Federalize the Primary System

I give credit to this post from Digby for reminding me of a post I started and didn’t finish.

Currently, states determine the date of their primary, just like they always have. Up until about 12 years ago, they all played nice and everything was hunky dory. Then the advent of the 24 hour primary coverage and all the money and influence that came with it got other states to thinking that they wanted their say sooner in the process. Over the years this has led us to the full on mess that we have today, with Michigan and Florida giving up delegates in the Democratic contest just to get the media coverage.

None of this will change as long as Presidential primaries are run by the states. One state will always try and leapfrog another, Iowa and New Hampshire will keep moving their contests to earlier dates, before you know it, the Iowa caucus will be in November of an even, but non-presidential year. The only way to bring some sanity into the mix is to standardize the system in a way that is fair. However, giving permanent 1st in the nation status to any state is fundamentally screwed up. There needs to be some mechanism for selecting the order of states contests…Here’s my idea.

Start Small

One of the things that I do like about the current set up of the primary/caucus calendar is that small states get a voice early. This provides an opportunity for lesser known candidates to get out and get some national press without having to come up with the money that would be required to run in California, New York, or some other large state. There are 30 states in that have fewer than 10 electoral college votes. These states would have priority in setting up the first 4 primary contests.

Lottery for Position

In order to keep it fair, and ensure that over the course of several election cycles no one state had more of an impact than any other, a lottery system would be employed to choose the order and participants of all the contests. States included in the lottery would be drawn from these 30 states. Once a state has been picked for the top spot, they are ineligible for that spot in the next presidential primary season, though they would be in the mix for 2-4.

Dates and Weights

This campaign has been going on for over a year now, and I think just about everyone is sick of it. Making the first contest happen in mid-February would allow for plenty of time for the candidates to get their organizations together for the early contests, but would keep the process out of the holidays, by and large. Contests would continue every other week from there and would include more states as they went along. My thoughts go something like this:

1. 1 state
2. 2 states
3. 4 states
4. 7 states

By this time we would be coming up to May. The primaries that followed would be regionalized to maximize the ability of the candidates to cover the areas. These regions would be weighted based on where the majority of the first contests were. If most of them happened in the south, the first regional would go north or west. If they happened in the Mountain West, they would move east. If they were fairly dispersed the regions would be in a lottery for position with 4 contests going through June.


I’m not saying this is a perfect set up either, but it’s a process that would allow us to get the primary season under control without doing a national primary that ultimately hurts lesser known candidates.

As much as I love politics, I don’t want to see campaigns last any longer than they need to, nor do I want them to start any earlier than is reasonable. By taking the wild card of states jockeying for position out of the mix we can standardize the process, and make the whole thing more representative of more people.


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