National primaries primed for change

States vying for influence in national elections would do better by reforming the system.

David Steinberg

For the first time in United States history, there is chance the state primaries will begin the year before the election, in December. The presidential primary and caucus season is approaching very quickly, and everyone must be ready for a long battle to earn his or her partyâÄôs nomination. However, with the primary calendar beginning Jan. 3 and going all the way to June 26, do the states with a later time slot even matter? By the time Super Tuesday, a day with 10 primaries and caucuses, rolls around March 6, 11 states will have already voted and the race will already have taken what some argue is its final shape.

The Republican National Committee adopted new rules in 2010 that set in stone the dates for the primaries, and any circumvention of those rules would lead to a penalization. Because those rules were put in place, the states that moved their primaries âÄî New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona and Michigan âÄî will lose half their delegates.

The media and the national political parties generally fault these guilty âÄúfrontloadingâÄù states for corrupting the primary process. However, what this should bring to light is that states like Iowa and New Hampshire get undue control over the political process, which essentially leaves a voter in Utah or any later primary with less power than a voter in one of the earlier states. This arguably undemocratic electoral process continues to survive.

A recent study finds that the current systemâÄôs âÄúone person, one voteâÄù ideal is not borne out by reality. The study by professor Brian Knight at Brown University reveals that voters in early states have up to five times the influence of Super Tuesday voters.

We could also find an argument with the choice of the early states. Iowa and New Hampshire, as New York Times columnist David Leonhardt writes, are neither better nor worse than other states; they are, however, different.

Citizens from Iowa and New Hampshire are generally older and are more likely to both work in manufacturing and have health insurance. These are not huge differences, and every state in this position would differ from the average. However, no state should have constantly increased influence in an election process that is supposed to be democratic and equal.

The biggest difference between Iowa, New Hampshire and the rest of the nation is their lack of a huge urban metropolis. IowaâÄôs largest city is Des Moines with a little more than 200,000 people, which is a meager amount compared to the East Coast urban sprawl. Manchester, N. H., is even smaller with a little more than 100,000 people.  

It would be wrong to say the issues that most citizens of these two states care about are insignificant. Yet many important issues that affect many more people never make it into the discussion with these two states leading the election cycle. Issues like public transportation and failing inner city schools are rarely mentioned because these arenâÄôt as important in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Bruce Katz, a veteran of national politics, has strong words about the seemingly anti-urban slant this country is exhibiting, focusing more on the small towns. âÄúThe United States stands apart as an anti-urban nation in an urbanizing world. Our political tilt toward small states and small towns âĦ is not only a quaint relic of an earlier era but a dangerous distraction at a time when national prosperity depends on urban prosperity.âÄù

Recently many states have been pushing their primaries earlier in the year to gain more influence. This is beginning to become a problem; as more states try to frontload the calendar there will be more primaries in a smaller window of time. This means that the candidates will all flock to the bigger states with more potential delegates while ignoring the smaller states.

There are some alternative ideas being thrown around which should be garnering more attention. Leonhardt favors one process that is based on rotating the earlier states.

Instead of New Hampshire and Iowa constantly starting the political election season, there should be a constant rotation giving opportunities to all states. This would allow political issues to speak to large and small states, as well as urban and rural states.

In the current system, every four years the issue of ethanol subsidies becomes a national talking point because Iowa votes first. Minnesotans would love to host a first-in-the-nation primary complete with issues Minnesotans dictate, like transportation and the arts. A rotating system like this would revitalize many national political issues which should get much more discussion time, like education and science.

Creating a rotating system would mean states would no longer have incentives to continue pushing these elections earlier in the year and incurring penalties on the way.

New Hampshire would say that they deserve the honor of the first primary because of their highest in the nation primary turnout of 53.6 percent in 2008, but turnout in other states is undoubtedly driven down by voting after a partyâÄôs nominee has been all but determined.

Allowing other states to get the attention of New Hampshire would reenergize other states lagging in turnout. Changing the system would create a more democratic society and allow more people to become involved along the way.

 

David Steinberg welcomes comments at [email protected]