating in their debate a few weeks ago. And that makes the primary elections very important for both parties this time. States have been falling over each other trying to move their primary dates earlier, each state wanting to be the first to hold a primary.

The result is ridiculous. There are a dozen states holding primaries on 5 February, traditionally the earliest date possible. Iowa moved its caucuses earlier than that, as New Hampshire did with its primaries as well. And first South Carolina and now Florida have moved theirs to 29 January, a week before the “magic” 5 Feb date.

The parties are furious, and are threatening to cut off states that do this. They're threatening them with no delegates at the party conventions, and they're threatening the candidates who campaign in those states. The states are looking at ways around these threats, ways to hold the primary elections but not “officially” count the votes, and such (wink-wink).

This is insane.

The whole primary-election system is insane. Even as it was before the dates got moved around, the idea that a few states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina should trim the list of candidates that states like New York, Texas, and California have to choose from is ridiculous. In past elections, by the time California got to its primaries the result was all but decided. In the best case, Californians got to choose from a list from which half the original candidates had dropped off in response to poor showings in earlier states.

Now, New York and California are among the states that have moved their primaries to 5 February... but we're still in the mad rush by the smaller states to beat that date. We need to toss the primary-election system and replace it with something that makes sense.

What makes sense is to have a nationwide primary election on the same day in every state. And that election shouldn't be party by party; all the candidates should be on the ballot. Maybe that would mean a list of twenty or more who hope to be president, from which we'd have to choose, but that's just fine. We'd tally that up. We'd have a threshold of, say, 15%. Any candidate who gets at least 15% of the vote stays, and gets to be on the ballot in November.

And guess what: that means that we might have more than one Democratic candidate, or more than one Republican one. What a thought! It means that the people will actually get to choose who's on the short list for the final election. Who are really the top choices to go into that final round on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Using a threshold of 15% means we'd have no more than six candidates on the final ballot, and almost certainly it'd usually be three or four.

Take that, add the plan to effectively eliminate the electoral college, and we might actually have fair presidential elections in this country for the first time in the mass-media age.

1 comment:

scouter573 said...

I rather like the idea of multiple primaries that lead to a run-off election. Let's have four primaries: the Eastern Time Zone primary, the Central Time Zone primary, the Mountain, and the Pacific. I would let other timezones opt into one of the four primary ones ("primary", hehe - get it?). The point of this is mainly to lower the cost of entry - it's got to be cheaper to mount a regional campaign than a national one, and that will allow more candidates. I rather like choice.