Jun 08 2008

Fixing the Presidential Primary System – Part 3

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

In the last two posts I’ve concentrated on the current proposals to remedy the problems with the Presidential Nominating process and the potential legal and constitutional challenges of implementing such remedies nationally. At the end of my last post I promised to include my solution. Since that time, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College, and institute his proposals for fixing the process, and mandate many voting reforms that are key to maintaining faith in the system, particularly as the voting systems becomes more computer oriented.

A PDF of his proposal can be found here.

News coverage from The Hill.

In researching the proposals and their pitfalls, it would seem that short of a constitutional amendment, there is no remedy to the solution. Amendments to the Constitution are very difficult to pass, particularly when they address issues surrounding the selection of the President. I applaud Senator Nelson, despite my disagreements with him on other issues, for spearheading these efforts. While much of this issue may have been borne out of the dissatisfaction of Clinton supporters, it’s an important discussion that needs to happen in our nation going forward.

I’ve separated my proposal out into five sections: The Regions, Selection, Timing, Process, and Party Control. These sections detail the rules, as I envision them, for future Presidential Nominating procedures to ensure fairness and that as many people, and parties, as possible are included in the process. So, without further ado, here goes.

The Regions

Like Senator Nelson’s proposal, my idea calls for the establishment of regions. Unlike Senator Nelson’s proposal, the states included in the regions would vote on the same day. This does several things, but most importantly, provides for smaller states to have an impact in the process, without being overshadowed by a larger state far, far away, as could happen with the inter-regional system set up by Senator Nelson.

In establishing the regions that I detail below, I took great pains to respect the geographic and cultural commonalities of the states included in the regions. Additionally, an attempt has been made to split the regions up proportionally to current Electoral College distributions (6 regions of as close to 90 electoral college votes per region) as is geographically and culturally possible. Due to these considerations, some regions have more, some considerably less. There are many ways to distribute the states, and this is one of them.

Here are the regions:

Northeast – Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC

Southeast – Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi

Southwest – Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona

Midwest – Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio

Mountain West – North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

Pacific – California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii

Selection Process

The first presidential election year that this solution was available, there would be a simple lottery to determine the order. Once that order was selected, a weighted lottery would be in effect, to ensure that regions near the end of the contest had a greater chance of getting closer to the beginning of the contest. The selection process should be held no later than 18 months before the general election date.


Once the order is set, the contests would begin on the 1st Tuesday after the 15th of Jan, and continue every 4 weeks following, the last one ending the first week of June. This, in no way shortens the process, though in lightly contested years, as in past years with our current system, the final contests may be irrelevant.


All contests are to be open primaries for all parties involved. Because, under this proposal the system is federalized, the quaint, but outdated, caucus system would be gone for everything but the purpose of nominating and selecting convention delegates. In other words, there must be a verifiable popular vote count, period.

Just like states with open primaries, a voter declares what ballot they wish to vote on, and then votes that party’s ballot only.

Because the primary system is federalized, great pains must be taken to include other parties in the primary process. For all practical purposes, the top five parties in each state (for instance, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, and at least one more) should be included in the primary. This way, all parties have a franchise, and perhaps the discussion can move from the artificial monochromatic scheme that we have in the country today.

Party Control

This may be the area of greatest importance to insure the 1st amendment right of association. All rules that nominate the candidates still fall on the individual party. The federal government has no right to involve itself in the functioning of a political party, only the right to determine order and timing of contests, and general rules that maintain a level of fairness throughout the process. Parties have the right to control the distribution of delegates to their nominating conventions. Parties have the right to hold caucuses after the primaries to elect delegates to the convention.

In order for any substantial change to happen, there would have to be a constitutional amendment. I personally like piggybacking on the Electoral College idea, because it seems to be gaining some traction, and it’s been the bane of my existence since 1988.

