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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Friday, June 06, 2008

Washington Post Outlook: Proportional representation a big success in Democratic nomination process

By Rob Richie
11 May 2008

This is a theme to which we’ll be returning, as debate is rising about whether Democrats or Republicans have had a better nomination process, with a focus on the winner-take-all rules for allocating delegates that gave John McCain such a big boost to the Republican nomination compared to the proportional representation allocation rules that have extended the Democratic nomination.

FairVote is firmly on the side of proportional allocation of delegates, although there are ways it could be improved. For one, it has ensured that the delegate results more accurately reflect the popular vote in contests, making the Democratic race more like a national primary unfolding state by state. If winner-take-all had been used and and the popular vote had been the same in every state, Hillary Clinton would be far ahead despite trailing Barack Obama in the overall popular vote and being swamped in number of states won — a questionable result no matter what one might think about the relative merits of Clinton and Obama.

Echoing and amplifying arguments (such as here and here) I made on this blog, see Alan Wolfe’s ode to the Democratic nomination process in today’s Washington Post Outlook. Included in his piece is this quote:

For the Democrats, proportional representation, rather than producing chaos, underscored the party’s commitment to inclusion. Democrats are more likely to speak about equality, social justice and fairness in election campaigns than Republicans, and proportional representation is more compatible with those themes than a winner-take-all method. We live in democratic times in which people get to choose the churches to which they belong and the television stations they want to watch. Under such conditions, a party that opens itself up to its members invests them in its decisions — not only in the election coming up this fall but in future contests as well. More people became Democrats in 2008 than became Republicans, and more of them were younger. Exciting and open contests can do that sort of thing.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

A Dialogue on the Presidential Nomination Process

At 10:40 PM 6/1/2008, Jeanie wrote:
>Thank you for this posting. I have been reading comments on Hillary's blog site. I've been listening to Obama supporters. I'm VERY concerned.
>First, let me say that I've been a Hillary supporter since 1993, when she presented her proposal on health care reform. I've said many times since then that she was right, and we're paying the price now as a nation for not listening to her. I voted for Hillary in the California primary, not because I don't like Barrack Obama - I like him a lot - but because I felt she was the best qualified, most knowledgeable of the two. That said:
>I am deeply troubled by the feverish, angry loyalty that is being displayed on her website blog. It's great for people to be inspired by a candidate, and to work for that candidate's election. And I'm sure the more involved one gets, the more emotional it all becomes. However, it is a problem for our party and our nation if people are only committed to individual candidates, and not to the principles of the Democratic Party itself. We are supposed to be choosing OUR nominee here - whichever one it is. I'm starting to feel like a lot of people are hijacking our party for the sake of their own candidate, and no one else - in both camps. The length of the divide, in terms of time, may not be a factor at all. I think it is just making the problem visible. Someone needs to get to these people, and soon. Someone they'll listen to. They need to understand that the venom in each camp is going to lead to yet another pathetic Republican administration, against the values and life's work of both Clinton and Obama.
>All right. So good luck with that! (I'll try to do my part in San Benito County. But there needs to be a national effort.)

Dear Jeanie,

You raise some excellent points. I took a long time to decide on a candidate. I decided for John Edwards shortly before the California primary, and within an hour of mailing my ballot, I learned that he had just withdrawn from the race. I am not emotionally tied to either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, but only emotionally tied to the victory of one of them in November. Also, as a political scientist, I tend to focus more on the political process than on the candidates and the issues.

So, as to process, having been disenfranchised by Edwards' withdrawal, I suddenly saw the utility of having a ranked ballot for presidential candidates. There are two good reasons to support this. Increasing numbers of citizens are voting by mail, so what happened to me is likely to become a more common occurrence. Also, even if there were no voting by mail and everyone cast their vote on election day, many people would be disenfranchised because the Democratic Party requires a candidate to reach a certain threshold percentage of the popular vote, below which, no delegates are apportioned. If your candidate doesn't reach the threshold, your vote is not counted toward the allocation of any delegate, and effectively, your vote is thrown away.

The Democratic Party has another mechanism for restricting democracy in its presidential nomination system: superdelegates.

