Sunday, August 31, 2008

Backers of GOP Primary Rules Overhaul Decry Resistance From Campaign

By Kathleen Hunter
CQ Politics
27 August 2008

Republicans performed an about-face and nixed a plan to dramatically reshape the party’s primary process in 2012, with proponents of the plan accusing the McCain campaign of working to derail the overhaul.

“Once again the presidential nominee has killed any reform of the primary process,” said Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett, the architect of the overhaul proposal.

The plan rejected Wednesday by the Republican National Committee’s rules-making panel was the same one the panel had endorsed in March as a way to establish a more orderly, drawn-out election schedule in 2012, with the goal of easing the “front-loaded” primary schedule that has developed in recent campaign cycles, while promoting more one-on-one interaction with voters.

Bennett and other supporters of the so-called “Ohio plan” accused the McCain campaign of launching a full-court press to persuade rules committee members to adopt a far more modest proposal.


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Sunday, June 22, 2008

An orderly presidential election process

By Todd Rokita
Indianapolis Star
22 June 2008

Although Americans have turned their attention to the heated race building toward November, we still have many lessons to learn from the history-making 2008 presidential primary.

For such a nation-shaping decision, the method through which we select our candidates for commander in chief is in dire need of improvement. Our primary process is too front-loaded -- 34 states plus the District of Columbia voted in January or February, more than three times the number that did so in 2000. This not only creates a prolonged campaign, our current primary schedule also runs the risk of disenfranchising almost half the population.

In recent years, a number of plans for reform have emerged, such as a national primary, the "Delaware Plan" or a graduated random presidential primary system. Each strategy shows promise, but none provides a comprehensive solution that will ensure an equitable way to select hopefuls for our nation's highest office.

As president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, I'm an advocate of our own solution to the problem -- the NASS Rotating Regional Primaries Plan.


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Thursday, June 19, 2008

American Plan Support

By Dwayne Hunn
People’s Lobby Executive Director

In 2008 almost every state played an interesting and, in the Democrats race, significant role in determining our presidential candidates. Excepting maybe Iowans and New Hampshirites, most Americans, who follow how we determine who will be the last suits standing to be CEO of what was once the world’s most respected power, do not think we have a fair, logical nominating process.

So how do we devise a better nominating process?

Well, for balance you’ll probably need someone who is a registered RepubDemoInde, or at least who has been registered with the Republican, Democratic, and Independent parties. He or she should also have some military training, so as to develop and stand by a disciplined approach to problem solving. Then, he/she should also be heavily trained in the math and sciences, so as to support a fairer nominating plan with math and graphs.

And guess what? Thomas Gangale, author of From the Primaries to the Polls: How to Repair America's Broken Presidential Nomination Process fits all those criteria. He Has Been an Independent, Republican, and Democratic. He is a scientist who loves math. He produces plenty of graphs.

To fix the nominating process, Gangale warms us up as he mixes it up. In each nominating stage, he juggles the small states and different regions to get as close as possible to fair and even. Consequently, an unknown with little money has a chance to establish himself and perhaps move up into the medium-sized juggled states to see whether he can compete there too. Gangale has brought common sense, fairness, science, and math to give us a much fairer process.

Just because you may have enjoyed the 2008 nominating process doesn't mean we shouldn't fix a nominating highway that is dated, dented, and needs more than just pothole repair.

Read Gangale’s book. Then write your Congressperson, so that they can vote to bring a saner nominating process to your hometown next time. With all the challenges our political process has lined up on our horizon, America needs all the common sense it can garner in its nominating process.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

The Race Is Over... Now What?

By Thomas Gangale
13 June 2008

Now that the Clinton-Obama drama is over, in the calm before the national conventions and the kickoff of the autumn campaign, pundits will cast about for some other presidential election issue to fill up air time and column space. Some will reflect on this year's nomination process and schedule, on what went right and what went wrong, and on what changes might be made for 2012. There are a lot of voices out there for changing the process, and I'm one of them, but each of us has his own set of assumptions and conclusions.

The front-loaded schedule, with so many states voting on the first Tuesday in February, should have determined the nominees of both major political parties very early. In part, the schedule was actually designed to do that, although it is also true that the schedule is in part a "tragedy of the commons" result of states pushing and shoving to the front of the calendar. So, regardless of one's opinion on front-loading, this year's calendar was a partial success and a partial failure. John McCain sewed it up early, Barack Obama didn't. Why such different outcomes?

A quick victory like McCain's has become the norm over the past 20 years; it was the Obama-Clinton saga that was the fluke. No one predicted that the Democrats would have two such evenly matched candidates. But, removing the element of random chance, what made the difference was the winner-take-all contests in the Republican Party, which magnified McCain's advantage over his rivals. In contrast, the string of victories that Obama racked up wasn't enough to put him over the top early, for in every state that she lost, Hillary Clinton took a big bite of delegates. As a result, there is some grumbling among top Democrats about going back to winner-take-all contests, which the party began phasing out in 1972. In other words, the solution is for the Democratic Party to operate more like the Republican Party. That's not the Democratic Party I would want.

On the other hand, some Democrats have concluded that the system worked well this year, that the protracted struggle between Obama and Clinton was good for the party, and that no changes are necessary for 2012. They stayed in the media limelight while McCain was relegated to the shadows. They rained punches on each other and got into condition for the main event, while McCain has yet to take a hard blow. I agree, but after March 4, Clinton and Obama were really just sparring partners. With most of the primaries and caucuses behind them, barring a catastrophic gaffe or scandal, Clinton had no chance of overtaking Obama in the dribble of remaining contests, so the next two months were an empty charade.

