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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