Thursday, February 28, 2008

What govs think of '08 primary calendar

By Pamela M. Prah
28 February 2008

Many governors regard this year’s chaotic mad dash for early spots on the presidential primary calendar as a mess to be avoided for 2012 — but are quite happy with how the 2008 schedule worked for them.

To assess governors’ thoughts on the earliest nominating schedule in history, buttonholed state chief executives in Washington, D.C., to attend the National Governors Association winter meeting, which closed Feb. 25.



Sunday, February 17, 2008

This year shows why primary system must change

By Joshua Spivak
San Francisco Chronicle
10 February 2008

After years in which party presidential nominees are effectively chosen before most voters cast their ballots, 2008's primary season has been a refreshing breath of fresh air, with real races lasting through most of the primaries - if not beyond, as we might see with the Democrats. However, it is also clear that despite this year's excitement, the two parties should look to seriously revamp their nomination systems to avoid alienating their electorate. This year's primary campaigns highlighted glaring deficiencies, one of which - the superdelegates - might still cause a giant headache for the Democrats. But if reforms are not made, future presidential races may erode trust in the selection process.

There are two main reasons that 2008 saw an exciting election, both of which have nothing to do with the candidates or issues. The first was an anomaly. It was clear since President Bush was re-elected that 2008 would be the first time in more than a half a century where neither an incumbent president nor an incumbent vice president would receive one of the parties' nominations. The lack of an incumbent who could take credit or blame for the actions of the Bush administration radically changed the dynamic of the elections. No candidate was truly able to run on, or be forced to defend, the Bush record. The other side of this coin was at work in the Democratic primary. Even though the race was shaped by an anti-Bush sentiment, the Democrats were not able to run simply as the most electable, as the opponent, whose strengths and weaknesses were unknown. The 2012 election will probably return to the more traditionally structured environment, with the 2008 winner almost certain to seek re-election.

The other major event was the nationwide rush by states to move up their party primaries to an earlier date - resulting in more than half the voters casting their ballot on Super Tuesday. The states moved up after absorbing a painful lesson: The presidential primaries could be effectively over after only a small fraction of the voters had their say. Therefore, the states decided that the earlier the vote, the better the chance that candidates will pay attention to them. The rush to early primaries has caused an immediate problem for the Democrats. Michigan and Florida, as a punishment for moving their primary elections way up, have been stripped by the party of their delegates. Whether to rescind the punishment and seat these delegates may actually be the question that decides the nomination. If it grants Michigan's and Florida's demands to have their delegates seated (which would substantially help Hillary Rodham Clinton), the Democratic Party is opening itself up to every state jumping to the front in 2012. If the party denies the two states their convention votes, it may cost the nominee two key swing states in November.


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Friday, February 15, 2008

Voters Rue Casting Absentee Ballots Early

By C. W. Nevius
San Francisco Chronicle
7 February 2008

Voters in California have been encouraged to use mail-in absentee ballots for years now. The idea is to increase participation. And it has.

But this year some voters are wishing they hadn't done it.

"For the first time, this election may force people to reconsider absentee voting," said David Binder, a San Francisco political pollster. "We've seen a downside we've never considered before."

One reason absentee balloting is getting so much attention is that it has been such a rip-roaring success in the last few years. As recently as 1996, only 23 percent of California voters used mail ballots. This year, the Field Poll estimated that of 8.9 million votes cast, 4.1 million, or 46 percent, would be absentee votes.

Even the experts got caught. Consider Tom Gangale, a fourth-generation San Franciscan and author of "From the Primaries to the Polls: How to Repair America's Broken Presidential Nomination Process."

"On Jan. 30, I marked my ballot and mailed it," Gangale said. "About an hour later, I learned Edwards had dropped out of the race."

Gangale thinks this year's primary is a good argument for "ranked voting," meaning that a voter would mark a first, second and third choice. If his first choice didn't get at least 15 percent, the ballot would go to the next choice. The system already is used in races for local office in San Francisco.

"The vote ought to count for something," Gangale said.


