Thursday, September 27, 2007

Raucous system seems immune to change

By Matt Stearns
McClatchy Newspapers
26 September 2007

Florida's defiant decision to hold its presidential primary weeks earlier than both national parties dictate highlights one inescapable fact: There's no easy fix for this mess of a presidential nominating system.

Parties set rules and dates, but self-interested states ignore them with little fear of meaningful consequence or much concern for the national interest. Would-be reformers tout a variety of fixes, which the states find lacking. Congress suggests that it might step in, but the Constitution might not allow it.

"States are tripping over each other to get to the front lines, and most of them are operating within the rules of the parties," said Ryan O'Donnell, spokesman for FairVote, a non-partisan electoral-change advocacy group. "Clearly, the parties are failing to control the process."

The problems of the current primary-and-caucus nomination game are well documented: It's too fast, too expensive and each election cycle is accelerating the absurdity. Plus, Iowa and New Hampshire, two idiosyncratic early-voting powerhouses that barely reflect the rest of the country, play an outsized role in this electoral Survivor.

The still-unsettled 2008 primary schedule is the worst one yet: With states leapfrogging one another to gain influence and attention, neither Iowa nor New Hampshire has formally scheduled its vote, which both states are determined will remain first and second, come what may.

This chaotic system encourages states to jockey for position and leads to overcrowded primary days, forcing campaigns to rely on barrages of negative ads, expensive television buys and quick fly-ins rather than engaging in substantive discussions with voters one state at a time over many months.


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Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Problems of Regional Primaries

Written Statement on Federal Regional Primary Legislation
Submitted to the Senate Rules Committee

By William G. Mayer
Associate Professor of Political Science
Northeastern University
19 September 2007

Finally, I would like to call the Committee's attention to a number of problems with regional primaries, however they are adopted and enforced. First, though regional primaries have recently been proposed primarily as an antidote to front-loading, it is by no means clear that a regional primary system would actually reduce front-loading. It depends on how the system is designed. The proposal formulated by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) provides a good example of the problem. The NASS calendar allots separate weeks to Iowa and New Hampshire -- and then, one week later, the first region would vote. In other words, one week after New Hampshire, delegates would be selected in twelve different states on the same day. By comparison, most recent presidential nomination calendars have started up more slowly. Immediately after New Hampshire, there have typically been several weeks in which only one or two states held their primaries or caucuses. The NASS calendar, to be sure, would be less front-loaded after that: There would be a month off before the next region voted. But this is small consolation to all the candidates who cannot afford to campaign in twelve states, even twelve contiguous states, just one week after the race begins and who will therefore not be around when the second region goes to the polls.

Another major problem associated with regional primaries is that they would confer a significant advantage on any candidate who happened to be particularly strong in whatever region went first.27 As Table 1 indicates (it is located at the end of this statement), region is a very important variable in explaining primary outcomes. Almost every recent presidential candidate has done significantly better in one region than in the others. In 1976, for example, Gerald Ford won 60 percent of the vote in the average northeastern primary, as against 35 percent in the average western primary. In the same year, Jimmy Carter won, on
average, 62 percent of the vote in the South, 35 percent in the Northeast, and 21 percent in the West. In 1980, Edward Kennedy won 53 percent of the vote in the average northeastern primary, but only 18 percent in the southern primaries.

In the contemporary presidential nomination process, the order in which primaries are held matters. Indeed, that is why front-loading developed in the first place. And thus, which region goes first could have very important implications for which candidate gets nominated. In 1992, for example, Bill Clinton's candidacy would likely have been doomed if the southern states had voted last: for the first five weeks of that year's delegate selection season, Clinton didn't win a single primary or caucus outside the South. Supporters of regional primaries implicitly acknowledge this problem, for regional primary proposals invariably include a provision that rotates the order in which regions vote or determines that order by lot. But rotation and lotteries do not eliminate this problem -- they merely ensure that the direction and recipient of the distortion will vary, in a random manner, from one election cycle to the next.



Friday, September 14, 2007

Parties need to reform presidential primaries

Observer & Eccentric Newspapers, Mirror Newspapers and Hometown Weeklies Michigan

Michigan has taken a prominent role in the presidential primary leap-frog game. Last week, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a bill moving Michigan's primary to Jan. 15, in defiance of Republican and Democratic party threats to not seat delegates selected before Feb. 5 and a pledge by leading Democratic candidates to not campaign in the state.

For many years, the presidential chase for delegates has begun with caucuses in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire. Leaders in big, industrial, urban states like Michigan have long complained that small, rural Iowa and New Hampshire do not reflect the majority of American voters. They have argued that by the time more representative states actually vote, a decision has already been made.

The Democrats tried a mild reform by adding Nevada and South Carolina into the mix. But New Hampshire was miffed that the Nevada caucus was scheduled to precede the New Hampshire primary and vowed to move its date back to retain its traditional role.


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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dems blast party over primary penalties

Leaders in Michigan, Florida, say New Hampshire also should face penalty for moving up vote.

