Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Iowa and New Hampshire in the US Presidential Election Process

The primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire in the US Presidential election process has got to come to an end. The way the media report the election as a horse race, they have half the candidates weeded out before 98 percent of eligible US voters have had the chance to cast a vote. One could hope for the media to report differently, but since that isn't likely, it seems that some alternative to the present system needs to be found. After all, there is nothing in the Constitution giving Iowa and New Hampshire privileged status in the election process.

Their primacy is based on nothing but tradition, and relatively modern tradition at that: New Hampshire has had the first primary in the nation since 1920, and codified that place into its own laws in 1977. (This is a little weird; what if some other state also decided to pass laws guaranteeing itself the first primary in the country? I suggest we try it, hammer it out in the courts, and get New Hampshire's law declared unconstitutional once and for all.) The Iowa Caucus has only been first in the nation since 1972. So it's not like we'd be subverting some great principle from the Magna Carta by changing things.

I suggest an alternate scenario: a ten-week primary and caucus season, with five occurring on a single day each week from the beginning to the end of the season. The order of the states would be chosen by lottery two years before each general election. This would have the following effects:
  1. Each election season would have its own order, thus changing the dynamic each time;

  2. Politicking and jockeying for position among states would be eliminated by a random drawing;

  3. The first news reports of actual voting would not be a single state's results, but rather the results of five separate contests. Since the results would most likely differ from state to state, there would be a better chance of more candidates remaining in the race for longer (they wouldn't be "eliminated" by a bad showing in a single state);

  4. There would be no "Super Tuesdays," in which nobody but those who have built up crushing war chests could compete;

  5. Neither would there be any weeks (or days) in which the outcome in a single state would dominate the news cycle.
In fact, the only downside to this process would be if several very populous states were to have early primaries, and a single candidate won them all, the election could be sewn up mathematically before most of the races had taken place. But this would be preferable to the present system, in which the illusion of inevitability is created by a mathematically insignificant portion of the populace, and gives inordinate power to the states that have chosen themselves as the bellweathers. If you doubt this, consider: only twice since 1972 has a candidate lost both Iowa and New Hampshire and gone on to win the nomination of a major party (George McGovern, in 1972, and Bill Clinton, in 1992). It's time for something different.


  1. Hi Keith,

    I pretty much agree with you; my suggestion would be to have a nationwide primary/caucus day, say the first Tuesday in May, in hopes of preventing candidates from engaging in the rediculous and unseemly local pandering that we see today. I'd also suggest suspensions for one week of the broadcast licenses of any media outlets that give results out before the polls close in Alaska and Hawaii. An alternative to that, via electronic balloting, would be to instantly broadcast vote totals in a constantly updating tally for each candidate, perhaps getting more people to the polls if they see sagging numbers for their favorite, or surging numbers for their least-favorite.

    Grace and Peace, Dave P.

  2. Hi Dave.

    Here's my problem with a single nationwide primary day: it would be the equivalent of a general election with lots more candidates (and the real general election would become a runoff election). There would be even more of what we saw this year: pre-election polling charting the horse race long before any actual voting takes place, and only candidates who already have the funds available to run a national campaign could even get started.

    My suggestion eliminates the intense focus on two small states by having the first primary day include 5, but then gives a ten-week period for the race to develop so that one candidate can't have it locked up early (or on a single "Super Tuesday" event), and a candidate without a lot of funds can make a go of it in the first few contests and hope to gain momentum for the later races.

    I'm not hung up on 10 weeks or 5 states per week; I do think a slowly developing primary season with some sort of rotation among states for first dibs is the best solution.

  3. I agree,but we must, must do somthing about campaign money!! you should not be able to buy the election.and heavily fine any network that gives more coverage[especially favorable]to one candidate.!!!!! peace marc.