Friday, July 07, 2006

What is the American Plan?

This is a blog about The American Plan, a proposed system for scheduling the Presidential Primary that is fair to all states and designed to produce the strongest possible national candidates.

Our current primary system has several glaring shortfalls. First, a handful of small states have gained disproportionate influence by scheduling their primaries at the beginning of the pack. Second, large primary "blocks" like Super Tuesday are positioned too soon in the calendar, which both ties up electors early on and unduly favors big money candidates. Finally, the calendar begins in early January and the nominee is usually decided months before the convention, costing the campaign considerable momentum.

A political scientist named Thomas Gangale has created an alternate schedule that eliminates these drawbacks. Gangale designed The American Plan to satisfy the following criteria:

  • It should preserve door-to-door, retail politicking in the beginning of the campaign (though not necessarily in Iowa and New Hampshire). This allows grassroots candidates to introduce themselves to voters, building momentum and fundraising, before competing in the expensive media markets of larger states.
  • It should eliminate the failed front-loading that leaves candidates too untested going into the general election. That is, the nomination should not be a fait accompli after the first round of primaries. Instead, the candidates should be rewarded for their long-term performance and nation-wide appeal.
  • It should restore a sense of fairness to primary scheduling, ensuring that a maximum number of states and diverse populations feel they have input in the process.
Gangale's creation satisfies all these criteria. Under his plan, the primary schedule would begin in a randomly selected group of smaller states and steadily progress towards larger and more challenging battlegrounds.

How does the American Plan Work?

The American Plan schedule consists of 10 multi-state primaries evenly spaced over twenty weeks. The first primary would take place in a randomly selected group of states whose Congressional Districts total exactly 8 - for example, Alaska (1 CD), South Carolina (6 CDs), and Delaware (1 CD). The succeeding primaries would grow progressively larger - 16, 24, 36, etc. - up to the 10th primary, which would cover 80 CDs.

To accommodate big states, the plan shuffles some of the larger primaries into earlier rounds. Texas, for example, would now be eligible to vote as early as the 4th primary (wherein states comprising a total of 56 Congressional Districts would be represented.) In short, the plan allows many candidates to enter the race, yet forces those candidates to compete on a higher level as the race progresses.

With that change, the final schedule looks like this:

Primary ## of CDs Represented
A sample schedule with states added can be viewed here.

The American Plan has already won the support of the California Democratic Party, largely because this system would give the state a fighting chance at regaining influence in the primaries. (For 2004 California moved its primary up from June to the first Tuesday in March, however this sparked a domino effect as other states scrambled to push their primaries even earlier. California has now capitulated and moved its primary back to June.) California Democratic Party Chair Art Torres spoke in support of the American Plan before the DNC Commission meeting in October, and at the CDP Exec Board meeting in Manhattan Beach.

But this plan is not just attractive to California, or just to Democrats. Except perhaps for Iowa and New Hampshire, I believe voters from each party in most every state would prefer to participate in a system that gives everyone a fair chance at an early primary.

Unfortunately it is too late to implement the American Plan for 2008, but now is the time to begin advocating for this plan for 2012. The grassroots must voice our support for fair, comprehensive reform. Moving to this system will require bipartisan buy-in. (Otherwise Secretaries of State would balk at holding two different primaries.) Luckily the advantages of the American Plan are not limited to one political party.

Unless we adopt a framework that gives each state a fair chance at primary influence, we will continue the juvenile jockeying for position that plagues our system every four years. I invite you to learn about this plan and advocate it in your area. We will be posting regular updates about the progress of the plan on this weblog.