I am often asked why these antidemocratic mechanisms exist, and I think that it is important to understand the history of how we got to where we are today. As I explain in my book, it started in Chicago in 1968. When the party nominated Hubert Humphrey, a man who entered not a single presidential primary, and a riot erupted outside the convention, the party concluded that its nomination system needed a massive overhaul. The party tapped George McGovern to chair a commission to study and to make recommendations. McGovern saw where the commission was heading before it issued its report, and he left the commission to declare his candidacy for the 1972 nomination. He based his campaign strategy on his insider's knowledge of the new rules that the commission was likely to recommend and that the party was likely to adopt, thus he stole a march on all of the other candidates who were playing by the old rules and whose strategies were about to become obsolete. As McGovern foresaw, the commission recommended that states abandon caucuses and institute primaries, in order to reduce the influence of state and local party bosses and empower the rank and file party members. Also, the winner-take-all system was abolished, and from that time on, all delegates were to be allocated according to the percentage of the popular vote, with low thresholds. The modern era of presidential nomination was born, and 1972 was to be the most democratic process by which the Democratic Party would choose its nominee.

The result, of course, was an unmitigated disaster. McGovern easily captured the nomination, and lost to Richard Nixon in one of history's biggest landslides. The Democratic Party went back to the drawing board, concluding that too much democracy was not a good thing. A new commission, chaired by Morley Winograd, made a number of problematic recommendations. First, it enshrined the "first in the nation" status of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Second, it permitted the dwindling number of caucus states to raise their thresholds to 20 percent, and primary states to 25 percent. Third, it created superdelegates as 10 percent of the total number of delegates required to nominate a presidential candidate, so that party leaders would have voting power at the national convention and exert some influence over the nomination outcome.

As an aside, I should mention that a consequence of the proliferation of primary states is that campaigning is more expensive, and candidates must create huge, ad hoc political machines to compete for the nomination, and the party machinery is barely in play; thus, activists' principal loyalty is to their candidates, not to the party. So, when you say that you feel that "a lot of people are hijacking our party for the sake of their own candidate, and no one else - in both camps," this is a phenomenon that has been building for several decades, but has only now become apparent because, in a system designed to produce a nominee before most people know what's going on, we accidentally have a truly competitive nomination race in 2008.

There have been other commissions that have tinkered around the edges in the course of the intervening 40 years, lowering and raising the threshold and superdelegate percentages, but that is essentially the system we have today. Often, this tinkering has been done on the basis of the perceived self-interest of the moment, or on an incomplete and faulty analysis of the most recent election outcome, with the result that the party often bumbles from one disaster to the next. A case in point is that now, because of the protracted struggle between Clinton and Obama, party elites are grumbling about going back to winner-take-all primaries, which the Republican Party never abolished. For those who are all stoked up about one candidate or the other, my advice would be to watch what the party is going to do to the process for 2012. Is the party going to go back to the past and become more like the Republican Party? Is the solution to have an even less democratic process than we already have? I believe that such knee-jerk ideas are likely to produce future disasters for the party. I believe that the solution is more democracy, not less, an intelligently-designed system rather than a few timid ideas kluged onto a successively kluged process. The McGovern revolution solved a huge set of problems for the party, but it also produced a set of unintended consequences that the party has never dealt with in a scientific manner. I believe that the democratic solution is to return to the principles of the McGovern revolution and to craft a process that will permit these principles to be fully manifested. Let's believe in democracy, and let's practice it for change.

Best regards,

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Florida, Michigan delegates will get half-votes

I called it in March:

At 06:28 PM 3/13/2008, Thomas Gangale wrote:

Regarding Florida and Michigan, tell everyone to split the difference and settle. The Republicans only took away half their delegates, why should Democrats be more bastardly than they?

And again a couple of days ago:

At 07:22 PM 5/30/2008, Thomas Gangale wrote:
If it were up to me, I'd be Solomonic: let Florida and Michigan have half of their delegates, and move on to more pressing matters. This is also how the RNC Rules Committee dealt with them, so in terms of inter-party political calculation, there would be parity. Can the DNC afford to have these two states still pissed off in November?

By Nedra Pickler and Beth Fouhy
Associated Press
31 May 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) ­ Democratic Party leaders agreed Saturday to seat Michigan and Florida delegates with half-votes at this summer's convention with a compromise that left Barack Obama on the verge of the nomination but riled Hillary Rodham Clinton backers who threatened to fight to the August convention.

"Hijacking four delegates is not a good way to start down the path of party unity," said adviser Harold Ickes.

Clinton's camp maintains she was entitled to four additional Michigan delegates.

The decision by the party's Rules Committee raised slightly the total delegates Obama needs to clinch the nomination. Clinton advisers conceded privately he will likely hit the magic number after the final primaries are held Tuesday night, but said the ruling threatened to dash any hopes of a unified party.

"Mrs. Clinton has told me to reserve her right to take this to the Credentials Committee" at the convention, said Ickes, who is a member of the Rules Committee that voted Saturday.


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