By Gordon Trowbridge
Detroit News Washington Bureau
12 September 2007

WASHINGTON -- Democratic lawmakers from Michigan and Florida issued a stinging rebuke on Tuesday to the national Democratic Party, saying party chairman Howard Dean is threatening their states with penalties for breaking primary scheduling rules by establishing early voting dates while allowing New Hampshire to flout those same rules.

Stepping up their fight with Dean and the Democratic National Committee, 16 members of the states' congressional delegations sent a letter to Dean, asking him to penalize New Hampshire for its public commitment to move its primary earlier than its party-assigned date of Jan. 22.

"We are proud Democrats, insisting on fairness, and we will fight the selective enforcement of our party's Delegate Selection Rules," said the letter. It was signed by both Michigan's U.S. senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, and all Democratic House members except Rep. Bart Stupak. Stupak and other supporters of John Edwards' presidential campaign have criticized the move to a primary in Michigan.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Primary Chaos

By Eliza Newlin Carney
10 September 2007

The fight over just how early states may schedule their presidential primaries has spilled onto Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers are calling for a complete overhaul of the nominating system.

"The present system has clearly broken down... into chaos and into full irrationality," declared Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., at a Sept. 6 press conference in the Capitol. Levin joined his brother, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to tout legislation that would schedule concurrent primaries, spread over a four-month period, in six regions of the nation.

The Democrats were responding to an increasingly heated scheduling dispute that has pitted party officials in Michigan and Florida against national party leaders at the Democratic National Committee. State-level GOP officials from Michigan and Florida, as well as from several other states, are engaged in a similar tug-of-war with the Republican National Committee.


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Monday, September 10, 2007

GOP banks on early primaries

By Donald Lambro
Washington Times
9 September 2007

Six Democratic candidates, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, signed a pledge not to campaign in the Florida and Michigan primaries after they were moved to prior to Feb. 5.

Republican presidential candidates hope their participation in the early primaries in Florida and Michigan will help them win the two states, which Democrats plan to avoid owing to party rules.

"We've had conversations with all the Republican presidential campaigns, and they said they will continue to campaign here," said Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

The Republicans' primary calendar rules, like those of the Democrats, prohibit scheduling any primary before Feb. 5, except for the four approved contests in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. But Republicans in Florida last month moved their state's primary up to Jan. 29. Last week, the Michigan Legislature moved that state's primary to Jan. 15.

"The Democrats are actually asking their candidates to boycott the primary and not campaign here, or they will take away 100 percent of their delegates in the state," Mr. Anuzis said. "Our rules say we will lose 50 percent of our delegates, but nobody in our party is talking about boycotting anything. They are coming in to campaign."



Sunday, September 09, 2007

News of the Week on Presidential Primaries

Can parties impose order on '08 calendar?

By Ariel Sabar
The Christian Science Monitor
4 September 2007

As states seek the limelight with earlier primaries, the national parties threaten harsh penalties.

The national political parties will face a moment of truth in coming weeks: Can they impose order on a primary calendar that has states leaping over one another to host the first presidential nominating contest?

The Democratic National Committee took its boldest step of the year late last month, threatening to strip Florida of all its delegates to the national convention unless the state pushes back its Jan. 29 primary date.

The Republican National Committee vowed last week to dock half the delegates of any state with a GOP primary before Feb. 5, a group expected to include Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

But party organizations in many of those states remain defiant. Some insist it's time for New Hampshire and Iowa to share the spotlight with other states, while others portray their early dates as a protest against a nominating system they see as broken.


Remember 1984
The year of the lengthy primary season we now long for
By Jeff Greenfield
7 September 2007

With the presidential nominating season now threatening to spill forward into early January—or Boxing Day—or Halloween—a lamentation is ringing through the land (or at least among the politically obsessed). It goes something like this: "Why can't a wide variety of states, small and large, have a genuine say in the nomination? Why can't the voters have the time they need to get a real sense of the candidates' strengths and weaknesses?"

Why not? For the answer, look to 1984—not Orwell's dystopian novel, but the Democratic nominating calendar of little more than 20 years ago. That year, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart battled for the chance to take on incumbent Ronald Reagan. And what now seems an impossibility—lots of states with real clout, lots of time for voters—was pretty much what happened. And while the process ended with the traditional gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that greets the end of every primary season, it seems a model compared to the truncated six-week campaigns of recent years and the real possibility of an even shorter season this time around.


Nominate a new primary system
Roanoke Times
Roanoke, Virginia
9 September 2007

The national political parties must repair a primary system that is sinking into chaos.

The primary system, quite plainly, is broken. Restoring order for the 2008 election is all but impossible. The national parties must look to creating a more reasonable primary system for 2012.

Proposals have been floated for reform, but the national parties have declined to fool much with the status quo.

One popular proposal, dubbed the American Plan, begins with contests in small-population states and grows progressively as the nominating process advances. The schedule consists of 10 multi-state primaries evenly spaced over 20 weeks.