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Monday, February 11, 2008

Ranked Voting in Presidential Primaries

By Thomas Gangale
Berkeley Daily Planet
1 February 2008

California Progress Report
3 February 2008

California Notes
8 February 2008

My recently-published book on presidential primaries started as an independent study project out of the political science department at San Francisco State University in 2003. My advisor on the project, Professor Rich DeLeon, was (and is) an advocate for ranked balloting. "This suggestion is perhaps a bit too far over the horizon of political reality, but I’d like to see a rider attached to your proposed reform requiring all primary victors to win a majority of the vote, either by runoff if necessary or, optimally by some kind of ranked-ballot method, which would also yield terrific in-depth info about a candidate’s strengths in terms of second-place votes received, third-place votes, etc."

I didn't immediately see an application for ranked voting in presidential primaries. "If a candidate wins a plurality of 27%, shouldn't he or she get what’s coming... 27% of the delegates? Instant runoff voting does not apply to presidential primaries, because there nothing to instantly run off, no office to immediately be filled; rather it is a competition for state delegates to a national convention. The functional equivalent of a runoff, if necessary, occurs at the national level at the national party convention through successive balloting. If delegates are awarded on a proportional basis, this is functionally equivalent to proportional representation."

Experience is another teacher. On January 30, 2008, I marked my ballot for California's February 5 presidential primary and mailed it. There were eight candidates listed for the Democratic nomination, but most of them had already dropped out of the race. That was bad in itself, of course, but it had been easy to predict that the real choices would have dwindled to two or three by Super Tuesday. My proposed reform of the presidential primary system is meant to redress that problem, allow more candidates to stay in the race longer, and give more voters more choices. I considered the remaining field of candidates and chose John Edwards.

About an hour later, I learned the Edwards had dropped out of the race, leaving only Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Although it has so many other things going for it, that's a down side of voting by mail, but it doesn't have to be that way. At that point I saw that if I have been able to rank several choices for president, my vote wouldn't have been wasted. Since my first choice was out of the race, my ballot could have defaulted to my second choice, and if that candidate also dropped out before the election, my ballot could have defaulted to my third choice. It would be a bit more work, but I could vote my conscience and be quite confident that my vote would count.

Another application of ranked voting came to light in a recent conversation with Steve Chessin, president of Californians for Electoral Reform: suppose a presidential candidate's percentage of the vote is below the threshold required to be awarded delegates to the national convention? That candidate's supporters are disenfranchised. For example, if John Edwards had stayed in the race, but he had failed to capture fifteen percent of the vote, according to the California Democratic Party's rules, he wouldn't have been awarded any delegates.

That's democracy?

On the other hand, if voters could rank candidates, their votes would never be wasted. If the first choice didn't reach the fifteen-percent threshold, a voter's ballot could be counted toward the second choice, and so on, until the ballot counted toward the awarding of delegates to some candidate. The threshold requirement makes sense to the party, which is interested in determining the presidential nominee with a minimum of internecine strife. But what about those voters whose candidates--and there might be several such candidates in a race--don't meet the threshold? Ranked voting offers a mechanism that should satisfy the interests of the party and the voters.

The California Democratic Party platform states that the party will "encourage, where feasible, instant run-off elections." This should be taken to include ranked voting in its own primary elections. Job One is election integrity: ensuring that every vote is counted as marked. As we work toward that goal, we should also be thinking about the next step--election fidelity--to ensure that every vote counts toward some nonzero outcome.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Congress Tackles Nation's "Primary Problem"

By Amanda Knowles
American Observer
23 January 2008

The 2008 presidential primary season is shaping up to be the most chaotic in history, experts say. States are taking part in a mad dash to the front of the schedule in an effort to maximize their influence, breaking party rules and facing penalties along the way. In response, Congress has taken the matter into its own hands, proposing reform legislation and leaving some questioning whether government intervention is constitutional.

FairVote has elected to back a reform effort called the American Plan, which begins the primary schedule with small-population states, gradually working up to the largest states at the end, regardless of regions. According to O’Donnell, the plan’s strong points are a lottery element that treats small and large states fairly, a rational timeline with ten primaries spaced at even intervals, and the conservation of retail politicking.