No solution that I have seen is perfect. Certainly, this one has it’s flaws, but its important to have the discussion going forward. No matter what, the discussion needs to start now. Two thirds of the Congress (House and Senate) must approve a constitutional amendment, followed by three fourths of the states. That’s a pretty tall order that has only been accomplished 27 times, and failed thousands. There are plenty of states out there to screw this up. It only takes 12 states to stop it. There are 16 states with 4 or fewer Electoral College votes (one of which is New Hampshire), more than enough in other words.

It’s a long hard road, and a lot of discussions ahead, but it needs to happen for the good of the country, and the sanctity of one person, one vote.

Jun 07 2008

Primary Challenges: More and Better Democrats

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

Ed Note: Just so there’s no confusion, if you can’t see the button to the right of this post, let me express my unequivocal support for Steve Cohen’s campaign. The discussion that follows expresses my opinions on primary contests in general and is targeted at no specific candidate.

Many moons ago, the folks over at Open Left started the ”Bush Dog” campaign. The idea behind this campaign is to highlight those Democratic Representatives that consistently vote against Democratic positions, particularly in regard to issues involving Iraq and FISA.

There has been some acceptance, a great deal of hand wringing and more than a little disdain for this campaign. It should be noted, that the stated goal of this campaign is “More and Better Democrats”. To briefly explain what that means to the hand wringers out there, more means that in heavily Republican districts (MS-01 for instance) we want a Democrat, any Democrat. However, in districts that lean more Democratic, we want the best Democrat that we can get.

Neither goal is necessarily easy. It can take a lot of time and money to get a competitive Democrat in heavily Republican leaning districts. For the most part, the DCCC, DSCC, and local party operatives have done a good job of recruiting candidates, particularly in the past 3 special elections that brought us the formerly strong Republican seats of Denny Hastert (IL), Roger Wicker (MS) and Richard Baker (LA). Further, the current state of the Republican brand, and their fundraising problems for their congressional committees, may make getting “more” easier for Democrats for now.

While “more” Democrats is one element of building a strong caucus in the House and Senate, electing better Democrats is the key to passing more progressive legislation.

This is one area that makes people nervous, but there’s really no reason. Nowhere on the progressive or liberal left is anyone seriously suggesting that a liberal Republican would be better than a conservative Democrat. As Progressive Punch Scores indicate, there is a full 30 point difference between the highest rated Republican and the lowest rated Democrat in the House. There is a nearly identical result in the Senate when one looks at lifetime scores. Looking at these scores makes it clear that there is no realistic rationale for any Democratic leaning voter to support any Republican over any Democrat. This argument has been put forth over and over again by largely conservative Democrats and is a straw man.

The real reason for the FUD about primary challenges is that it represents a challenge to the established power. Even in many Democratic circles, challenging the system is frowned upon. People challenging the system are treated as ungrateful or turncoats. The truth of the matter is that challenging the system is something that is deeply coded in our nation’s DNA.

The Challenge

Challenging established powers is one of the things that gave birth to our nation. Had the patriots who led us into the Revolutionary War been quashed, the promise, set forth in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of a new kind of governance may have never come to fruition. Following that logic, if established powers that vote against the Democratic Party, or key interests in their districts in Congress are not challenged, the promise of a more progressive nation may never be realized. The effort is one of fine-tuning. By challenging elected officials in solidly Democratic districts, who vote against the party, even if only on specific issues, we can either correct the bad behavior, or put someone in who will better reflect the will of the people in that district.

A common complaint by those who fear the threat of a primary challenge is that such an effort represents outside interference in the district in question. This is also a straw man. If outside interference is the reality, then the Representative being primaried need not worry. Successful primary campaigns, such as the one mounted by Donna Edwards in Maryland, require serious effort by locals to have any hope of succeeding. The truth of the matter is that incumbents have a huge advantage over their primary and general challengers. Over 90% of incumbents won re-election in House races over the past several cycles.

