Sunday, January 20, 2008

There must be a better way

Some while back, I opined here that we ought to just have a national primary. I still believe that that would be superior to the death by a thousand cuts that we the electorate are obliged to undergo for months at a time, while the media conveniently tell us who is a "plausible" candidate and who is not (so that, for example, John Edwards was out of the running before the running began, for reasons best known to a few newspaper and television editors).

Still, it's worth considering just why it came to pass that the populations of a handful of inconsequential states (by population,anyway) came to have such a dominant role in national politics.

The theory is simple and, in the abstract, admirable. By starting with low-population states, the process offers candidates with small resources--low treasuries, perhaps not much reputation--a chance to compete more nearly equally, to get out their message and make themselves known in places where sheer money is not quite so dominant a factor.

But if that were the basis, we could do all this a bit more rationally. Party X would simply begin with the upside-won state population list (that is, least-populous first, that currently being, by a good margin, Wyoming) and go down it till it hits a state where the percentage of the popular vote that Party X got in the last presidential general election exceeds some reasonable threshold, say 40% or 45%. In that way, Party X is not holding its first primary in a state that is largely given over to its opponents.

For the Democrats in 2008, for example, Wyoming would have been out, but the next up (or down, depending on how you think of the list), Vermont, qualifies. There, wasn't that easy? And the next after that would be the next on the list to meet the criterion. In the Democratic example, that would have been Delaware. Third for the Dems would have been Rhode Island. Fourth would have been Hawaii.

The scheme would probably want four separate, and separated (in time) trials. A good idea would be to space them out by, say, a couple of weeks, so participants in a given state aren't unduly influenced by the "bounce" effect of having just won a preceding election, but close enough that the process doesn't drag seemingly forever. After four such early trials, it would perhaps be time for a larger-scale run, perhaps a block of states selected as representative of the nation (that is, not all in one geographic region or all alike in demographics).

In that way, a state would have to earn its position for a given party by turning out at least the threshold vote percentage (I like 40%), so even if state populations don't shift much in relative terms the rota is not necessarily fixed cycle to cycle.

And I must say, without it even being factored in, diversity certainly seems to raise its head: not all that much in common between Vermont, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Hawaii.

It's a far from perfect scheme, but compared to how we do business at present, I like it.

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