Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reforming the American Presidential Nomination System

In the past, I have mentioned the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would have states agree to cast their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It seems like the minimally necessary reform to the presidential election process -- assuming you accept the elective dictatorship model of democracy practiced in the Republic of Armed Desire.
What about the Presidential Candidates nominating process currently going on? It may be worthwhile to take a good look at it and think about changes at this point in the four-year cycle.

The process seems to have a few flaws. Some of the proposed solutions would actually make the system worse. A series of rotating regional primaries and caucuses would give the regional candidate an advantage. We should try to have all different regions of the country at all different times, both early and late, not just one region at a time.

Similarly, holding a large number of primaries (and caucuses) on one day (super-duper Tuesday) was also a Very Bad Idea, exactly the opposite of what should be done, because it created a large pool of voters, voting on one day, who could not be reached individually but only by television advertising, robo-calls, and cash-heavy campaigns. We should try to spread them out, have the candidates focus on one or two or five or ten at a time, not twenty on one day.

I don't think the proportional representation is a problem, but the number of superdelegates could be reduced. Also, the party convention should be held soon after the last primaries and caucuses. If the Democrats are going to use super-delegates as potential tie-breakers, they should be defined by some clear rules. Sitting members of the Senate, House, and a few similar folks from each state (state governors, speakers, etc.) seems reasonable. The resulting number might be 200 or 400 rather than 800.

I propose that a decision be made as to how long the process should be allowed to last at the outside. Suppose five months, possibly six, is reasonable. We have 50 states, DC, and some territories. Ten vote every month (or a few more). If you wanted to micro-manage it, you could spread the 50 states(+ DC and some territories) over the 150 days and give each one a "No-earlier-than" start-up date. Have an average of one state every three days (Wouldn't CNN love that?). You start with the small states and power up each month. By the end of May, beginning of June, the intra-party thing is done. It's summer. Have your convention and get into the general election campaign.

The best thing is that there are enough votes cast in February to overturn January, even if January votes 100% for one candidate. As time goes on, the size of votes scales up, so that each state has a chance to throw its weight around in proportion to its weight. If small states come too late, they would be demotivated. Big states can still tilt the system dramatically right up until May unless candidates have already dropped out by then. This system would have been ideal for 2008.

There could be a conflict deciding which states are "small", since you could use the census, electoral votes, or the number of party delegates. I suggest going generally by the census. States would then end up in 5 quintiles. Here is how it might look:

In January, WY, DC, VT, ND, AK, SD, DE, MT, RI, HI, and NH would have their caucuses and primaries. These 11 states all have 3 or 4 electoral votes, for a total of 36. Maybe for old time's sake, we could let NH go first, even though they are the biggest of this group. Sorry, Iowa, you are to big to really belong here (believe it or not, ranked 30th, between the second and third quintile going from smallest up). One disadvantage is that there is a bit of regional clustering in this approach, in the Montana-North Dakota-South Dakota axis of boredom, and the NH, RI, New England thing. But there is Delaware and DC in there for a little variety. Three regional clusters, really, which is not unfair at all, but it would be nice to get more of the south and southwest represented early on.

In February, ME, ID, NE, WV, NM, NV, UT, KS, AR, MS, and IA would have their caucuses and primaries. Although Iowa is the biggest in the set, maybe they could go first so they get the attention they grew accustomed to in the late 20th century. I threw 11 states into this set, too, just to get Iowa in there.They have 4 to 7 electoral votes each -- about 57 total. There are plenty of sunbelt states in this set.

March would have the medium-sized states voting: CT, OK, OR, PR, KY, LA, SC, AL, CO, and MN. They wouldn't be able to completely overturn the combined votes or January and February, however. These ten states all have 7 to 10 electoral votes (2000-2010) and about 74 electoral votes. Populations are from three-and-a-half to five-and-a-half million.

In April you would get WI, MD, MO, TN, AZ, IN, MA, WA, VA, and NJ. These states have 10 to 15 electoral votes and populations between 5.6 and 9 million people. They have about 113 electoral votes in this group.

In May you would have NC, GA, MI, OH, PA, IL, FL , NY , TX, and CA, These states have populations between 9 and 37 million, and electoral vote power from 15 to 55. I think there is a total of 256 electoral votes in this group!

If American Samoa, N. Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands, and Guam haven't voted yet, they should vote now. Have the convention in June, not August 25-28. <-That was an almost guaranteed way for the Dems to waste the summer. They should not have taken that chance. All of these dates I have proposed in this plan are the earliest possible dates. I mean that the states would be free to go later, but not earlier, in order to participate in their party's conventions. The penalty? I guess cutting the delegation in half (oor more) as the Republicans did might be a deterrent. Maybe that's not enough, though. The party really doesn't want the campaign to get scrunched back into the previous calendar year. This is just the nomination I am talking about, not a real election. I only refer to the electoral votes because the populations will change, and the parties' delegate rules and numbers will change, but the electoral votes are stable for at least a decade and don't change all that much in one decade. The delegate numbers are very roughly proportional to the EV numbers. I don't think a proposal as logical, simple, straightforward, and clean as this could ever become law, especially since it makes the big, populous states wait for the smaller ones to go first. (Little states would like it more than the big states.) The usual actual result of negotiations around this kind of thing is wormier and more sausage-like.

Update 2008-04-27: FairVote has been exploring several variations of reform of the primary process, including the "American Plan" and the "Delaware Plan", which have some similar conclusions to mine. Be sure to read "Who Picks the President," regarding the 2004 campaign, available as a DOC or PDF.

  • More money was spent on television advertising in Florida during the period covered than in 45 states and the District of Columbia combined.
  • More than half of all campaign resources were dedicated to just three states-- Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
  • Iowans are the most coveted voters in the country.
  • 18 states saw neither a candidate visit nor recieved a cent of spending on TV advertisements.

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