Indeed, this year alone the primary challengers of “Bush Dog” Democrats Dan Lipinski in Illinois and Leonard Boswell in Iowa were soundly defeated. Both districts are safe Democratic districts, and while the candidates themselves may be irritated about being “primaried” the truth of the matter is that this result may have been avoided had the representatives been more in touch with their districts.

The Upside

As we have seen over the past several months of the Presidential Primary contest, there is an upside to a vigorous primary challenge. Record numbers of new voters have been pulled from the sidelines and involved themselves in the process. Estimates indicate that upwards of 36,000,000 people participated in the Democratic Presidential Nominating process. If a national contest can generate that kind of excitement, then, it follows that a spirited local contest may also generate similar results on a smaller scale.

It has long been the goal of the Democratic Party to involve as many in the process as possible. Traditional turnout numbers seem to indicate that high voter turnout benefits Democratic candidates in the general. That interest can be cultivated in the primary season where the debate is focused on the sometime subtle differences between the candidates. Primary challenges provide an opportunity to involve groups of people who may or may not have the ear of the current elected official. It is vital to bring these people into the process and keep them involved because, as many examples have proven, once the politics bug bites people, they tend to remain active and bring more people with them.

Once the primary is over, it’s the job of the winner and the loser to work together to unify the locals behind the nominee. We are, after all, Democrats. As we’re seeing in the Presidential race, this can be a difficult task. It is important that incumbents not take primary challenges personally (it’s business, not personal) and that both challengers and incumbents work to keep the campaign about policy and away from unnecessary personal attacks. The reality of most primary challenges is that on most issues the respective candidates agree. Taking those points of agreement to heal any divisions that may have been exposed is the key for achieving unity. Again, I think the Presidential Nominating process may prove to be an excellent model for this.

The Downside

There are some potential downsides to advocating for primary contests…your favorite progressive representative might face one. This is the reality of politics. If you are willing to call for someone to get primaried, you have to be willing to accept that your candidate may get primaried as well. In such an instance, just like for the candidates, it’s important that the supporters don’t get out of hand with the rhetoric. We are all still Democrats, and there has to be recognition that if someone is willing to dedicate the time and money to mount a primary campai
gn, they must have some supporters who feel strongly about it, even if that candidate’s strongest supporters are pro-business Republicans.

Another potential problem is that a close primary can suck the resources out of the eventual winner’s campaign, paving the way for an insurgent Republican. This is where you just have to exercise some caution. If you’re serious about mounting a primary campaign, then you probably have some connections in the community (you better have some connections). Taking the temperature around your district to make sure you aren’t paving the way to an insurgent Republican victory is a wise choice, lest you get egged at the next party meeting.

The Wretched

Still, sometimes people just gotta get primaried. Either they’ve been there too long (an arbitrary but sometimes relevant metric), grown unresponsive, or have intellectually or emotionally left the district behind. Maybe they haven’t had a serious opponent since they got elected (was that subtle enough?) and are just coasting. Maybe they’ve turned into Joe Lieberman and have left the party behind. There are all kinds of reasons. Just remember, should a candidate choose to primary a sitting Congressman, you’re on your own as far as Party support is concerned, until you win, and even after that, depending on the temperature of the local party structure, you could still be on your own.

In past cycles, Democratic groups focused on Congressional races have involved themselves in the primary process. The DCCC and DSCC are there to support Democratic Congressional candidates. Getting involved in primaries should be left to the locals, lest we end up with that outside interference argument. We saw this happen in the 2006 Democratic Senate Primary here in Tennessee. The truth of the matter is, the fallout of a national Democratic organization like DCCC and DSCC involving themselves in the primary may not be felt by the national party, but will most certainly be felt locally. Many speculate that Kurita’s vote against the party for control of the State Senate may have been prompted by this interference. It’s speculation, I know, but it’s something to consider, particularly as we move forward to redistricting in 2010. Remember, More and Better applies to state contests too.


