The First Shot

Publius of Obsidian Wings fires one of the first shots in the battle to reform the Democratic nominating system.

Replace Iowa and New Hampshire with Rotating Regional Calendar

The Michigan/Florida debacle is a direct consequence of Iowa and New Hampshire’s unholy monopoly on the early elections. David Broder aside, there is absolutely no justification for allowing the same two states — states without major urban centers or diverse populations — to host the first elections every cycle. And it’s especially unwise given that one of these states holds caucuses and forces all candidates to embrace ethanol-first policies.

I’d prefer some sort of rationalized rotating regional calendar (e.g., 5 states in Week 1, 7 states in Week 3, etc.). In fact, I’m not sure any individual state should have an election day all to itself. That’s not how the general election works, and individual contests don’t test for the type of skills candidates need in national presidential elections. But regardless of how it’s structured, the order of the states needs to rotate from cycle to cycle. As Senator Levin correctly noted, these states don’t have a God-given right to go first.

Kill the Caucuses

These should simply be eliminated — no ifs, ands, or buts. The Clinton people are right that they are disenfranchising. If you are (1) old; (2) have small children; or (3) work at night, it’s a lot harder for you to sit around the high school gym for hours listening to others talk. And even if you’re none of these things, caucuses still sharply increase the “costs” of voting. If, by contrast, you can just walk in and walk out, you’d be more likely to go vote.

If there are local political issues that need to be debated, fine. Caucus about them all you want. But the actual presidential election part needs to be carved out and converted into a primary.

Kill the Superdelegates (Metaphorically)

While we’re at it, let’s get rid of these guys too. The whole superdelegate concept seems illegitimate to me (in a normative rather than positive sense). Indeed, the Democrats dodged a bullet on this front as well — things could have been worse. Even though superdelegates will ultimately decide this year’s outcome, Obama has a pretty clear (not huge, but significant) lead in pledged delegates. Thus, the superdelegates aren’t “robbing” anyone.

You could imagine, though, a much closer election with superdelegates splitting more evenly. And that situation would be a total disaster — one that would be a mockery of democracy. For one, the decision would be made by unaccountable party hacks that no one’s ever heard of. Second, the decision would likely be based more on deal-cutting and chits than on principle.

The point is that the superdelegate concept creates terrible incentives. Even worse, it creates the conditions for a true intraparty meltdown in the case of a virtual tie (indeed, we got a glimpse of that this cycle). For this reason, I would recommend eliminating them entirely. But if the Democratic rabble is deemed unfit for democracy, then superdelegates should at least consist only of elected officials — no DNC officials allowed. We need some modicum of accountability.

All of these suggestions make sense. The Iowa/New Hampshire monopoly really a bad idea that leads to terrible policies. They aren’t representative, look nothing like the rest of the country and have far too much power. Similarly, caucuses are a terrible system for picking a national candidate. They disenfranchise a lot of people, lower participation and are hideously undemocratic.

On the superdelegates, I’m of two minds. On the one hand the nominee should be picked by the voters. However, superdelegates make it harder for a candidate to hold the balance of power and force a brokered convention. I’d prefer having Democratic elected officials, but not DNC officials, have superdelegate voting rights, given that they have actually been elected by real voters. But never again should we know the names of obscure DNC officials like Jerome Wiley Segovia, at least in the context of picking a president.

I’d add a couple of other reforms to the list. First, we need a far shorter window of primaries. There’s probably nothing that anyone can do to keep candidates from announcing for President right after the midterm elections. But there is absolutely no reason to have a 6 month long nominating process. Maybe two months, but this process has just been ridiculous.

Secondly, we really need to take a look at how delegates are apportioned. After the Clinton/Obama battle its clear that under the current system of proportional representation two strong candidates can easily go on and on and on with no real opportunity to knock one another out. This would especially be true if future candidates learn from Clinton’s mistakes and don’t write off huge numbers of states. While I think the basic concept of awarding delegates with at least some sense of proportionality to the vote, there need to be bigger bonuses to the winners of states and eliminate the bizarre quirk of the system that leads to congressional districts with an even number of delegates getting split evenly between the candidates unless there is an utter blowout.

Beyond that, I’m not sure. I’m sort of partial to a one day national primary, which would certainly be fairer than the current process. However, it would make life very difficult for darkhorses. Rotating regional primaries seem like the best compromise, but even they have problems. Whatever happens, a repeat of 2008 is the worst of all options.


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One response to “The First Shot

  1. Pingback: Bring It On! » Blog Archive » It’s Time the Democrats Get Their Big Tent in Order

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