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Eric: Yay! Disgruntled election posting!

The United States Presidential primary elections and caucuses -- the system that the major parties use to determine their Presidential Candidates -- was created in large part to ensure that all states got a chance to nominate major candidates. Remember, for a very long time communication in this nation was at the same rate as speed of transport. This is why Paul Revere had to do a midnight ride instead of posting "D00ds, teh British ar cuming" to his MySpace page. Without some system to distribute the contest among the different states, many states would never get to see the candidates or have any opportunity to have some influence on that aspect of the election process.

However. We now live in an era of instantaneous communication. The Presidential primary elections and caucuses system is now officially just an extended, mind numbingly expensive parade, giving disproportionate power to a small number of states early on in the process. I am privileged to live at Ground Zero of this process, New Hampshire. As a result, I've had vastly better access to Presidential candidates in the last couple of elections than I ever had living in Maine, Upstate New York, or Washington State. They wanted me to like them, so they could leave New Hampshire with "momentum."

It's pretty cool, but that's hardly the point. And now, with various states in a January primary bidding war and a showdown with Florida where they're being threatened with having their Democratic delegates stripped because -- I swear I'm not making this up -- their Republican controlled state legislature violated the DNC's guidelines (because, see, they want to make it seem like the DNC is shafting Florida so the Republican candidate takes Florida in the general election), the current system is revealed as the creaking, cruft laden mess that it's been for a long time. All, of course, culminating in a Convention which has neither drama nor point other than being a week long commercial, which the networks no longer even provide major coverage to since, well, C.S.I. Miami gets better ratings.

So. How do you fix it? How do you make it possible for everyone to have impact on nominations, make conventions relevant again, and get everyone to shut the Hell up about all this?

Simple. Two primaries. Just two.

The first would be on Super Tuesday, and it would be held in all states that award 35 delegates or less to the convention. This would include states like Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware and the District of Columbia, and would be both a bellweather and give the smaller, less populous states a chance to shine to begin with.

The second would be on the first night of the Convention, and would include all the states with more than 35 delegates. So before the Convention, no one would have the nomination sewn up, while the also rans would be washed out in the initial run.

The Convention would become far more interesting, because there would be actual voting going on. Before ten p.m. at night, the smaller states would cast their votes and preparations would be made, and then past ten p.m. states would be reporting their results to their delegations, who would then cast their votes. It would be good television, full of poignancy, and it would pull eyeballs to the set. Then on Tuesday any needful wrangling would take place (entirely possible, since this system would make it once again possible for more than one candidate to be in position to be nominated). The results would be certified on Wednesday. On Thursday, the candidate accepts the nomination and a Vice Presidental candidate is announced.

We get drama back, all states have a voice in process, and no state is set before any other. Which would piss off my fellow New Hampshire residents, but hey -- they'd still be the in the first primary and would still have enough delegates that no candidate could ignore them.

And we could maybe, just maybe, shut the fuck up about the process and get onto the business of deciding who the best candidate is based on his opinions and record.

Ah, but now I'm just writing fairy tales again.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 26, 2007 2:52 PM


Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 26, 2007 3:04 PM

It might be a fairy tale, but it's a *nice* fairy tale. I like it!

Comment from: Chris "Slarti" Pinard [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 26, 2007 3:37 PM

What kirabug said. Unlikely to actually happen, but a reasonably good plan, if you ever miraculously somehow were able to talk to someone who could make it happen.

Comment from: quiller [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 26, 2007 5:08 PM

All conventions on the same day then? Well it would certainly make for an exciting news day. Probably not a change that would happen, but I predict that I will live to see either the death of the electoral college system or a very major change. Possibly in the next ten years.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 26, 2007 6:12 PM

Right now, the system is the opposition party has its convention first, the party in power has theirs second. That actually wouldn't need to change, though states that allow their citizens to vote in whatever primary they wish would need to adapt to it.

Comment from: Jason [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 26, 2007 7:51 PM

I'm down with that idea. Actually, I'd probably just say to hell with it and have all the primaries at once. Anything that gives me a chance to have my vote actually mean something when it's time to pick the candidate.

Comment from: DavidCSimon [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 26, 2007 8:19 PM

Seems sensible to me, but my knowledge of American politics is limited to that which I learned from The West Wing. I just happen to be watching season 6 on DVD at the moment, and was actually wondering whether New Hampshire was a real place, or just a fictional one created as a plot-device... now I know.

Comment from: Tangent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 26, 2007 8:36 PM

And your opinion on California's plans to divide up its Electoral College votes depending on which districts go to whichever candidate?

Personally I think all states should do that. That way Republicans in Taxachusetts can feel like they might serve a purpose in voting in the elections. And it would make the presidential elections far more strategic.

Rob H.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 26, 2007 8:54 PM

I was a proponent of all primaries happening at once for a while, but the practical effect of that is to take the small states out of the equation. Campaigning will focus on the states with the most delegates.