Primaries are like a trip to the doctor, something everyone wants to avoid, but that’s necessary from time to time, to ensure the health of the party. We need the excitement, the fresh blood, and the new ideas to keep the Democratic Party’s brand fresh. Over the next few months, the primary season (congressional and local primaries) will come to a close. If you had or have a primary candidate, I encourage you to get behind the eventual winner of the primary, regardless of who you originally backed. If we remember the ultimate goal, More and Better Democrats, we can expect to see a robust Democratic caucus in the House, Senate, and state bodies, that will last for years to come.

Jun 03 2008

Fixing the Presidential Primary System – Part 2

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

In my last post I talked about some of the bills that have been introduced that attempt to address the mess that our Presidential nominating contests have become. All of these pieces of legislation would seek to federalize the system in one way or another standardizing the process. There is some question as to legality of these remedies. In this post, we’ll look at some of the legal issues that complicate a purely federal solution to the Presidential nominating process.

Nowhere in the Constitution is there any specific mention of the Presidential nominating process as it pertains to political parties. Article II, Section 1 gives Congress the power to determine the time for the selection of “Electors”, but this applies to the general, further, this same section states that State Legislatures have the power to determine “Electors”, however, this applies to the selection of “Electoral College” delegates, who determine the outcome of the general election, not the nominating process. At the time of the Constitution’s adoption, organized political parties, as we know them today, did not exist. Certainly there were factions, but there was no organized party structure.

States and the respective parties currently control all facets of the primary system. States and state parties conduct primaries and caucuses in accordance with state law and the customs of the state party. No federal body currently has any authority over these proceedings, other than laws that ensure voting rights, accessibility and federal campaign finance law.

State law and agreements between the state and national parties determine the timing of Presidential nominating contests. The federal government has no role in the timing of these contests. As we saw at the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws meeting on Saturday, timing has been a difficult point of contention for several cycles. Many states, though Michigan has been leading the charge, feel that Iowa and New Hampshire have too much influence on the system, and too little diversity to play that decisive role. The DNC’s efforts to add South Carolina and Nevada to the “early states”, was an attempt to mitigate this discontent. New Hampshire’s decision to move to the second spot, instead of it’s originally scheduled third spot and the DNC’s decision to not sanction New Hampshire was seen as breaking the compromise and led to Michigan’s decision to move it’s primary.

While states may have the power to set nominating contest dates, they do so with the approval of the parties who then select the delegates in accordance with party rules. States attempting to regulate primaries, or the resulting delegations have been met with court challenges from state and national political parties. The Supreme Court has ruled that such regulation violates their 1st Amendment rights of association. Any attempt at federal regulation may meet with a similar fate.

Turning away from election powers mentioned in the Constitution, Article I, Section 8 gives Congress power to pass all legislation “necessary and proper” for the effective operation of the government. One could argue that federally regulating the Presidential nominating process is the only way to ensure stability and fairness in the system and that such circumstances are “necessary and proper” to ensure the integrity of the process. This argument is a slippery slope however, because the federal government has NEVER controlled the Presidential nomination process, not to mention the arguments I’ve previously detailed.

In summary, any attempt by the federal government to take control of the nominating process would most certainly be met with great resistance from state governments. There is no precedent for federal regulation of the timing or execution of Presidential nominating procedures. Further, because the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of parties against state governments, any attempt by the federal government to wrest control without the benefit of a constitutional amendment, may be challenged by the individual parties themselves, making it less likely that such a remedy is possible.

Regulating the Presidential nominating process through the federal government is a complicated issue. There are many competing interests, legal challenges, and attitudes that pose stiff barriers to such a solution. Further, there are questions if such a solution would actually fix the problem or just make it more complicated, discouraging candidates or constituents from participating. Despite the challenges, I feel that examining possible solutions is the best way to come up with a process that is fairer to more people.

Coming up next time, I’ll go through my new and improved solution for the nominating process. Many of the questions that I have discussed in this post will remain, however, I feel that solutions should be presented despite potential challenges.

Thanks for reading!

Ed Note: Special thanks to Steve Mulroy for providing insight into the constitutional issues. I hope I represented your analysis correctly.