So, a structural change in the nomination system is necessary, but Democrats don't need to revert to winner-take-all. In a way, the calendar needs to be inverted, "back-loaded," if you will.

One good feature of the present system is that it begins with a few small states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. In theory, this would allow small, underfunded campaigns to take on the big dogs in small venues where money is less of a factor than in mass media markets. However, there is no good reason why it should be these four particular states leading the pack cycle after cycle. Other small states are just as deserving, so the selection should be by lottery. Also, a Super Tuesday on the heels of the first few small states magnifies their importance. Landing one-two punches in Iowa and New Hampshire virtually assures victory on Super Tuesday, so that's where the big money gets spent, and the underfunded candidate is blown off the field. So, let's put Super Tuesday at the end of the calendar rather than near the beginning. This would allow for true "retail politicking" at the beginning of the calendar, giving small campaigns an opportunity to grow from early victories and compete with the well-financed campaigns in later, bigger states. Also, a protracted contest would have real meaning right up to the end, when the big prize of delegates would be waiting to be taken. Again, the states participating in Super Tuesday should be determined by random selection, as should all of the states at the beginning and in the middle of the calendar. This way, over several cycles, the advantage of one state of another cancels out, and voters across the nation are treated fairly.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Primary Reforms

New York Times
8 June 2008

The strange ritual of the Iowa caucuses, the fight over the Michigan and Florida delegations, the battle over the superdelegates ­ it has been a colorful nominating season, but not the most democratic one. It takes nothing away from the achievements of Barack Obama and John McCain to take note that the system for choosing the parties’ nominees is seriously flawed.

The Senate is planning hearings on the subject, and both parties are talking about reform. We hope a better system will be in place by 2012.

A guiding principle behind American democracy is "one person, one vote." All voters should have an equal opportunity, regardless of who they are or where they live, to affect the outcome. The process should be transparent, the ballot should be secret, and there should be no unnecessary barriers to voting.

Tested against these principles, both parties' systems fall short.

Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate rules committee, which has jurisdiction over elections, says she wants to hold hearings next month on rotating primaries and related issues. Ideally, the parties would fix the process themselves, but insiders do not always have the interests of ordinary voters at heart. Whoever takes action, the goal should be a new and improved nominating process that reflects the will of the people.


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Monday, June 09, 2008

Florida-Michigan Fight Not About Clinton v. Obama

By Paul Hogarth
28 May 2008

But the more important question is what comes next …

Already, efforts are underway to plan the 2012 primary schedule in a way so that we don’t have these problems in the future. There are different ideas in the works, but all involve some national co-ordination of the primary process. If we respect that process, no state will get to hi-jack the schedule for its own benefit. My favorite is the American Plan, which creates a mathematical formula that selects each state at random on who gets to go first – but other solutions should be actively discussed.

But if the DNC Rules Committee doesn’t enforce its own rules on Saturday, any future effort at reforming the primary process down the road will be pointless.


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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Ruminations on reactions to my "CounterSpin" appearance: parties need a fair schedule

By Rob Richie
27 May 2008

Last week I taped a short radio segment with CounterSpin, produced for national distribution by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. My subject was how many journalists have over-hyped recent Democratic primary results, not recognizing how predictable they largely have been in a race whose basic outlines were established by February 6th

During the broadcast, I commented matter-of-factly that the Obama-Clinton race is very close, but that Obama is ahead by several different measures, including the national popular vote. For me, this is a simple fact, as the only way Obama can be said to be behind in the popular vote is to count all votes cast in Michigan and Florida in January contests that the party had rejected months before. The only way Clinton can be said to lead in the popular vote is to count all votes cast for her in Michigan and keep Obama’s Michigan total at zero, given that he was not on the ballot. You can see all the ways of counting the popular vote tallied helpfully at Real Clear Politics

Perhaps I should have realized that this comment would draw some reaction, but I still was surprised at some of the vitriol in some blogs. My comment had no partisan intent, but this debate is a hornet’s nest.

This got me to thinking about why the Obama-Clinton contest has gotten as ugly as it has in recent weeks, with tensions mounting. What reinforces for me is the value of the major parties having a schedule of contests that ensures all states and territories have a crack at a meaningful contest, particularly if the nomination race is close.

Polls consistently show that Democrats want this contest to cover all states, but since March 4, Clinton has mathematically had no real chance to win a majority of pledged delegates barring a massive shift in voting patterns — there simply weren’t enough states left. With three more months of contests and most Democrats wanting a 50-state nomination, Clinton had every reason to keep campaigning hard. But to justify her candidacy her campaign has had to make arguments that can get both sides riled up — fighting over seating delegates from Michigan and Florida, for example, and starting to highlight the symbolis national popular vote.

In a better scheduled system, the pledged delegate contest would have not have been decided with three more months of voting in such a close contest. There would have been enough states voting at the end of the process for the race to be in play.

There are various ways to structure such a process, although they all require that states play by the rules that the party establishes. See our FixThePrimaries website for different proposals; my favorite continues to be the American Plan or some variant (such as ending with a national primary between the top two candidates or possibly top three candidates using instant runoff voting.)

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