By doing smaller states first, you ensure that states that otherwise might never see a candidate will get the chance to see them come out and campaign. At the same time, by doing a bunch of them at once, you eliminate (say) New Hampshire's undue influence over the nominee.

As for the Electoral College thing? If every state divided its electoral college votes by district that way, I'd be okay with it. But honestly, any electoral college reform at this point should leapfrog all the way to a popular vote majority. States are represented in the Federal Government by the House and Senate. The President being a representative of all the people to me means he should be elected by their will, not their geography.

Comment from: CaseyG [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 26, 2007 10:28 PM

I'd be more in favor of stripping the primary elections out of election law altogether. Who the parties nominate for any office should never have been the business of the states, and it certainly shouldn't be the states' burden to organize an election to determine who receives the campaign support of a political party.

I also don't believe political parties should be presented in general ballots, either. "John McCain." "John Edwards." If you can't remember which candidate shares your political views without having a big block-letter "REPUBLICAN" or "DEMOCRAT" next to his name, then maybe it's best if your vote gets tossed out to Mickey Mouse or Ralph Nader. . . .

Comment from: sqbr [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 27, 2007 7:32 AM

You know, I've just watched seasons six and seven of West Wing and it was still only after reading this post and pondering some that I (kind of) get what a primary *is*.

I also only recently figured out that you guys don't have a Leader of The Opposition. (I think)

I was going to suggest you use the Australian method, but I'm not actually sure how our party leaders are chosen, they just appear on tv after a bunch of speculation :)

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 27, 2007 9:41 AM

I'd be up for this. I always thought it was extremely odd that New Hampshire, which is not representative of the country, or even New England, as a whole has the first primary and they fight tooth and nail to keep it that way.

I'm also in favor of stripping out the Electoral College... as someone who regualrly votes third-party, I'd like it to stand for something. That, and since I live in Massachusetts, I know my vote doesn't actually matter in terms of the presidential elections right now. It'd be nice to change that.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 27, 2007 10:10 AM

I predict that I will live to see either the death of the electoral college system or a very major change. Possibly in the next ten years.

Yeah, but what will replace it? That's what I don't feel confident about.

Comment from: Darth Paradox [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 27, 2007 4:06 PM

sqbr: We don't have an official Leader of the Opposition, but a lot of that is because the President, unlike a Prime Minister, is not affiliated with the legislature at all. But the leaders of the opposition party in the two houses of Congress (be they majority or minority) function in that way. For example, the Democrats currently control both houses, and so the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the Majority Leader of the Senate (Harry Reid) are the primary voices for opposition to the President.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 27, 2007 8:36 PM

If a state wants to represent its voters proportionally, then they can follow Wyoming's lead and change their own state's electoral college policy. But as a Republican in Pennsylvania (where my vote rarely means diddily squat, mind) I don't think it's my place to tell California how to divide up their votes. They're big kids, let them figure it out for themselves.

If we make the presidential election a general election, then that's it -- that's the only way the votes can be counted. So every state that's chosen a different method (and even choosing not to change the existing process is a choice) will be forced to comply with the federal government's ruling on the election. We'll lose freedoms, not gain them, and do so to elect the same folks that we'd be electing anyway in the wide majority of cases.

I'll keep my electoral college, thanks.

Comment from: B. Durbin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 28, 2007 12:58 AM

The value of the electoral college is that it makes the candidates campaign somewhere other than cities. Seriously, if you go to a popular vote, the candidates go for the big population centers, and I don't want New York and L.A. to get all of the attention. Pay too much attention to the needs of the cities and ignore the farmers and you end up with food shortages...

As for the California suggestion, somebody actually proposed last year that the electoral votes go to the candidate who wins the national election. Now there's a recipe for disaster. (If you don't see why, run the numbers on the last few elections, and get a statistician to explain margin-of-error. Scary thoughts indeed.)

Comment from: Merus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 29, 2007 9:59 AM

A refresher course on Australian politics: the leaders of each party are determined by a vote of all the members of that party. There's a bit of tit-for-tat here, because the leader of the party also has to win their seat in the Australian equivalent of the House of Representatives, but becoming leader means they have a huge amount of leverage and press coverage and so are fairly likely to win their seat. The House of Representatives has the closest thing to executive power in the Australian system. As there's no one good target to go for, because the party leaders are almost guaranteed to win their seats and whoever's in power is determined by how many seats they win, attack ads are far less common and generally either focus on particular Cabinet ministers or the overall approach of the party - of course, running attack ads is seen as dishonest, as Australians are naturally inclined to believe that both mobs are dodgy bastards and running attack ads only confirms this view.

I've always thought the most broken thing about the American system is how much time it takes: from there, the problems with the focus on minutiae and the amount it can be gamed stems.

Comment from: William S. [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 1, 2007 10:51 AM

"but the practical effect of that is to take the small states out of the equation."
Good. The small states have three times as much power as the large states in the ''general'' election.

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