Jun 01 2008

Fixing the Presidential Primary System – Part 1

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

After spending my Saturday, transfixed by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws committee, I have a new respect for the work the DNC and other parties engage in to make the process appear more seamless than it actually is to the normal folk out there. Apparently, things like timing and order are a big damn deal to a lot of people, and the RBC proceedings were a prime example of what happens when people break, follow, interpret and ignore the rules.

Of the speakers yesterday, MI Senator Carl Levin told a story about the promise of opening up the early contests to states other than Iowa and New Hampshire. That promise, both technically and through the will of the NH SOS was broken. The decision by NH to break from the DNC timing angered Michigan and led to their decision to move their primary.

Yesterday I called that the “you don’t follow the rules, why should we”, gamble.

So timing is important, and at least 48 states would like to have a crack at being the first in the nation. Unfortunately right now there is no mechanism in place to do that.

In order to bring some level of order to the process, the federal government would have to get involved. Right now, primary dates are set in agreements between the state SOS and party officials. These dates are subject to changes in members and personal priority on both sides, and the whole thing can seem chaotic, as we witnessed at the beginning of the primary season when there was talk of an Iowa caucus being held right after Christmas dinner.

So, if you agree that the Presidential Primary system is broken, then what is the remedy?

One remedy would be to totally federalize the process. In March, and May of 2007 four bills were introduced into Congress (2 in the House, 2 in the senate) HR1523, HR 3487, S 1905, and S 2024. All of these measures (HR 3487 and S 1905 are the same piece of legislation in each body) basically set out a way that would normalize the Presidential Primary system through arranging the states into regional “Super regions” (one calls for 4, the others for 6).

The voting procedures of these “Super Regions” would be handled in a couple of different proposed ways. Some call for the large regional “Super Primary” on the first Tuesday of every month from February to June. Others call for states to be selected from different regions, through a random selection, and scattered about.

In January, I wrote a post about Federalizing the Primary System. Since that post I’ve reconsidered some of the remedy, though the basic strategy is the same, however, that’s another post.

I’m interested in the discussion, and I hope you are too. Over the next few days I’ll be writing posts about these proposals, my newer ideas, and whether such a system is both feasible and legal. Feel free to chime in, I’m really interested in ideas from all over.

Thanks for reading!

May 06 2008

PRIMARY THAT WILL NEVER END – liveblog – Updated with Cookies

Posted by Steve Ross in liveblog

Hi all,

Watching MSNBC. Been watching for an hour or so, and noticed that the numbers in Indiana (actual vote count) hasn’t been shown in some time.

Indiana SOS has it 49k(C) 38K(O).

North Carolina has a really nice results site that doesn’t update nearly regularly enough.

TPM has the Indy vote spread at 55k (C)votes (39% reporting), and the NC spread at 62K (O) (6% reporting).

I hate it when the media calls a race with 0% reporting no matter how obvious it is. And they wonder why people question their credibility.

More after these messages…

Update 12:15:Waiting for room service…. Just called IN for Clinton. Talked to two Michiganders this evening. Good friends, who don’t and never did support my candidate. Their message…DON’T SEAT THE DELEGATES. We broke the rules, don’t muck it all up. My sentiments exactly.

Update Midnite: 51-49. Damn. Could it be? Could it be? Probably not. It’s gonna be a messed up day tomorrow. Too bad I’m working and will miss most of it.

Update 7:45PM: Indiana vote spread has not changed, still 55k votes. NC has, BO has a 135k vote lead in NC (all per TPM). David Axelrod is talking on the Teeve. And he’s having satellite problems. Ok, go back to your cookies people. I’ll update after tweety or Pat Buch says something else stupid.

Update 7:30
Harold Ickes warns of Obama October Surprise. His argument is that we just don’t know enough about Obama, but Hillary has been out there for years and is safe. Puhhhhleeeze! Hang it up Harry. Chances are, you’re not getting paid either.