A Simple Way To Reform The Primary Process For Better Results
In case you’ve been living under a rock, there’s a pretty big primary election underway for the 2020 general election. The Democrats have an enormous field of candidates, while the GOP has only a few and looks well on its way to nominating Trump for re-election (impeachment results pending).
This is actually a flip from the 2016 election when there was no incumbent and both parties had nominating processes. The Democrats had only a few candidates while the Republicans had the large field.
Whether you’re talking about this election, last election or pretty much any presidential election, something has been consistent about them all- a horrible primary process.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, Iowa kicks things off. They do this every year. They have since 1972 in fact, and the reason is…well, there’s not good reason, really. They had a long caucus process that was drawn out and needed to begin earlier than other states. That’s the rationale. Why are they still first? Because tradition.
It’s not fair. It’s not sane. And it isn’t helping our elections. There’s a much better way in fact, but no one is talking about it.
One reason candidates like the schedule is so that they don’t have to campaign all across the country. Even a small campaign with little funding can get off the ground in Iowa or New Hampshire, the second state to vote in the primaries. That makes some sense. If we all voted at once, how could any candidate get all over the place to campaign with so little fund raising compared to a general election?
Rather than a drawn out primary season and an election of attrition, we should overhaul the nominating process. And here’s the best way to do it: hold primary elections by time zone.
The first Tuesday of March, the first primary is held and all the states in that time zone vote together. The first Tuesday of April, the next time zone votes. And so on through May and June, so that the process concludes just a bit earlier than it currently does.
How does this improve?
First off, you alternate the order in which the time zones vote. Your time zone would go first once every four elections. That’s reasonable. That means you actually see candidates campaigning every once in a while. That gives candidates time to focus on the first time zone for a while, just as they currently focus on the first state or two for a while.
After the first election, some will drop out. Others will carry on. They now have an entire month to campaign and fund raise in the next time zone. On and on they go until each party has a nominee.
You probably have reservations. You probably have doubts. You probably have concerns. Now, I ask you, do none of those same reservations and concerns apply to the current system? Would anything get worse? Less fair?
All we do is give different people in different parts of the country their fair shake at whittling down the candidates. Instead of focusing on one state, they have to focus on one region, something that might be easier in the Pacific time zone than the Eastern. Those are considerations that will play a part in strategies employed by campaigns.
Each state will still be able to hold their caucus or primary in whatever way they choose. This just simplifies the nominating process and allows campaigns with good organizations and funds to compete with one another. Grassroots upstarts can still compete too. Maybe not in an election year when the Central time zone goes first. That’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of people to meet.
But consider the Mountain time zone. Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. That’s manageable. What about years they go first, or even second? That gives an advantage to a not so well known candidate who may be popular in the region.
Right now we talk about candidates who are popular in the midwest…because Iowa. What if that alternated each election?
This process would also help whittle down the candidates much faster, allowing only those who put themselves in the top tier more time to compete directly without so many distractions. After the first primary, roughly 1/4 of the votes will have been cast. Any candidate performing poorly there would be done.
By making campaigns be regional rather than state specific, you help candidates become more electable in a general election as well. They don’t cater to one specific group or policy in a regional primary.
When states go one at a time, candidates will even skip states. Think back to 2008 with the GOP. No one campaigned in Wyoming outside of Mitt Romney, who completely skipped South Carolina. Huckabee went straight to South Carolina after New Hampshire, skipping Michigan. McCain focused little in Iowa, instead gambling on New Hampshire. Just in the early states you had candidates focused in some and skipping others.
In a regional primary there is plenty of time to campaign in all of the states involved. It just works better this way. And if time zones don’t work since several states fall in different time zones, then you can create regions manually. For example, New England, the South, the Midwest, etc. Balance them by states and population as best you can. Then make each state in each given region hold its primary the same day on this schedule.
What do you think?